Reflections on a Wandering Life.....

Monday, June 09, 2008

This evening, after I finished my New Zealand lamb chops, I got into a discussion with some folks about local dialects. The Beihai dialect is always referred to as "Baihua." This always puzzled me, because it seemed to me that the Beihai dialect should be called "Beihua." But I have asked several people, including Snow. Definitely Baihua. Baise de bai. So what does it mean? My dictionary translates Baihua as vernacular, which would be right, but not specific enough. If all Baihua means is "vernacular," then every village's language would be called, "Baihua." But when you ask people here, that's what they say. Anyway, tonight the discussion wandered off into a description of local dialects everywhere. This Irish guy who builds golf courses talked about how, in his home community, you could hear a different dialect in every village as you moved up into the hills. He also said that there were places where the old folks did not speak any English. This surprised me, because I had always thought that Gaelic had pretty much gone out of use in Ireland. I suppose that's because all the Irish folks I have met in China have clearly been native speakers of English, albeit with a bit of an Irish brogue. Tommy was talking about how, as a child in Sweden, when he traveled to a different valley just a few miles away, he couldn't understand anything. They pointed right across the bay to the little village of Hepu (location of the sweater factory), and gave some examples of how things are pronounced in that community. Sounded very different from Beihai, but one American was not impressed. "That's nothing," he said. "In my neighborhood, it changes when you cross the street. We say, 'hello.' They say ola. We say, 'Thank-you.' They say gracias."

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