My life was multilingual the minute I was born. During my infant years in Taiwan, I was surrounded by Taiwanese, Japanese, Hakkanese, and Mandarin Chinese. One of my first spoken sentences was “My butt is cold” which each word in the sentence in a different language. When I came to the US, English and Spanish were heavily added to that mix. So, as you can imagine, I sometimes confused one language for the other, and my mom sure got a kick out of the 4-year-old-me who used to count like this, “…three, four, five, six, siete, eight…” I blame Sesame Street for that one.
As I’ve grown up, I’m discovering a lot of what I thought was Taiwanese language is actually not Taiwanese. More after the jump.
When my dad or mom used to help the other back into or out of a parking space, I heard them say,
I totally thought this was Taiwanese. Then I found out it was actually English. Since Taiwan belonged to Japan for over half a century, they learned a lot of Japanese-accented English. “Bah-koo” was actually “back” with a heavy Japanese accent.
Here’s another one. My mom would tell my dad to wear his “Neh-koo-tai.” That’s English for “Necktie”. Deceived again.
Also, my parents knew I loved apples, so they always bought me “ringo” which, again, I thought was Taiwanese for apple but found out it was actually Japanese. Other Japanese words I thought were Taiwanese:
adama oki (big head)
Recently, my dad revealed to me that all those times he was saying “ah-beh-nee-dah” when referring to a road, he was actually using the Spanish word “Avenida” for “road.” Oh yeah, Portugal was in Taiwan way back when. That’s why the island was and is still known to the Europeans as “Ilha Formosa” which means “Island Beautiful” in Portuguese. That might also explain why when my parents were deciding to immigrate, they were choosing between America and Brazil.
Since Taiwan was and is such a major sea port and area of trade with a long history of colonialism and population flux, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. Still, these rude linguistic awakenings are quite unnerving. Have you had any?