Talking in Tongues

“Are you Malaysian?”
“No. My mother is.”
“So you can speak BM. It is your mother tongue?”
“Uh, no. English is.”
“You don’t speak your mother tongue?”

What is my mother tongue?

I have my mother’s tongue. I speak with it – forceful and opinionated, emotional and irrational, loud and intimidating. It was not my first language, though. I learned to speak it after many years of listening to her talking. My father’s tongue is far less passionate, but strong and sure all the same. I can speak his tongue too, but it takes far more effort and practice, more awareness. I guess that makes me bi-lingual.

Language is such an odd concept. Having to learn to find a way to communicate with others so they can understand you and vice versa. Not knowing someone else’s language is of course a huge disadvantage. But often others don’t see it that perhaps it’s they who don’t understand yours. Language is political. People use or don’t use it to make statements, gain power and control. Being able to speak someone else’s language can illicit either derision or gratitude. Being able to speak only a little can provoke ridicule and hate. As if just because I cannot speak your language fluently, that makes me a fool?

Whose mother’s land is this anyway? Whose tongue did you learn to talk with? What is your mother tongue? I’m sure most mothers would not be proud of the words that usually come from our mouths. That is not a language she ever spoke.

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