Singaporean Movie: It's a great great world (toā-sè-kài 大世界)

Discussions on the Hokkien (Minnan) language.
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FutureSpy
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Singaporean Movie: It's a great great world (toā-sè-kài 大世界)

Post by FutureSpy » Mon May 06, 2013 4:12 am

A nice Singaporean movie mostly in Hokkien. The plot is very simple: after her a-má's death and close down of her family's studio, a girl decides to give back the pics that decorated the shop to their owners. In order to find out who these people are, she goes after one of her a-má's friend. The movie is basically composed of flashbacks with him telling the girl stories about each of these people, including himself. One takes part in the 40's during the war, and the others, during the 60's and the 70's in Singapore from night markets and nightclubs before the so-called "progress" arrived.

I have no idea of Singapore history, but in these stories from the 60's and 70's, young people already spoke Mandarin to people same age as them and lower, and Hokkien to older people. I wonder if that's realistic, given Speak Mandarin Campaign is, AFAIK, from the late 70's. People already spoke that much Mandarin? Anyone could shed some light on that? :?:

Personally, what I like the most about Singaporean Hokkien movies is that they tend to be very nostalgic somehow. It's like if Hokkien was one of Singapore's modern ghosts inevitably evoked whenever talking about past. It's sad for the language, but I love the atmosphere they get to create, kinda local flavor, I don't really know, really... I've seen a few Taiwanese movies, and they lack that. Taiwanese movies are more of an art than entertainment, with overcomplicated and boring plots. And you hardly get to find a Taiwanese comedy (Cape No. 7 海角七號 is the only one that pops to my mind right now, but I don't know many Taiwanese movies).

Other than that, I find Singaporean Hokkien from these movies a lot easier to understand than Taiwanese. I can even understand full sentences, and I keep getting bombarded with lots of words I already know. That makes me feel really motivated and happy watching them :mrgreen: For some reason, with Taiwanese movies I always let slip out even words I already know... My Hokkien is still very poor, that's why. :lol: Nevertheless, I still feel strong ties to Singaporean Hokkien. If only it was easier to find a Singaporean tutor... :cry:

Anyway, it's one of the best Singaporean movies I've seen in the past 10 years or so. I know nothing about cinema, but all I can tell is that it was very very entertaining and interesting, so I can't recommend it enough :mrgreen:

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niuc
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Re: Singaporean Movie: It's a great great world (toā-sè-kài

Post by niuc » Mon May 06, 2013 6:54 pm

FutureSpy, from what I know, this movie is not meant to be (fully) historically accurate. As you have noted, I don't think many Singaporean spoke Mandarin before 80's. Btw, although my variant is not exactly Singaporean Hokkien and I have no time to be a tutor, I can skype with you sometimes if both of us are free.

I also strongly dislike most Taiwanese tv series, which are usually long winded with stupid plot that play for hundreds or even 1 thousand episodes. If only they can have some like Taiwan Mandarin (youngsters) or Hong Kong tv series. The only one I liked was 浪淘沙, about the first female doctor in Taiwan, and not long winded. If you have not watched it, may be you can give it a try.
SimL
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Re: Singaporean Movie: It's a great great world (toā-sè-kài

Post by SimL » Mon May 06, 2013 8:12 pm

FutureSpy wrote:I have no idea of Singapore history, but in these stories from the 60's and 70's, young people already spoke Mandarin to people same age as them and lower, and Hokkien to older people. I wonder if that's realistic, given Speak Mandarin Campaign is, AFAIK, from the late 70's. People already spoke that much Mandarin? Anyone could shed some light on that? :?:
I haven't seen the movie, so I can't comment on *exactly* how accurate this is, but if I compare it to my own youthful experiences in Malaysia of the late 60's and early 70's, then (what I imagine of) the film is not totally implausible, perhaps even totally plausible.

