If you have ever gone to school in Taiwan, or asked your children to go to Chinese school in Canada, then you are familiar with the importance of the mother tongue. Many say you shouldn’t ever forget it, others say their children shouldn’t forget their own culture. When we bring up the subject of our mother tongue, it is always nostalgic. When we bring this kind of sentiment to examine events happened around us, are we able to stay rational or are we constrained by what we know?
Why do the Rukai children in Taiwan sing songs to learn their mother tongue? Were there any correlations between Canadian prime ministers apologizing to the indigenous communities over residential schools to the concept of losing your mother tongue? In discussing the relationship between the mother tongue and our culture, does there need to be a connection to our country of birth?
In a speech in Singapore, Chinese contemporary artist, writer, and critic Chen Danqing brought up the matter that anyone’s mother tongue is their own “shelter” and “existence.” Should we speak it or not? How often should we speak it? How well should we speak it? This always brings ups two questions: one that has to do with self esteem, and the other that has to do with our own sense of security. The self security of language has been pushed to the extremes in the past. History tells us when one ethnicity tries to conquer another ethnicity, the first effort is to erase a language. If you cannot kill the people, then kill the language. So many rules, but the smartest rules are those from a fool’s teaching: let you know a little bit, but nothing deep enough to know everything.
So why is a mother tongue so important?