Monday, October 31, 2011

Speaking other lingos will help cultivate friendships

WHENEVER I meet a stranger, I often choose to speak in the language in which I think they are conversant.
The reason I try to speak to them in their own lingo is because I discovered that when you do that, people warm up to you faster.

Some goodwill is generated and your listener tends to be more receptive to you.

I found out about this years ago when ordering roti canai at Indian stalls.

Instead of saying I would like to have kari ikan (fish curry) to go with the leavened bread, I get a better deal when I say, "Meen curry, please".

Someone had taught me that "meen" meant "fish" in Tamil. So, whenever I utter the magic words, not only does my order not get messed up and I end up with a dhall curry instead of fish gravy, I also get a mean curry with bits of fish thrown in as well.

I now try to acquire more understanding of the lingo and not stop at just saying "sapederiya" or "vanakkam" because the habit has made me friends among the Indian nationals working at the places I go to.

Even when I am visiting Chinese-dominant areas, I find that it is easier to deal with people when I use the dominant dialect of the area.

For instance, when visiting Klang, Sasaran, Kuala Selangor, or Sungai Besar, the majority of the Chinese there become more approachable when I speak Hokkien -- unlike in KL or PJ where most Chinese speak Cantonese or Mandarin.

Even when conversing in Hokkien, I have learned to speak like a Penangite when I am in Butterworth, or switch to the Teochew-influenced version when I visit my friends in Tangkak.

As for Malay, my "Minang" is a bit rusty now because of lack of use, but I still try to speak in the Negri slang whenever I call on my friend in Rembau -- with "eden" and "waang" thrown in for good measure.

I do the same when I visit Kelantan or speak to a Kelantanese in the city, although I have yet to be able to master their slang as much as I like to.

You may laugh at this if you know that I come from Terengganu, but let me inform you that although Kelantan and Terengganu share the same border, their versions of Malay is surprisingly different.

For example, an "ikang" (fish) in Terengganu-Malay is referred to as "ikeh" in Kelantan-speak.

A friend from Pennsylvania recently asked me how many languages a Malaysian speaks.

I told her at least three -- the national language Bahasa Malaysia, English, and the speaker's mother tongue. If dialects are counted, even more.

She said we are very lucky because where she came from, most people only understand English.

These days it is not difficult to find a Chinese or Indian who speaks Malay very well, or a non-Chinese who converses fluently in Mandarin.

I am sure you know of some non-Malay leaders who speak almost perfect Bahasa Malaysia, or even Bahasa Melayu, complete with the "loghat" and nuances only a Malay can appreciate.

And If you have been watching Chinese soap operas, you will have seen that many of the subtitlers today are non-Chinese.

TV8's Baki Zainal, who used to anchor the station's Step Forward, for example, has fans in my family.

We are fortunate to live in a cultural melting pot such as KL, where there is always an opportunity to pick up a lingo or two, if we make the effort.

To be able to understand and speak in another's lingo not only adds more colour to our cultural diversity, it also results in fewer misunderstandings and suspicion.

The speakers, too, will also think twice before opening their mouths.

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