Archive for the ‘Malaysia’ Category

Wa sai!: Penang Police Practice Profanities

Wednesday, October 22nd, 2008

Ah, the joys of living in a multilingual country. Malaysian police in Penang (who are mostly ethnically Malay) are being trained in Hokkien swear words so they can recognise when the local Hokkien-lang are being less than courteous.

Story from

Reminds me of something I read about the arrival of Republic of China officials in the period immediately post-World War II. Various events had made the new arrivals unwelcome (carpet-bagging to feed the civil war in China and for personal gain, the February 28th massacre) and the longer-term residents were not shy about expressing their displeasure.

The standard term of abuse for the new arrivals (who generally could not understand Taiwanese) was ti-á (pig). However, the slandered Chinese soon caught on, forcing the locals to come up with new insults – eventually settling on kam-á (tangerine). Why? Because feast-day roast pigs in Taiwan had tangerines placed in their mouths.

Penang Hokkien in Decline?

Wednesday, July 16th, 2008

With recent depressing stories concerning the trouble that Southern Min is in, both in Taiwan and China, it’s no surprise to discover an article documenting the same issue in Malaysia.

Malaysian newspaper The Star published a story today entitled Penang Hokkien in Peril:

Penang Hokkien may become extinct if no effort is made to preserve and encourage the young to speak the dialect. This is the observation of author Tan Choon Hoe who has written two books Learn to Speak PHD-Penang Hokkien Dialect and Penang Hokkien Dialect (PHD) for Penangites and Tourists to promote the dialect.

Tan, 47, who teaches English and Hokkien here, described the dialect as the essence of George Town and a part of its heritage.

He lamented the fact that Chinese children here spoke very little Hokkien nowadays.

“Parents would usually speak to their children in English or Mandarin and the only chance for the kids to learn Hokkien is from their grandparents, if they are still around,” Tan added.

With the apathy of both the people and the governments in all areas where Southern Min is spoken, the future is looking less than rosy for the language.  Indeed Singapore actively discourages the use of “dialects” with its Speak Mandarin campaign, leading to a decline there in the usage of not only Hokkien, but also Cantonese and Teochew (潮州話; Tiô-chiu-oÄ“) – a dialect which is usually classed as part of the Southern Min language but is in fact almost completely unintelligible to speakers of Amoy Hokkien or Taiwanese.