Malaysia's Chinese dialects at risk

Malaysia's Chinese dialects at risk

RETIRED auditor Chung Chei Lan chats with her three-year-old granddaughter Mindy daily in Hainanese, hoping to pass on the dialect.

Like many older Chinese Malaysians, Madam Chung laments that her son does not teach his own children the family's dialect.

She is concerned that the younger generation of Chinese speak only Mandarin, English and Malay, and are forgoing their heritage. "My grandchildren are losing their identity," said Madam Chung, 70.

Adding to the concerns, Ai FM, a government-run Chinese-language radio service established by the BBC in 1946, will end its Chinese dialect news broadcasts - the last in the country - on Jan 1, due to cost.

The impending move has deepened worries among Chinese community leaders that dialects such as Hakka, Hokkien, Teochew and Cantonese will literally die out with declining usage.

The imminent shutdown of the broadcasts is a stark reminder that dialects are slowly, but surely, on the decline.

Ai FM's dialect news programme caters mostly to older Chinese Malaysians who have never learnt Mandarin, English and Malay.

"Like in Singapore, Chinese Malaysian parents forgo their dialects to give their children a competitive edge by emphasising Mandarin and English, and sending them to Chinese schools," said Dr Chin Yee Whah, who specialises in Chinese studies and economics at Universiti Sains Malaysia.

Ai FM, known formerly as Radio 5 and Radio Malaysia Saluran 5, airs its Cantonese, Hokkien, Hakka and Teochew news programmes at 8pm daily, with a 10-minute slot for each dialect. The station broadcasts at 89.3FM, and features online and mobile outlets.

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