As I have (partially) described in other postings, when I was young (in that period), the Chinese in Malaysia were quite strongly divided into "Chinese-educated" and "English-educated". Both groups spoke their home Sinitic language quite well (i.e. for all home, kitchen, and market activities), and then had their formal education in, respectively, Mandarin or English. The Chinese-educated (in general) spoke English quite badly (just basic conversation) and with a very distinct "Chinese accent". The English-educated (again, in general) spoke little or no Mandarin (i.e. even less Mandarin than the Chinese-educated could speak English), and spoke English quite fluently, but with a "(Chinese-)Malaysian" accent.

[Furthermore, in the most negative and extreme form of this "division", the Chinese-educated despised the English-educated for being "Western lackeys", and the English-educated looked down on the Chinese-educated as being "unexposed to the Modern World". I say "in the most negative and extreme form" because this was by no means a common, all pervasive feeling between and within the two groups, but there were elements of it throughout the two groups, and some extreme members of each might have felt exactly this.]

This meant that among a group of school-friends, the normal language of conversation was (in school *certainly*, and out of school also almost always) Mandarin or English. This is because we had so much everyday contact already, in these languages, and if we wanted to say "biology" or "election" or "doing a doctorate" or "income tax", then we would know these terms far more readily in Mandarin or English, than in Hokkien (or any of the home Sinitic languages). To this day, if I meet up with Malaysian schoolmates from that time, we will speak almost exclusively in English (and I imagine a Chinese-educated contemporary of mine would do the same with his/her friends, in Mandarin).

In that sense, (what I imagine of) what you saw in the film makes sense.

The real difference between the set-up in my time and the current situation in Singapore would be 1) Among my friends, we *could* switch to one or two lines in Hokkien among ourselves (though we hardly ever did it, perhaps just for humorous effect), and 2) We could all speak to our grandparents in Hokkien. I suppose neither of these is true for a 16 y.o. Singaporean today.

I understand from private correspondence with Mark (and my own observations) that this "Chinese-educated" vs. "English-educated" split is nowadays nowhere near as strong as it used to be. The English of the (descendents of the) "English-educated" (which used to be 70%/80% to near-native fluency) has deteriorated incredibly, and the English of the (descendents of the) "Chinese-educated" has improved slightly. Also, the (descendents of the) "English-educated" nowadays can speak quite good Mandarin. For example, none of my cousins who stayed back in Malaysia can speak Mandarin, whereas practically all their children can (obviously learnt in school, not from within the family).

Short question, long answer :P.

PS. This is purely my personal take on the situation, then and now. Any other (ex-)Malaysians wishing to offer a different portrayal of how things were are certainly welcome to share.
FutureSpy
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Re: Singaporean Movie: It's a great great world (toā-sè-kài

Post by FutureSpy » Tue May 07, 2013 8:26 am

niuc wrote:I also strongly dislike most Taiwanese tv series, which are usually long winded with stupid plot that play for hundreds or even 1 thousand episodes. If only they can have some like Taiwan Mandarin (youngsters) or Hong Kong tv series. The only one I liked was 浪淘沙, about the first female doctor in Taiwan, and not long winded. If you have not watched it, may be you can give it a try.
So do I! But seems like Taiwanese dramas are kinda popular in SG. I read and 意難忘 was really really popular a few years ago. Well, not only SG. My teacher from Cebu saw these in the PH as well... I think you commented before on 浪淘沙, but I couldn't find any decent quality vids. In some of the ones floating around one can hardly read the Mandarin subtitles :\
niuc wrote:Btw, although my variant is not exactly Singaporean Hokkien and I have no time to be a tutor, I can skype with you sometimes if both of us are free.
Sure! But I think I still need to learn more before trying a conversation with someone speaking another dialect :mrgreen:
SimL wrote:I haven't seen the movie, so I can't comment on *exactly* how accurate this is, but if I compare it to my own youthful experiences in Malaysia of the late 60's and early 70's, then (what I imagine of) the film is not totally implausible, perhaps even totally plausible.
Sim, thanks for sharing information on that period. It was about the same period when Singapore secession, right? In the movie, there was a brief reference to that too. I've always wondered how language shift started taking place Singapore and Malaysia, and period was perhaps crucial.
SimL wrote:The real difference between the set-up in my time and the current situation in Singapore would be 1) Among my friends, we *could* switch to one or two lines in Hokkien among ourselves (though we hardly ever did it, perhaps just for humorous effect), and 2) We could all speak to our grandparents in Hokkien. I suppose neither of these is true for a 16 y.o. Singaporean today.
Perhaps. But I've read many people say they end up learning Hokkien in the army. I've seem in many Singaporean movies many conversations between a-kóng a-má and their grandkids, and usually the young ones speak in Mandarin and the old ones in Hokkien and they understand each other. So my guess is that passive knowledge still exists even in the generation now in their twenties. Their parents seem to still be able to speak it to some extend as well, but didn't pass it on to the kids. I also have a Singaporean Malay friend who said he picked up Hokkien in the army. Not sure of how many people actually make the effort to actually learn or simply limit themselves to understand it. If they're still learning it, there still some hope for SG. Otherwise... It shouldn't last more than a few generations. :\
SimL
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Re: Singaporean Movie: It's a great great world (toā-sè-kài

