Retaining Hokkien Language

Discussions on the Hokkien (Minnan) language.
Yeo Boon Hong

Retaining Hokkien Language

Post by Yeo Boon Hong » Sat Apr 27, 2002 10:36 am

Dear Chinese of Hokkien (Minnan) descent,

There are more than 49 million Chinese who belong to the Hokkien or
Minnan language group i.e. the 21st largest language group in the
world. I believe there is a growing interest in this language
particularly with the inevitable trend that it would be one of the
official languages of Taiwan where about 85% of the population belong
to this language group according to ASIA, INC. Research. The Hokkiens
also form the largest Chinese dialect group in Singapore (40% of the
Chinese population), Malaysia (31.7%), Indonesia (50%) and the
Philippines (85%). I am sure many Chinese of Hokkien (Minnan) descent
would be interested to know more about this language particularly on
ways to arrest its rapid declining influence as a medium of
communication in their homes and the Chinese community generally. The
fact that it is not a medium of instruction in any schools is the main
contributory factor. There was effort to kill the language in Taiwan
at one time when students were fined if caught communicating in
Taiwanese Hokkien. In Singapore where Hokkien was once a lingua franca
among the Chinese community, Mandarin is being promoted at the
expense of our real mother-tongue. However, with greater democracy in
Taiwan, Hokkien along with Hakka and aboriginal languages are being
introduced this year in elementary schools as a language subject but
its impact is not that significant as it is limited to only 4 hours of
study a week. Another contributory factor is that the language is being
increasingly neglected by the Hokkiens themselves and totally
discriminated by TV channels especially in Malaysia and Singapore
where Hokkiens constitute a significant percentage of the population.
Cantonese seems to be increasing its influence due to abundant supply
of Cantonese movies and TV serials from Hong Kong. Perhaps the Chinese
Hokkiens should seriously explore ways to retain their language which
is an important element of their cultural heritage.
Sum Won

Re: Retaining Hokkien Language

Post by Sum Won » Tue Apr 30, 2002 6:43 pm

I'm aware of the MinNan language's declining situation. However, I would like to point out that TaiWan isn't so democratic as it seems. If you've ever watched "Li Ao" talk about the issues of TaiWan, you'll see how democracy and "free speech" are always being put down by the KMT, and Progressive-Democratic Party. Aside from this, about the TaiWanese having MinNan as the official language, I think it shouldn't come about unless you were to allow the Gao-Shan people in TaiWan to teach their 10-13 or so dialects as an academic curricular, and to be used as part of the official languages. Certainly last but not least, "don't forget the significant number of Hakkas in TaiWan too!"
However, don't mistake this as a put-down against the MinNan dialect, because I'm completely for preserving it. In fact, the best way to do so, would be to use the media to spread the language.
James Campbell

Re: Retaining Hokkien Language

Post by James Campbell » Fri May 17, 2002 7:41 pm

You say "preserving" MinNan and I find this strange. Why do you need to preserve something that is in full use? The media already does use it. Lee Denghui was on a TV interview last Saturday 100% in Taiwanese. Chen Shuibian is always on TV speaking it too. I'm talking about two presidents. If the leaders of the country are using it, a lot of people are going to follow suit.

As a foreigner having learned Chinese, my MinNan is almost as good as my Mandarin now due to daily impact from news, TV shows, radio, work, daily conversations, etc. all conducted in Taiwanese, I mean MinNan. Why would you need to preserve it? Mandarin is the language that many children learn as a second language once they get to school, so which language needs to be preserved in the future, Mandarin or Taiwanese? There is more and more use of it. It just doesn't have official recognition, that's all. But the children are learning how to read and write it in the schools now. So it looks obvious to me where it's going.

Li Ao on the other hand often represents a minority. You have to understand his background a little more. Just listen to his accent.
Yeo Boon Hong

Re: Retaining Hokkien Language

Post by Yeo Boon Hong » Sat May 18, 2002 2:39 pm

Dear Mr. James Campbell,

Having official recognition for the Minnan (Hokkien) language in Taiwan is undoubtedly necessary to promote its usage. The TSU lawmakers are pressing for it while the ruling DPP has not made its official position on it. It seems strange to me that while the vast majority of the Taiwanese claim Minnan hua as their first language, there seems to be very little progress to make it official. On the other hand, DPP seems to be giving more importance to English to the extent of considering making it official or semi-official! I recognise the importance of English as a global language but not to the extent of giving it precedence over Minnan hua which is an inalienable element of the dominant Taiwanese culture.
James Campbell

Re: Retaining Hokkien Language

Post by James Campbell » Sun May 19, 2002 6:48 pm

I don't think you need to worry about English taking over Banlam-ue, that would be almost impossible. Even when Mandarin's the official language, they still can't get everybody to use it.

Re: Retaining Hokkien Language

Post by Cheng » Mon Jun 03, 2002 7:13 am

It would be interesting if Hokkiens were able to produce a phonetic alphabet for their language. It would allow the language to be taught more efficiently and in return, spread further. There have been other romanization and hanji systems, but they had their faults.

