Tuesday, April 05, 2011

My Mother’s Tongue

“Taigo! Taigo!” Mama called her faithful companion. I had to smile at the choice of name for her brown mongrel dog. Taigo is a mangled form of Tiger, a word Mama must have picked up from Discovery Channel or National Geographic, being the avid TV viewer she used to be.

I noticed she was learning some English words. Surprisingly, she could use many of them correctly! I told my son during one of my mother’s visits: Nenek is going home tomorrow. And she’d repeat it to my son: Mami kau bilang saya pulang bisuk.

Or she’d tell me that my BIL “tidak miss pigi makan sana kadai.” For someone who had never spent a day in school, she has no problem picking up the occasional English word. Pronouncing the words, however, is another matter. She’d try her best at forming a fair reproduction of the sounds but her tongue stubbornly refuses to be pliable and her lips take the shape of a tyre when they should be lying side by side like two bananas.

In our language, some English word sounds do not exist. Mama will always have difficulty with certain sounds: the ‘er’ sound such as in finer, burger and mirror being one of them. So her dog’s name slipped out of her mouth as Taigo even if she really wanted to call him Tiger. And I know she’d say bogo for burger; bullot for bullet—not that she’ll ever need to use the word bullet.

Mama also has difficulty with the ‘ch’ sound. This comes out as ‘s’. Kaca becomes kasa; cepat becomes sapat. One day she had me puzzling over her statement: Si Buangkut (my nephew) kana antar sana rumah budak sasat. I was instantly thinking: There’s a special house for kids who got lost? It was of course rumah budak cacat! (Buangkut-- not his real name-- is dumb, that’s speech-impaired, okay? Not dumb as in stupid.)

Although Mama has more problems with tongue-twisting English (and Malay) words than most, she is by no means the only one I know. Decades ago when I was teaching in Toboh, I came across several Dusun kids who exchanged the ‘p’ with the ‘f’ sound. So we made up sentences to help the students practise the sounds: My father is a padi planter. But they still said: My pader is a fadi flanter. Or, these plowers are fretty.  In this case, it wasn’t because they couldn’t form the sounds perfectly. They just exchanged one sound for the other.

I’ve also got relatives who face the same problem. They may have studied English for years and years and have even gone to university for multiple degrees but they still say sentences such as: I telepon por the mechanic to ask about my Fajero but his wipe said something about a Toyota Rab Por. (I telephoned for the mechanic to ask about my Pajero but his wife said something about a Toyota Rav4.)

However, this doesn’t mean they’ve problem with all the f and p sounds. They can easily say: I parked the car without any problem. Or, do you belong to any political party? Or, tell the stupid fella to stop making stupid comments in parliament.

Now back to Mama’s English vocabulary. One of the latest words she has picked up is ‘contact’ which she pronounces as ‘coontik’. No, this has nothing to do with telephone contacts and such. The word is used in this context: Can I contact you?

Somehow, Mama thinks it means: Can I sleep with you? Or, can I have sex with you?

OMG! When she described to me the escapades of a certain someone who was guilty of ‘coontiking’ with a certain girl—the description even included the accompanying ‘special effects’—I was flabbergasted. Tell me, how do you talk about sex with your mum?

All pics from Google Images


  1. my mom? she never answers it. =/

  2. Hi Tina, another interesting entry!

    Reminds me of my very own parents. They are lovely people, I think highly of them... tapi how annoying it is that they refused to train themselves to pronounce Z properly.

    'Nak, mari pigi makan pijja (pizza).'
    'Gemuk sudah si Siti Nurhalija (Nurhaliza) sekarang kan?'
    'Kamu sampai di KK plaja (plaza) sudah kah?'

    They love to sound A as O or E too, depends on their mood. My sister's name is Nadirah. If she's lucky, they pronounced it correctly. If not so lucky, she'll be Nodirah or Nedirah. Other examples:

    'Mana semua buku lotihan/letihan ko?'

    'Ko kena lontik/lentik pengawas lagi kah tahun ni?'

    'Coontik' to my parents is 'mengurat'. Mother always reminds my bachelor brother to behave himself. Her favourite line is 'Jangan lah telampau menguntik sumandak ah..satu cukuplah.' I can't imagine how your mother would translate that...

    Sex never get mentioned in my parents house. Therefore I never talked about sex with my mother.

    Cheers for good writing Tina. XO

  3. Oh, and a few years ago I had a batch of year 1 pupils who kept pronouncing six as SEX.

    one, two, three, four, five, SEX, seven ....

    Lucky tiada nazir datang melawat before I could get them to pronounce it right. Entah siapa guru tadika/preschool diorang...

  4. Tina,
    completely off topic, i'd like you to read this post and to the link provided if you feel into it. its about bookswap over the internet. knowing you love to read and have written a book yourself, i cant help myself sharing the thought.


    btw, i personally have prob pronouncing english words and i keep on switching the J and Z. dusun sejati ih sorou.

  5. Hi all!
    Thanks for your comments!
    @Angel: I guess many parents have trouble talking about sex to their children. My mother is a rare one. Haha.. she even provides details. I'm the one who's uncomfortable!
    @Gunaqz: That's very amusing decription of your parents... esp pronouncing words according to their moods. I can imagine!
    I've had kids who also insisted 6 is sex... and kecil is kisil!
    @Kukuanga: Books eh? Will check your post! Thanks!

  6. i got walls' Half Broke Horses from our local Popular bookstore. i can mail it to you if you wish to borrow.

    i've started a bookswap/loan with 15 books to offer. your book is on the list, as i bought 2 copies and my sister also have one. it'd be cool for others to know about our tradition.

  7. Hi Tina:

    Great post as usual. 2 "english" words still in use by folks now are "gostan" (go astern) and "gudimit" (god damn it). As for the latter, I wonder how many of them realise they transgressing "Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain."

    A hybrid of course is "minggior" (main gear) - a descriotion used to describe a vehicle stuck deep in mud, wheels spinning, and the driver is trying to rapidly to change the gear shift from reverse to forward and back (playing the gears).

  8. Thanks for dropping in, Rayner! I didn't know about 'gudimit' which, I must say, sounds quite harmless.

    'Minggior' sounds so Dusun! And talking about gears and car parts, who hasn't heard of 'longsap', the lazy form of long shaft?