Hokkien in Penang

Discussions on the Hokkien (Minnan) language.
Ah-bin
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Hokkien in Penang

Post by Ah-bin » Thu Sep 02, 2010 7:59 am

Well, I've finally been there, and I was very pleased with the results.

I met quite a few older monolingual Hokkien speakers, who spoke in Penang Hokkien with the tapis and sukas that you would expect, but very little admixture of English words.

Then there were people in their fifties who would use Hokkien for everyday things, but switch to more English when disussing something complicated.

There were some twenty-year-olds who used more Mandarin style vocabulary, but then I met children who started to talk to me in Mandarin, but switched to Hokkien when I said I didn't like listening to Mandarin. Then I met children who seemed to speak in Hokkien all the time (I've never seen that in Taiwan and only once in Amoy) and they got a big thumbs up from me. On the whole I found it a much better Hokkien environment than Taiwan or Amoy.

However I spent most of my time in the older areas of town, and noticed that more people spoke Hokkien around me there than the area around New World Park (?) When I was waiting for Wiwiwawa, I listened out and heard lots of young people speaking in Mandarin or English with their parents and friends. In the shopping centres it was the same. It's not too late though. All it needs in some support to promote the idea among the doubters that Hokkien is a refined and beautiful language.

Most people were very happy to speak to me in Hokkien. It did depend a bit on the area of town I was in. I spoke Hokkien to some Indians and Malays, but the young Malays I met didn't seem to be able to speak much or at all, even some who worked in the town surrounded by Hokkien speakers.

The other thing I noticed was the slight difference in reactions:
If you're white and open your mouth to ask for something in China or Taiwan, your initial request is usually an astonished gasp and piles of praise, even if you can only say two words in a terrible accent - it's one of the most annoying things about learning Mandarin (If you speak Taiwanese it's even worse, and in Amoy some people just can't comprehend what you are doing). In Penang I noticed that people would unconsciously answer in Hokkien first, and only a little while later would they start to compliment me!

I think the best thing of all is that most Penangites, at least the ones I met, are very fond of their own special sort of Hokkien. e.g. I got "He's using OUR Hokkien.....he says 'tapi'!" more than once. When people found out I was making a conscious effort to learn Penang Hokkien over all others, they were even happier. That love for one's own language can only be a good thing for the future of Penang Hokkien.
AndrewAndrew
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Re: Hokkien in Penang

Post by AndrewAndrew » Thu Sep 02, 2010 1:50 pm

Ah Bin

I am very pleased to hear about your Penang adventures. What did you think of the town? Is the food similar to what you get in Taiwan?

Did you find any Indians or Malays who could speak Hokkien? They tend to be fairly rare: generally only if they work in a kopitiam, etc.

I think it would really help the image of Hokkien in Penang if you could write an article for the English- and Chinese-language newspapers about your experience of learning Hokkien, and how as an ang-mO you feel it is something worth preserving.

ps I have a friend from Penang, also called Sim, who is studying endangered languages at SOAS with a particular interest in promoting Hokkien. I wonder whether you have met him before; he has been in Penang this summer.
SimL
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Re: Hokkien in Penang

Post by SimL » Wed Sep 08, 2010 8:46 am

Ah-bin wrote:I think the best thing of all is that most Penangites, at least the ones I met, are very fond of their own special sort of Hokkien. e.g. I got "He's using OUR Hokkien.....he says 'tapi'!" more than once. When people found out I was making a conscious effort to learn Penang Hokkien over all others, they were even happier. That love for one's own language can only be a good thing for the future of Penang Hokkien.
Hi Ah-bin,

Lovely to hear that you had such a rewarding time in Penang. It really warms my heart to hear you confirm the notion that (Penang) Hokkien is still so alive in Penang; indeed, so much more so than in Taiwan or Amoy.

Here is a little extract I wrote to a friend about Penang Hokkien.