Post by SimL » Wed May 08, 2013 2:41 am

FutureSpy wrote:Sim, thanks for sharing information on that period. It was about the same period when Singapore secession, right? In the movie, there was a brief reference to that too. I've always wondered how language shift started taking place Singapore and Malaysia, and period was perhaps crucial.
I couldn't remember exactly when, but the Wikipedia article on Singapore says 1965. So, yes, very much in the period I was talking about.

This is much earlier than I "feel" it, but I have a good explanation for this. On the "official" level, the act occurred in 1965. But in terms of mentality, it takes perhaps 5-10 years for something as fundamental as this to really penetrate into the subconsciousness of (older) individuals. So, my "feeling" of Singapore's separation from Malaysia would be that it took place well into the late 70's or even early 80's.

I may have mentioned before that for many years (after 1965), central Singapore continued to look a lot more like the central ("Chinatown") parts of Penang and KL than Penang or KL looked like other parts of Malaysia. Such things help to keep people's subconsciousness from really feeling the "reality" of the changes.

It's a bit like "Czechoslovakia". I think for a good 10 years after the Czech Republic and Slovakia were independent countries, I would still catch myself saying in conversation (or thinking to myself) "Czechoslovakia".

So, my own personal feeling is that this change in Singapore only started in the mid-80's. Apparently, the "Speak Mandarin Campaign" was launched in 1979 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Speak_Mandarin_Campaign), but like I said above, this would not actually result in real change until quite a few years later. And Malaysia, without such a campaign, would probably have lagged further behind than Singapore (to this day, IMHO).

Again, all just my personal opinion, and based on only three or four visits of one or two weeks, in 3 decades, so other more knowledgable people should *please* feel free to disagree or offer more detailed information.
SimL
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Re: Singaporean Movie: It's a great great world (toā-sè-kài

Post by SimL » Wed May 08, 2013 7:04 am

PS. I venture the opinion that the current version of the http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Speak_Mandarin_Campaign article has been edited by some pretty strongly anti-Mandarin contributors :P.

I thought it might be interesting to quote some passages here, so that they are easily accessible, if ever pro-Mandarin Singaporeans decide to do an edit to eliminate these aspects. (I realise that the entire history of a Wikipedia article is always available, but I'm talking about ease of seeing this particular content, not its availability.)

Mind you, both passage I quote below are footnoted as being derived from published material, so it's not just personal opinion being expressed here, but has a "wider validity".

The quotes:

However, in recent years, critics have point[ed out] that the sole purpose of the campaign was to eliminate old regional cultural linguistic rivalry that have existed since the time of the Southern Song vs. Jin and Yuan Kubalai Khantate. The government wanted to socially-engineer the Min/Cantonese/Southern Han Diaspora and force them to use the Standard dialect to create a more comfortable environment for the future waves (in the early 2000s) of Mongol, Manchu ad-mixed Han Chinese from provinces North of the Yangtze River. By pronouncing Chinese Characters in the PutongHua PinYin, the Northerners would feel more at ease, instead of the classical pronunciation in Cantonese and Min Nan Languages. In short, the local Singaporean Chinese were made to believe that Mandarin, or court speech, not their maternal dialects, was their "Mother Tongue". This is currently the biggest source of grievance for the local Singaporean Chinese 3rd/4th+ Generation Diaspora of the Republic of China and the Qing Dynasty towards the newcomers from the PRC mainland.