I agree that media is a great way to spread language. There are some great movies in Hokkien. "Money No Enough" was a good one.
Sum Won

Re: Retaining Hokkien Language

Post by Sum Won » Mon Jun 03, 2002 9:53 pm

You know what? Speaking of Li Deng Hui speaking MinNan, it's funny. Because he's originally a hakka, but he only speaks MinNan.

Re: Retaining Hokkien Language

Post by noname » Tue Jun 11, 2002 5:01 am

It's sad to know that all these Chinese dialects are under threat of disappearing. And like the fellow above, I think it is impt to have some sort of official recognition. If anyone watched this year's Miss Chinese International, you'd have heard the contestants speaking their mother tongue, be it mandarin,cantonese,hakka,toisanese...That's the beauty of Chinese.

Amid all this, I also worry about the fact that mainland China is wiping out the use of traditional Chinese in the written form. Only HK and Taiwan (not sure about the other places in Asia) still use the old form. Moreover, what about the future in HK, will mandarin be favoured over Cantonese (not in a few years time, but over the course of decades)? And will they be forced to use simplified Chinese? Personally, I feel it's pathetic that a bunch of people in Beijing decided to take such a beautiful language and replace it with chicken scratch (simplified chinese).

Re: Retaining Hokkien Language

Post by ppk » Mon Jun 17, 2002 5:08 am

so why not u try speaking and writing english in shakespear's works in present day? :)

Re: Retaining Hokkien Language

Post by KCTan » Fri Jun 21, 2002 9:57 am

It's not funny of Li Deng Hui speaking only MinNan eventhough he's originally a Hakka. It's just that Hokkien (MinNan) predominates in Taiwan and therefore Taiwanese tend to use it more often. I know of many Hokkiens in Malaysia particularly those in Kuala Lumpur (where the Cantonese dialect predominates) who have forgotten their roots and only speak Cantonese. It's the same in Hong Kong where most Hoklos have lost their mother tongue and speak nothing but Cantonese.
Sum Won

Re: Retaining Hokkien Language

Post by Sum Won » Mon Jun 24, 2002 8:55 pm

You're right, losing languages isn't funny. However, it's sometimes of the accord of the sole person. I'm not saying that Lee Deng Hui chose to forget Hakka and only use MinNan, but these forces aren't necessarily from someone outside. The people who use the language of another person's, is the man who conforms to their system, so he should be blamed for that problem. If this person's child on the other hand, doesn't even know the language that his/her parent hasn't used towards him/her, then that would be the fault of the parent.

The issue with the "chicken scratch" is a different one. The Communists often say that it's a form of "progression of their written text", as Chinese words have been going through for thousands of years. From pictographs, to wavy words, to the crane-like words we had in use in pre-'97 Hong Kong, and still in the Republic of China (Which includes TaiWan, the pescadores, quemoy, & Matsu [the last three are seperate from the TaiWan county]), to the now simplified chicken scratch we see in Mainland China and Singapore *. Is progression bad? Maybe we should be writing in the ancient way the people during Han times and before wrote. Maybe not.

I'm not advocating the use of the chicken scratch. It looks ugly. If you look at this topic: ... =400&t=400

You'd definately see I don't advocate the use of Chinese for Cantonese at all. It's just that this is a pretty controversial issue, if you think deeper about it.

*I'm not sure how Macau people write Chinese*

Re: Retaining Hokkien Language

Post by ppk » Tue Jun 25, 2002 5:32 am

You'd definately see I don't advocate the use of Chinese for Cantonese at all. It's just that this is a pretty controversial issue, if you think deeper about it.

too bad, cantonese write in chinese characters, just that those are obselete characters in modern mandarin.
James Campbell

Re: Retaining Hokkien Language

Post by James Campbell » Sat Jun 29, 2002 5:53 am

About Hakkas speaking Minnan:

It's not surprising that Li Deng Huei speaks Minnan or chooses to speak it like so many other Hakkas in Taiwan do. In fact, I think he even enjoys speaking Japanese more than the Chinese languages, since this is the language he used as a child. But generally speaking, Hakkas are reared in the house to learn their language very well, and in order to prevent persecution from the main population (like so many waishengren put up with), they too learn Minnan very well. And usually not like Minnan speakers themselves learn to speak it, but they usually learn it even better in that they know the literary side of the language and the various readings of characters as well.

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Re: Retaining Hokkien Language

Post by Mark » Sun Jun 30, 2002 1:07 pm

Personally, I think that Hokkien (Minnan) should be official in Singapore instead of Mandarin, as there are more native speakers of Hokkien than any other language but Singlish (which everybody knows except a few of the educated elite)

Re: Retaining Hokkien Language

Post by ppk » Tue Jul 02, 2002 2:08 am

singapore is following china. in china minnan speaker are minority. mandarin is the majority. its all about business calculations. besides, the singaporean govt probably wanted the local chinese to forget about their chinese roots so that they can have a unified country.