I never knew a language that I don't speak could feel so comforting to me. When I watched Tigertail on Netflix, and heard Taiwanese being spoken, I suddenly felt like my mom was hugging me. Taiwanese, aka Hokkien, is the language the adults used to use when they didn't want us kids to know what they were talking about. But also, just casually with each other. I never learned Taiwanese though, because outside of Taiwan, the global Chinese dialect used is Mandarin, so that's what I learned. And unlike how many European languages of the same family have some degree of mutual intelligibility, that is not true for Chinese dialects. So, this blog post is really more about the Taiwanese language, but Tigertail inspired me to learn some basic Taiwanese Hokkien, and for anyone curious, here's a little bit of cultural and language insights...
Taiwanese Hokkien, comes from the Hokkien language spoken by Fujian immigrants from southeastern China. My understanding is that most Taiwanese people now, are descendants of this area, much like the British and Europeans emigrated to and dominated what is now known as North and South America. Singaporeans also speak Hokkien, though I'm sure with differences. But knowing this might help you visualize some of the migration of southern Chinese people.
There's a lot of interesting history that explains how Taiwanese Hokkien became what it is today, including different varieties duking it out and blending. I'm still studying all this history, so that's as much as I'll say about that for now, but it's fascinating. Taiwan's history, in general, is very fascinating, when you consider the numerous countries that colonized it up until the end of WWII.
And after watching Tigertail, I thankfully found a podcast that teaches basic Taiwanese, so I'm learning! I've also realized that I know more than I realized just from growing up being around it. It makes me smile when I think of my parents naturally sifting between languages and blending them. Often times my Nai Nai would speak to us in a combo of Japanese, Taiwanese, Mandarin, and English! And it was funny, because I could only understand half of what she was saying!
Language is such a beautiful thing, because it roots us in our identity and history.
In case you're interested, the podcast is called Bite-Size Taiwanese.
And one more thing about Tigertail, it's a beautiful movie. For those of us with immigrant parents, or who are immigrants ourselves, it really makes you think about that journey here. At least for me, it really made me think even more about what it was like for my parents to move here--especially my mom who left her entire family to move here with my dad.
As much as I'm grateful for the life my parents have built me here, I long to connect with roots across the ocean.