And:

However, the learning of Mandarin in its very essence only serves to alienate the younger generation from their roots, as it has expedited the communication gap between their dialect-speaking Grandparents. The Speak Mandarin Campaign is only a self-serving campaign for people who have closer ties with the Mandarins in the North - it has, indeed pushed the families of staunch dialects speakers to choose English over PuTongHua.
amhoanna
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Re: Singaporean Movie: It's a great great world (toā-sè-kài

Post by amhoanna » Wed May 08, 2013 1:03 pm

I read a couple of reports some time back that gave me the impression that passive knowledge of Mandarin was widespread in Singapore going way back.

Consider that many immigrants arrived to S'pore from a country that was already "officially Mandarin".

In any case, it was easier for old-time Sino-Singaporeans to pick up Mandarin than for their grandkids ... b/c the distance from Canto and Hakka to Mandarin is much closer than from Singlish to Mandarin.

間諜將來, U can try to hire this guy: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1FyDZR-du14

In my opinion, S'pore Hokkien is the most learner friendly type of Hokkien bar none. It is the most "Creolish", the most "universal", the most "leveled" dialect of Hokkien.

We should set up a Google Chat someday, someday...
FutureSpy
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Re: Singaporean Movie: It's a great great world (toā-sè-kài

Post by FutureSpy » Wed May 08, 2013 10:09 pm

Sim, thanks for your views on Malaysia/Singapore split. I've just read the Speak Mandarin Campaign article from Wikipedia again. I think I read it a few years ago, and it wasn't that aggressive. Seems like lots of informations were added, good thing. Did you have a similar campaign in Malaysia too?
amhoanna wrote:It is the most "Creolish", the most "universal", the most "leveled" dialect of Hokkien.
That's probably why it's so much easier to understand compared to Taiwanese. Perhaps that's also what niuc meant when he mentioned the "shallowness" of Singaporean Hokkien...
amhoanna wrote:間諜將來, U can try to hire this guy:
Nah, I tried to contact with this guy some 2 years ago or so with my old suspended profile. No response. It isn't his personal profile, hence why it's been abandoned for almost 4 years now...
SimL
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Re: Singaporean Movie: It's a great great world (toā-sè-kài

Post by SimL » Thu May 16, 2013 4:08 am

FutureSpy wrote:[...] Did you have a similar ["Mandarinization"] campaign in Malaysia too?
Hi FutureSpy,

No, we didn't. In the 1960's to the 1980's, the priorities of the Malaysian government in the area of language lay in a completely different direction. Please bear in mind that those were the three decades immediately after independence from Britain. During the British colonial period, the language of instruction in schools - and the language of administration - was (of course) English. Upon independence, switching this to Malay was hence one of the most important priorities of the Malayan/Malaysian government. What the various Chinese "dialect groups" did with their language was of little interest to the government, from this perspective.

Of course, "Mandarinization" (and the erosion / loss of the non-Mandarin Sinitic varieties) still continued at a vigorous tempo in Malaysia. But this was driven by the Chinese themselves. I seem to remember a member of this Forum (I'm really sorry, but I can't remember who - perhaps aokh) explaining that he'd written to (the KL branch of?) the Hokkien Hoay Kuan, asking them if they were interested in promoting Hokkien. He got either a "No, not interested" or no reply at all. [Please forgive me if my memory plays me false, and this was actually the Singapore Hokkien Hoay Kuan, and hence not illustrative of the point I'm trying to make. I searched on Google for "Hokkien Hoay Kuan", and only get the Singaporean one as hits (and the odd Malaccan one) - which now makes me wonder if my memory of this is accurate.] Anyway, with or without this additional piece of "evidence", "Mandarinization" did also occur in Malaysia, just perhaps not at as great a speed as in Singapore, because it was more "organic", and wasn't being driven by the government itself.
FutureSpy
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Re: Singaporean Movie: It's a great great world (toā-sè-kài

