Nuggets of Hokkien phrases

Discussions on the Hokkien (Minnan) language.
Mark Yong
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Joined: Fri Apr 29, 2005 3:52 pm

Nuggets of Hokkien phrases

Postby Mark Yong » Wed May 18, 2011 12:49 am

I wasn't quite sure where to slot this one amongst the highly-active threads in recent weeks, so I thought for good order, I'd start a new one.

Here's a phrase that my father-in-law (a 2nd generation Malaysian Hokkien of 永春 Eng Chun descent) used in a conversation with me about three months ago - 有棺材,無靈魂 u kuaⁿ-cha, boh leng-hun "got coffin, (but) no soul".

I have forgotten the topic of conversation (I vaguely recall it was something to do with a person without roots or a permanent home), and hence the context in which the phrase was used, and it is kind of awkward for me to go back and ask him now.

Any takers?

niuc
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Location: Singapore

Re: Nuggets of Hokkien phrases

Postby niuc » Sun May 22, 2011 2:27 am

Hi Mark

I never heard that, but it sounded somewhat familiar. I have a book 台灣諺語, it lists 有棺材,無靈位, meaning 有名無實. Not sure if this is the same as yours. My father used to say 有禮, 無體 "ū-lé, bô thé", meaning the same.

Mark Yong
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Joined: Fri Apr 29, 2005 3:52 pm

Re: Nuggets of Hokkien phrases

Postby Mark Yong » Fri May 27, 2011 12:43 pm

Hi, niuc,

You could be right, I probably mis-heard 有棺材,無靈位 as 有棺材,無靈魂. The definition provided seems to match the context I heard it spot-on. Thanks for this.

PS. Apologies for the late reply - your post came in during the same period that the Forum was very active with so many other new posts, so it kind of got camouflaged! :lol:

niuc
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Re: Nuggets of Hokkien phrases

Postby niuc » Sat May 28, 2011 11:22 pm

No problem, Mark, indeed there are so many things to read, which is great! 8)

Ah-bin
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Re: Nuggets of Hokkien phrases

Postby Ah-bin » Thu Jun 09, 2011 10:56 am

Now I haven't found this particular saying in the book that arrived yesterday, but I am going to advertise the book here anyway...it is cheap, detailed, linguistically accurate and fascinating.

漳州方言熟語歌謠 by 楊秀明

It has sections on proverbs, on songs, on 歇後語 (don't know how to say that one in English)

I was very happy to have found this one in it:

Biō sè ang toā 廟細尪大 = a big God in a little temple = a big fish in a small pond!

So I thought I'd post it here.

The whole series (I have posted it in another thread, just search 漳州方言) is an excellent resource for learning about the amazing variety of the Min languages.

SimL
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Location: Amsterdam

Re: Nuggets of Hokkien phrases

Postby SimL » Thu Jun 09, 2011 10:41 pm

Ah-bin wrote:... on 歇後語 (don't know how to say that one in English)

Again, the marvels of the Internet, specifically Wikipedia.

Chinese Wikipedia has: http://zh.wikipedia.org/wiki/%E6%AD%87%E5%BE%8C%E8%AA%9E

which links to English Wikipedia:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Xiehouyu:

Xiehouyu (simplified Chinese: 歇后语; traditional Chinese: 歇後語; pinyin: xiēhòuyǔ "a saying with the latter-part suspended") is a kind of Chinese proverb consisting of two elements: the former segment presents a novel scenario while the latter provides the rationale thereof. One would often only state the first part, expecting the listener to know the second. Compare English "a stitch in time (saves nine)" or "a bird in the hand (is worth two in the bush)".

The one which came to mind when I first found out the meaning of 歇後語 was "it gives one pause". This is short for "it gives one pause for thought", but the meaning is quite obscure without the second part (actually, the meaning is quite obscure even with the second part).

In European languages, leaving out the first part is also common. German has "Mahlzeit!", which just means "meal". It's short for "Gute Mahlzeit!" (= "(have a) good meal!"), and is said at the start of a meal to one's dinner companions. And of course "Morning!", "Night!" as a greeting and parting respectively, are short for "Good Morning!" and "Good Night!". All of these are also not obvious with respect to their meaning, unless one knows the full phrase.

PS. I do realise that the European examples I gave are slightly different from the 歇後語 in Chinese. The Chinese ones by definition have two parts, and one leaves out the second. My examples are a more general form, leaving out a specific part of what is not necessarily a two-part phrase.

Actually, I wouldn't be surprised if there was a technical linguistic term in English for this, but I don't know it, and haven't been able to find it.

Ah-bin
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Re: Nuggets of Hokkien phrases

Postby Ah-bin » Thu Jun 09, 2011 11:08 pm

Thank you for that SIm, I could have explained it myself I suppose, but it does take a bit of time to do! For some things I think there just aren't any English terms, like Chinese doesn't have a word for "anagram", and you have to explain the whole concept, even though there might be a technical name somewhere known only to a few enthusiasts (like "POJ" and “punji” :mrgreen: ).

I have some idea that somewhere some smart-alec sinologist studies 歇後語 and has come up with a not-very-clever way to refer to them in English. Like what happened to the term for Chinese comedy. It seems to be trendy now to translate 相聲 as "cross-talk" which to me sounds more like talking in the voice of the opposite sex... :mrgreen: . I think they should just have described it as "Chinese stand-up comedy"...."Chinese Opera" seems to work fine enough and makes more sense than "cross-talk".

