Owen, our fifteen-month-old son, speaks more Cantonese than English. Although Michelle and I speak to him in both English and our best approximation of Chinese, Owen’s grandparents converse with him almost exclusively in their native tongue. Our little guy understands English, but prefers to communicate in Cantonese – probably because of the forceful, monosyllabic nature of the language. “Nai-nai!” he shrieks when he wants milk. “Mo-mo!” he screams when he wants to wear a hat. “Dung-dung!” he cries when he spies a lamp.
(Owen loves short, declarative words. After hearing his mother curse upon accidentally burning herself at the stove, he began happily chanting “FUCKFUCKFUCKFUCKFUCK!”)
When Owen beams at strangers in restaurants and supermarkets, they frequently gravitate to his chubby smile and his furious little hand-waves, and try to start conversations with him. “What’s your name, young man?” they ask. “Dung-dung!” Owen responds, referring to a light source behind them. “Dung-dung!” I often feel the need to explain that my child isn’t named after excrement.
I love the fact that when Owen goes to pre-school, no one will understand his particular brand of Chinglish. That way, when he unleashes another torrent of “FUCKFUCKFUCKFUCKFUCK,” we’ll just tell people he’s saying something nice in Chinese, like "flower" or "friend."