<EXTRACT>
I may or may not have explained to you before that Penang people, speaking Penang Hokkien, feel something already per se "special" about one another. [That's indeed why it's *called* Penang Hokkien, even though (I've since found out by regular reading of the Hokkien Forum), it's actually just the North Malayan form of Hokkien, spoken on the peninsular across the strait in Kedah, all the way north to the Thai border, and all the way East to Kelantan on the East Coast, and all the way to just north of Ipoh. (Nevertheless, one of the additional reasons for calling it "Penang" Hokkien is that Penang is easily the most important city in that whole area: it's the second biggest city in Malaysia anyway.] Anyway, Penang Hokkien speakers abroad will light up with a smile, and approach other people, if they hear them speaking Penang Hokkien - there is an immediate feeling of a "bond".
</EXTRACT>
Ah-bin
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Re: Hokkien in Penang

Post by Ah-bin » Sat Sep 18, 2010 8:09 am

In the past there has been lot of discussion about the merits of learning some sort of standard of Hokkien. A long time ago I chose to learn Penang Hokkien because I noticed that younger people in Taiwan and Amoy never spoke Hokkien to each other. Now that I am back in Amoy for a few days, I have to say that I don't ever regret that decision.

I'm sad again to report that for most purposes Amoy is really a Mandarin speaking city now. I've been to some old suburbs in the city and I have still not heard a child speak Hokkien, or a parent speaking to a child in Hokkien. It is the same as four years ago, when I was here for a month, and only once saw a parent and child conversation in Hokkien. In Penang I saw parent and child conversations, and a boy who addressed me in Mandarin changed immediately to Hokkien when I said "Wa bo suka thiaN gin-na kong Huayu". Some areas of Penang seemed to have more Mandarin and English, but other areas were very strongly Hokkien.

As for the people who do speak Hokkien, the level is definitely not higher than that of the Hokkien speakers in Penang. Penang people use some Malay and English words that have become part of the vocabulary, butThe people here do the same, popping Mandarin words into their conversation (like "laowai" instead of "hoan-a" for westerner, of course this is the one I notice most of all).

The attitude is also different, as a whitey speaking Hokkien, here I often get a blank stare if I try. I take it that that means a lot of people who live in Amoy have no Idea what language I'm speaking. I assume it is because they never hear it in their everyday life. If I speak Mandarin they immediately recognise and respond. In Penang, people would just reply to me in Hokkien naturally, and then express their happiness after a short exchange. It's actually quite difficult to make some people speak Hokkien in Amoy, but older people seem very happy when I do it.

I do have a problem with saying "tapi" and "pun" when speaking quickly, but all the other words I can remember to replace before I open my mouth. The result of this?

Everyone who overhears me talking in Hokkien says "Wow, you must have lived in Amoy for a long time" or "wow. you speak good Amoy dialect" - they don't even realise that I'm speaking Penang Hokkien, because they understand what I'm saying!!!
amhoanna
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Re: Hokkien in Penang

Post by amhoanna » Sat Sep 18, 2010 1:28 pm

Ah, yes, the Amoy-Taiwan blank stare. Gotta love it. I talk to people in Holo and they go "HUH?" Something about my appearance deactivated their Holo listening skills. Happens less if I wear blue-white flipflops and a motorbike helmet, in Taiwan at least. As far as cities go, Tailam and Coanciu seem to be the most receptive to "non-traditional" Holo speakers :lol: . Penang trumps either one if you "count out" the folks who are a darker shade of brown. I haven't been to Kuching or Klang. They might be close. I was in Penang once seven yrs ago. I was still just learning Holo at that point and I was having a real hard time doing that in Taiwan. It wasn't till I went to Penang for two days that I "realized" that I could someday be a Holo speaker. Part of it, though, is just that Holo speakers in Taiwan and Hokkien are real finicky about accents and vocab. They will switch to Mandarin at the first sign of cross-dialectal discomfort. :roll:
Ah-bin
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Re: Hokkien in Penang

Post by Ah-bin » Sat Sep 18, 2010 3:27 pm

That's very impressive, for the finicky people I always tried to feign ignorance of Mandarin, but it was hard when I had a whole load of words that I wanted to say, and was afraid to give the game away by using something that no native Hokkien speaker would use that was just Mandarin pronounced as Hokkien.