Two terms I had trouble explaining in Chinese were milkman and pantomime horse.

That last one bugged me for years...I really wanted to talk about pantomime horses and there wasn't any term for them! I just had to say "two people dressed up as a horse in a play" and that doesn't sound half as good as "pantomine horse"!

SimL
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Re: Nuggets of Hokkien phrases

Postby SimL » Fri Jun 10, 2011 3:00 am

Hi Ah-bin,

Yes, in the same vein, we have culturally related situations. My picture dictionary (made in the West, presumably in England) shows a donkey being ridden by children at the beach. When I first saw this, I wondered whether it makes any sense in another culture.

Ah-bin
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Location: Somewhere in the Hokloverse

Re: Nuggets of Hokkien phrases

Postby Ah-bin » Fri Jun 10, 2011 9:51 am

Hahaha....that's classic! I wonder if they also had a Punch and Judy show going on in the background so people could learn the Chinese word for it? :lol:

niuc
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Location: Singapore

Re: Nuggets of Hokkien phrases

Postby niuc » Fri Jun 10, 2011 5:48 pm

Ah-bin wrote:Biō sè ang toā 廟細尪大 = a big God in a little temple = a big fish in a small pond!

Ang, first tone? In my variant it would (only) means husband. The corresponding term in my variant is 尪仔. But instead of pronouncing it as āng_ä, we say àng_ä. However, we barely use this term to refer to a statue or painting of a deity (we call it sîn-siōng 神像), but to mean cartoon (尪仔圖, 紙坯尪仔).

How do you say statue & cartoon in Penang & other variants?

Two terms I had trouble explaining in Chinese were milkman and pantomime horse.

Upssst, I don't understand either. So the milkman here is not the man who delivers milk bottles?

Mark Yong
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Joined: Fri Apr 29, 2005 3:52 pm

Re: Nuggets of Hokkien phrases

Postby Mark Yong » Fri Jun 10, 2011 6:35 pm

niuc wrote:
How do you say statue & cartoon in Penang & other variants?

1. In this particular context, I am assuming ‘statue’ = ‘idol’: 尪公 âng-kŌng. Low-mid tones.
2. Altar: 尪公桌 âng-kÔng tôq. Low-low-low tones.
3. Doll (which, for want of a better word, I would borrow for ‘cartoon’!): 尪公仔 âng-kÔng-ă Low-low-high tones.

Ah-bin
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Re: Nuggets of Hokkien phrases

Postby Ah-bin » Sat Jun 11, 2011 10:43 am

Upssst, I don't understand either. So the milkman here is not the man who delivers milk bottles?


Yes, and now thinking about it, I don't know whether they even exist any more. They were in my town until I left in the mid-1990's, and I used to help my friend work as the milkman's boy in the evenings, and my brother was one back in the village we came from in the 1980's.

What I wanted to explain was the phrase "the milkman's son", meaning a child of suspicious parentage. After a lot of explanation, I found out that the Mandarin term was 在外面撿到的(孩子)!

AndrewAndrew
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Re: Nuggets of Hokkien phrases

Postby AndrewAndrew » Sat Jun 11, 2011 12:11 pm

Ah-bin wrote:
Upssst, I don't understand either. So the milkman here is not the man who delivers milk bottles?


Yes, and now thinking about it, I don't know whether they even exist any more. They were in my town until I left in the mid-1990's, and I used to help my friend work as the milkman's boy in the evenings, and my brother was one back in the village we came from in the 1980's.


They still exist in the UK

niuc
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Location: Singapore

Re: Nuggets of Hokkien phrases

Postby niuc » Sun Jun 12, 2011 8:33 pm

Mark Yong wrote:1. In this particular context, I am assuming ‘statue’ = ‘idol’: 尪公 âng-kŌng. Low-mid tones.

Probably Singaporeans also say "ang1-kong1" in this context. They say 尪公囝 "ang1-kong1-kiaⁿ2" for dolls and cartoons. This sounds puzzling for Bâ-gán-lâng because in my variant "ang1-kong1" is only used for grandfather.

Sideline a bit, a1 is usually pronounced as ang1/am1/an2 as a form of endearment:
阿公/姑 -> a1-> ang1-kong1/ko•1
阿舅 -> a1-> ang2-ku7
阿嬤 -> a1 -> am1-ma8
阿叔/姨/嬸/丈/伯/姆 -> a1 -> an2-cik4/i5/cim2/tiuⁿ7/pe4/m2

2. Altar: 尪公桌 âng-kÔng tôq. Low-low-low tones.

We say 大伯公桌(仔).

3. Doll (which, for want of a better word, I would borrow for ‘cartoon’!): 尪公仔 âng-kÔng-ă Low-low-high tones.

For doll, we say 尪仔嬰仔.

Ah-bin wrote:What I wanted to explain was the phrase "the milkman's son", meaning a child of suspicious parentage. After a lot of explanation, I found out that the Mandarin term was 在外面撿到的(孩子)!

I see. I didn't know this phrase either, thanks! In my variant, we teasingly say pùn-sò-tháng khioh_ë 糞埽桶拾个. Sometimes instead of pùn-sò, we say sam1-pa1, from Malay "sampah".


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