I have a friend who is very talented in language. But besides her fluency in English, French and Spanish, what impresses me the most is her smooth shift from Putonghua to Sichuan dialect. One minute she is talking with us with perfect Standard Mandarin, the next minute she would be on the phone with her mother, saying things like “我也好想你哟”, which could be roughly translated as “Miss you too.” She doesn’t feel bothered at all by the variety of languages she has to use. “It’s good to be multilingual,” as she put it, “as long as we know what we are talking about.”
Indeed, we all live in a multilingual era, whether we like it or not. The clothes we wear are multilingual. Brides today would wear elegant snow-white dress for the ceremony, and then change into a second dress of China-red Qipao for the celebration banquet. The food we eat today is multilingual. To start a brand new day, we can sit down for a quick breakfast of sandwich and coffee, or a slow one with delicious Yunnan crossing bridge rice noodles. Even the days we live seem to be multilingual. Three days after laughing heartedly with friends on April Fool’s Day, we start to make plans for Qingming, to accompany our parents to the family rituals of tomb sweeping.
Somebody compares our world to a global village. Yes, it is. With the rapid development of modern transportation system and computer technology, the wide wide world is brought to our door, and we to the door of the world. In this village, when we open our door and step out, we can meet our neighbors who are speaking Urdu, French and Arabian. Indeed, a symphony of foreign voices can be heard within the reach of our Chinese ears. It is no wonder somebody is worried. With so many new vocabularies flooding in, won’t we get confused? Won’t we pick up a new tongue and forget our old one?
In my opinion, the answer is definitely no. When two cultures meet, it is not necessarily an “A versus B” scenario in which the two fight—one losing, the other triumphing. Learning a new language and a new culture does not mean impoverishing our Chinese vocabulary and forgetting our own culture. Why do we have to feel compelled to take sides? Why should we feel guilty about being plural in a cultural sense? Yes, the wolf is coming if we only love Hollywood films and never sit through a complete performance of Peking Opera. But it is enrichment if we learn to appreciate both.
Globalization does not mean homogeneity. It means heterogeneity. Instead of one voice, there are many. Instead of fewer choices, there are more. Instead of a uniform world, there remains a rich and dazzling array of languages and cultures. Instead of double cursed to be deprived of our tongue, we are double blessed to be more melodious. That is also the reason why tonight, I am standing here, taking part in the English contest. I am speaking English, and I can guarantee you I am a 100% Chinese.