I had another slightly disappointing experience with Hokkien here too. It seems that the original vocabulary is disappearing, and younger people just say Mandarin words pronounced as Hokkien. The two I heard today were sip-koan 習慣 instead of koan-si 慣勢 and hian-chai 現在 instead of chit-chun/tong-kim 當今. For the first one, when I asked about it, I got the ominous answer "only old people say koan-si". I know languages do change, but it seems a pity that Hokkien could end up as merely a differently pronounced mirror of Mandarin phraseology.

On the other hand I did hear a whole bunch of trendy-looking people in their 20's speaking Hokkien to each other in a very nice cafe, that was promising, but unfortunately I didn't get to eavesdrop on their word usage.
aokh1979
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Re: Hokkien in Penang

Post by aokh1979 » Sat Sep 18, 2010 3:45 pm

Ah-bin stays with me for a few days and I enjoy taking him to places where Hokkien is easily "recognised". We were in the elevator talking in Penang Hokkien and a mid-aged woman just looked at him and asked: How long have you been in Xiamen ? She did NOT even bother looking at me despite I spoke with an obviously foreign accent.

The funniest reaction must have come from two ladies in another elevator, when one of them sort of shouted: Geez, he even speaks better Amoy than myself !

Went to visit a local friend of mine from Quanzhou. Discussed about some fishes...... We had no problem conversing in Penang Hokkien with a native speaker of Quanzhou variant.

I suddenly remember a TV ad for Malaysia Day I saw last week...... We're all different, but still same same......

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d5ExL7H-LYQ
Ah-bin
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Re: Hokkien in Penang

Post by Ah-bin » Sun Sep 19, 2010 1:24 am

That's quite right. I remember four years ago that I could understand people from Amoy and Chiang-chiu, but had trouble with people from Choan-chiu. During that time I have constantly listened to Penang Hokkien and only ocasionally heard anything else (I worked with a woman from the South of M'sia and we would speak to each other), but through doing this my listening comprehension for Choan-chiu Hokkien has improved enormously.
amhoanna
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Re: Hokkien in Penang

Post by amhoanna » Sun Sep 19, 2010 8:13 am

I play the "no speak Mandarin" card too sometimes. I'ma get back on it again soon, with a vengeance! I don't think you had to worry about the Mandarin-calqued vocabulary giving you away, not necessarily. It could've been "explained away" as coming from being able to speak Cantonese or Japanese. But not Mandarin. :lol:

Good point about the "Mandarin phraseology" as a whole, tho. Seems that Holo stands to gain so little from the encounter. I can't get my mind off Lee Kuan Yew's throwaway phrase: "an adulterated Hokkien-Teochew mix". Hokkien and Teochew mix beautifully. You guys get that in Penang too.

I have a harder time understanding the Coanciu lilt too, but it kind of haunts me anyway. It's just sexy when girls speak Coanciu Hokkien. Ciohsai 石獅, Coanciu and Klang made the biggest impression on me... Whereas Holo is branded as a macho language in Taiwan, and this has been part of its downfall. Let a girl speak Holo with gusto, and right away she's just one of the guys. The solution for girls here is to stop speaking Holo, and speak it badly if necessary. 台妹 don't speak Holo anymore. Even radio stations and TV shows can't find women under 35 who'll go on air and speak three sentences back-to-back in Holo and risk exposing how unfeminine they are. And guys can't use Holo to pick up girls. Using Holo would be like saying, "OK, I'm not gonna acknowledge your femininity, I'm just gonna treat you like one of the guys." And she can probably barely speak it anyway. And guess what language she'll raise her kids in. So, yeah, the sex appeal element definitely needs to get put back in play. What are things like in Amoy, Penang, and the rest of Malaysia?