Post by FutureSpy » Tue May 21, 2013 11:21 am

Thanks, Sim! I'm now using the idle time while I wait some experiments from my coursework to finish to reply here :mrgreen:
SimL wrote:"Mandarinization" [...] was driven by the Chinese themselves.
So that's the typical 20th century way of thinking: "I'm not going to pass on our mother tongue 'cos I want my kids to succeed". Sad to find out the government didn't even had to make anything to impose Mandarin on Malaysian Chinese 'cos the parents already did the job to their kids... Something likewise happened in many parts of the world, and that's one of the factors why many languages are endangered.

BTW, I've seem a few movies from Malay recently, and I should say I'm very disappointed at the small space given to languages other than Malay and Mandarin. Not sure if it reflects current sociolinguistics in Malaysia, but I guess Hokkien is in a much worse state in Singapore, yet it's still present in many Singaporean movies. Is it a matter of pride or something? (although I'm yet to find a Singaporean who doesn't look down or is indifferent at Hokkien)
SimL wrote:Please forgive me if my memory plays me false, and this was actually the Singapore Hokkien Hoay Kuan
I tried contacting them a few years back, and got no reply. I've read they usually tell people to learn it from their a-kong a-má... Maybe they should change their name! :mrgreen:
AndrewAndrew
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Re: Singaporean Movie: It's a great great world (toā-sè-kài

Post by AndrewAndrew » Tue May 21, 2013 12:49 pm

FutureSpy wrote:BTW, I've seem a few movies from Malay recently, and I should say I'm very disappointed at the small space given to languages other than Malay and Mandarin. Not sure if it reflects current sociolinguistics in Malaysia, but I guess Hokkien is in a much worse state in Singapore, yet it's still present in many Singaporean movies. Is it a matter of pride or something? (although I'm yet to find a Singaporean who doesn't look down or is indifferent at Hokkien)
It is difficult to generalise in a country as diverse as Malaysia - in KL and Ipoh, Cantonese is very healthy due to cultural exports of Hong Kong; in Sabah, Hakka thrives despite the lack of anything similar; in Penang, Hokkien still holds on as a lingua franca, though it suffers from a lack of formal teaching and is at risk particularly amongst the young Chinese-educated; JB and Malacca are most like Singapore in that Teochew and Hokkien have ceased to be lingua francae. I can't speak for Foochow in Sitiawan or Sibu, or Hakka in other parts of East Malaysia.

As you may know, in most Malaysian towns, there is usually one predominant dialect, and other dialects, e.g. Hakka in Penang, tend to disappear. There is no Chinese dialect that would be understood across Malaysia other than Mandarin. Hokkien (of the Northern and Southern Malayan varieties) is the largest by population; however, due to the economic dominance of KL, Cantonese is regularly used in radio advertisements broadcast across Malaysia and Hokkien is not.
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Re: Singaporean Movie: It's a great great world (toā-sè-kài

Post by amhoanna » Sun Jun 16, 2013 7:39 pm

I've seem a few movies from Malay recently, and I should say I'm very disappointed at the small space given to languages other than Malay and Mandarin. Not sure if it reflects current sociolinguistics in Malaysia, but I guess Hokkien is in a much worse state in Singapore, yet it's still present in many Singaporean movies. Is it a matter of pride or something?
My comments on this:

1. There's probably not much sample size at play here... Cit nňg ê só͘cǎi hip ê tiān'iáⁿ lóng bô cē.

2. The perceived enemy of "Chinese heritage" in S'pore is the government, and Mandarin; in M'sia, Malays and Islamism.

3. M'sian mass media and art production (in a conventional sense) are KL-centric, and KL don't know much about Hoklo. Taⁿ Hoaⁿhí tâi ěcòetit khiǎkhí, cinciàⁿ bô kántoaⁿ ‧lah.
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