“Aunty, lo hor! Aunty, lo hor!”, I yelled as I ran across the HDB corridor to my neighbour’s door. I banged on the door as I repeated the message hoping that she heard me soon enough to take in her almost crisp-dry laundry hanging out on the galah. Earlier in the day, I had started it with “B, A, ba, C, A, ca, baca. S, A, sa, Y, A, ya, saya…” in my Malay as a Second Language (presently referred to as Mother Tongue) class. Growing up, there was a plethora of languages—my mother and the neighbour, who always depended on us to keep her laundry dry, chatting away in Hokkien, the wonderful next-door aunty married to the Eurasian man of Dutch ancestry coming over every tea-time without fail to have a chat with my mother in Malay, Teochew and Hokkien, and speaking to us children in English, the immediate neighbour on the left who only spoke Hailam and thus, by default my mother’s conversations were in ‘broken’ Hailam with her, and my paternal grandmother complaining in Tamil to my mother that her children are constantly speaking in English and not Tamil—in the air.
As a child, I had clear signs of what language to use with whom in the household – English with my father, who had made the conscious choice of using English with the children for pragmatic reasons, Tamil and English with my mother who knew better then to speak to us children in Hokkien lest she upsets her mother-in-law who was already unhappy with the increasing usage of English in the household, Tamil with my grandmother, and English, the natural choice, with my siblings.
As a parent, I now have made a conscious choice of what languages I use with my children: English mainly, while their father uses Tamil. Of course, my children also hear Malay, which is our secret coded language when my hubby and I don’t want them to know something. How different was the language environment when you were growing up compared to your children’s?
Shamala recently joined our team as a Research Fellow. She graduated with a PhD in Psychology from the University of Reading in 2016, where she worked on bilingualism and how it affects language processing and cognition. Shamala has since worked at many different places, including NTU, NIE, JCUS, and SUSS. She’s currently working on the Language Mixes project.
Last month, BLIP Lab has launched an exciting new project called Talk Together! Click here to find out more about how you can join us in investigating how Singaporean children’s language development may change with us spending extended time with them under these post-Circuit Breaker circumstances.