Way off topic by now. Let me know if I should move this to a different thread.
niuc
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Re: Hokkien in Penang

Post by niuc » Sun Sep 19, 2010 1:37 pm

Interesting experiences... though it is expected, it is still a sad news that Hokkien is continually diminishing in China & Taiwan. Singapore is a gone case... good thing that Penang Hokkien is still strong, hopefully it will continually be.

Btw, "old people" use sip-koan 習慣 and koan-si 慣勢 differently. The former is a noun (though can be an adjective), while the latter is an adjective... hian-chai 現在 and chit-chun/tong-kim 當今 are similar but have different nuances. When the "young people" using only 習慣 and 現在, they are having an impoverished speech.
Ah-bin
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Re: Hokkien in Penang

Post by Ah-bin » Sun Sep 19, 2010 4:24 pm

Actually I went wandering and listening and talking today, and I heard two whole bunches of girls speaking Hokkien to each other, and one young mother speaking it to a toddler. I still haven't heard any children speaking it though, even in the areas where everyone else was speaking it. No-one in a school uniform was speaking it, even though they were out of the school gate.

I did bump into a few people who told me they insisted that their children speak Hokkien, and had a nice chat with them.

They all understood the word "lui" without me having to translate it. The only person who didn't was a 25 year-old who spoke very Mandarinised Hokkien.
SimL
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Re: Hokkien in Penang

Post by SimL » Mon Sep 20, 2010 11:52 am

Wow, it's great to have these "live reports" from "the Hokkien-speaking (former?) heartlands"! After years of speculating, and people saying "when I was there in 19xx, finally, some on-the-spot reports, dedicated to describing how alive (or not) Hokkien is, in all these different places. Wonderful!
SimL
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Re: Hokkien in Penang

Post by SimL » Mon Sep 20, 2010 4:03 pm

Ah-bin wrote:That's quite right. I remember four years ago that I could understand people from Amoy and Chiang-chiu, but had trouble with people from Choan-chiu. ...
amhoanna wrote:... I have a harder time understanding the Coanciu lilt too, but it kind of haunts me anyway. ...
I can't understand it at all! In an earlier thread, I remember telling readers that when I played some cuan-ciu youtube clips to my mother, she said she didn't even think it was Hokkien!

Good to hear that exposure helps. I guess it's the same the other way around. If someone had never heard a broad Scottish accent, they might have difficultly understanding it, even if they themselves spoke English fluently. But, after a few months of constant exposure, they might start to understand it, without consciously taking specific steps (other than straining to understand the Scottish speakers).

It certainly happened here in the Netherlands, with so many services outsourced to India. In the beginning, my colleagues (mostly Dutch, and practically all speaking English fluently) had a lot of difficulty understanding Indian speakers of English (to the extent of not even being able to get a general idea of what was being said). Now, after 1-2 years exposure, nobody has any trouble at all (or only trouble with one or two specific words).
SimL
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Re: Hokkien in Penang

Post by SimL » Mon Sep 20, 2010 4:08 pm

Ah-bin wrote:... popping Mandarin words into their conversation (like "laowai" instead of "hoan-a" for westerner, of course this is the one I notice most of all).
In Penang Hokkien, I think "huan-a" can only refer to Malay people.

amhoanna: Am I correct in thinking that your nick is a reference to this "huan-a"? If so, are you Malay, Chinese, or Western... (if I may ask...).
SimL
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Re: Hokkien in Penang

Post by SimL » Mon Sep 20, 2010 4:34 pm

SimL wrote:Wow, it's great to have these "live reports" from "the Hokkien-speaking (former?) heartlands"! After years of speculating, and people saying "when I was there in 19xx, finally, some on-the-spot reports, dedicated to describing how alive (or not) Hokkien is, in all these different places. Wonderful!
Oops! After having posted this, I thought back and realised that aokh1979 has posted stuff from time to time about the actual situation in Amoy. Perhaps that had slipped my mind because this was the first thread where it was really the main topic, with lots of input and detail. Sorry, no offense intended, aokh!
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