Born and raised in Sichuan province, China, everyone I knew spoke in heavy Sichuan dialect. Yet somehow my grandparents managed to raise me speaking Putong accent. Maybe it was because I spent more time watching TV than interacting with human people… Early signs of my TV obsessions as an almost adult? Nah.
So there I was in a small town where there were more scooters than cars and giant tricycles far out-numbered taxis with an accent equivalent of the Queen’s English. I remember trying to speak Sichuan accent for a while in the first grade but I soon found out that I could only say one phrase: “I’m telling on you!” I can tell you that having a posh accent and compensating for it by shooting “I’m telling on you!” all the time is great way to get popular in school.
It wasn’t just school friends either but all my family spoke Sichuanhwa. Of course I understood it, having listened to it all my life, but to this day they still think I can’t so they always spoke to me in Putonghwa. Just imagine if you had some Southern relative who punctuated their sentences with yee-haws and ho-diggidies began speaking to you if they were an 18th century aristocrat. “Oh I say that roasted raccoon was jolly good!! Particularly with that savory flavor of last fort-night’s garbage.” My grandma never spoke Putonghwa though. She always called it Budonghwa, “Don’t understand speech”. It’s thanks to her stubbornness and pride in our province’s dialect that kept me able to even understand it after I moved to Canada and no one I knew spoke it.
It wasn’t just my grandma who had pride in Sichuan dialect. Our provinces was so proud of it in fact that we decided to dub Tom and Jerry in Sichuanhwa when we broadcaster it. I’ll let you think about that for a second…. Tom and Jerry. The show that had no dialogue to begin with. And they dubbed it just to show off our dialect. Yup. That’s how proud we were of it. Though it did suit the comedy and the silliness of the show with all the strange slang. Sometimes the slang seemed just made up. In fact one time my grandpa made up “mender” which was his way of calling someone an idiot. No the whole family uses it. Maybe in 50 years it will be a real word in Sichuan dialect.
I’m getting pretty excited after writing all this to go back to China this summer and be immersed in this dialect again. Yes it’s silly and hickish but it’s also very caring in it’s own way. It’s loud and boisterous and familiar. You say little sis when you mean young lady no matter what you’re saying you sound excited. It lacks the politeness and grace of English or even Putonghwa but it never fails to make me feel at home in every sense of the word.