Penang Hokkien Dialect
for Penangites & Tourists
~ Tan Choon Hoe
In the last ten years or so, there are emerging signs that Penang Hokkien dialect (PHD) is moving towards the direction of becoming an 'endangered' dialect. This could be due to the emergence of China as a global economic power and English as languages with economic value. More and more parents are conversing with their children in either Mandarin or English and Penang Hokkien dialect is only used in conversations between grandchildren and grandparents. Even then, there are times when the grandparents themselves would have to adapt to Mandarin or English to ensure the younger ones understand them!
The signs are evident when I speak to many children who are losing their grasp on the dialect. Some of them do not know simple Hokkien words, and there are others who speak with a noticeable accent, oblivious to the fact that PHD is indeed their parents mother tongue.
Penangites should play their role in preserving PHD which is a beautiful part of Penang's rich heritage, before the PHD path is smoothed out forever! Both Raymond Kwok and Johny Chee are doing a good job by writing a few books on PHD, also not forgetting John Ong - the PHD pioneer podcaster, who is doing his part from many miles away in the USA to keep the dialect alive. Hopefully, the virtual PHD community on the internet could lead to something even better, maybe small but real PHD-speaking communities in foreign lands! Penangites living abroad would appreciate this.
This book is written to complement the basic lessons and vocabulary found in my first book, Learn to Speak...Penang Hokkien Dialect. Literal translations of PHD words are included in this book to help the readers get a better idea of how certain words or sayings came about. I had a lot of fun 'dissecting' the PHD words, resulting in my 'mangling up' the English language! However, the literal translation is not possible for every word or phrase as some words and phrases just don't 'sync' when translated into English.
So, what is Penang Hokkien dialect?
Penang Hokkien dialect is the lingua franca of Penang, a shared oral language among the locals of various races and ethnicity whose main languages are varied. PHD is not 100 percent Hokkien dialect but a rather 'colourful cocktail' of languages and dialects with Hokkien as the main ingredient (because of the large Hokkien community in Penang). You can code-switch your conversation from Hokkien to English, Malay, Mandarin or even a dash of Cantonese and revert to Hokkien, illustrating its versatility.
How much of each 'ingredient' do you need to get that familiar taste of the 'PHD cocktail'?
Well, Hokkien, without doubt, is definitely the main ingredient here, at least about 80 percent content...plus how much of English, Malay or Mandarin to sprinkle on would depend on the company you have at a particular time. There are no hard and fast rules and you can throw the tenses out the window when it comes to Hokkien.
'Ingredients' of the 'PHD cocktail':
'Pure Hokkien' as spoken by the so-called 'pure Chinese' who are mostly Mandarin-educated. This group has more Hokkien vocabulary at their disposal because they can relate and trace the source of the Hokkien words to the Mandarin language.
'Adulterated Hokkien' as spoken by the 'acculturated Chinese' who are mostly 'banana man' i.e., English-educated Chinese who are yellow (Chinese) on the outside and white (English) on the inside. Unlike the Mandarin-educated group, they have less Hokkien vocabulary at their disposal mainly because they are unable to relate and trace the source of the Hokkien words to the Mandarin language. Sometimes, their pronunciation of the Hokkien words may not be 100 percent perfect and thus 'corrupting' some Hokkien words, resulting in 'Adulterated Hokkien'.
Manglish (English as spoken by Malaysians, including 'mangled' English)
Standard Bahasa Malaysia
Bazaar Malay (bahasa pasar - 'market Malay')
So you have it... the 'colourful cocktail' known as Penang Hokkien dialect, which is quite different from 'Singapore Sling'.
The common and not so common slang words, phrases, sayings, riddles, rhymes and ditties in this book would help both the uninitiated and the intrepid explorer of the dialect to appreciate the dialect more, and also to get better aquainted with the local Chinese community while picking up liberal doses of PHD. There are also some conversational pieces from PHD lessons conducted by the author at a few private hospitals. In fact, this book is a bit of a 'cocktail serving' by itself. I hope you would enjoy learning PHD as much as I have enjoyed writing it for you.
Tan Choon Hoe
1 JANUARY 2008
The Accidental Author...
from a little valley called
Hye Keat Estate:
Tan Choon Hoe was born, bred and educated in Penang. He grew up in a little valley called Hye Keat Estate, situated at the foot of Penang Hill, which is just a few hundred metres away from the famous Kek Lok Si Temple.
Hye Keat Estate was a notorious place in the 1970s and is known among locals as 'Ang Kong Tay' which means 'The Land of Deities' becuase of the many temples, shrines and *'ang kong keng' ('medium' houses) found within the area. Some of its inhabitants have peculiar nicknames, e.g., a guy with a dark complexion is called Pek Pek (White White) and a slim lady nicknamed Ah Enee (Round). Then, there is a petite lady known as Too Kneah (Piglet), another lady was 'High Tay Ee' (Underwater Auntie) and yet another was called 'Kay Kneah Ee' (Chick Auntie), among others. Unknown to many, Hye Keat Estate was at one time home to three well-known personalities - Mr Richard Hoon, a famous musician and composer during the 1960s and 1970s and Datuk Lim Bian Yam, the internationally acclaimed floral art maestro who is also an author and a certified international instructor of chefs. Datuk Lim Bian Yam is honoured as one of the Living Heritage Treasures by Penang Heritage Trust. Then, there is also Mr Reggie Lee, a famous cartoonist with a keen eye for depicting current issues with a local flair. Hye Keat Estate was also one of the favourite stops for the wandering troubadour of the 1950s and 1960s who was popularly known as Tan Tong Tong. He would ply his trade there at least a few times a month and was very popular with the kampung folks, especially the children who loved his poems and songs.
Choon Hoe's childhood days were during the 'Twilight Zone' years. Apart from 'Twilight Zone', he also enjoyed watching 'Pontianak' and Tan Sri P. Ramlee's movies and can easily identify with a lot of scenes in LAT's 'Kampung Boy'. This kampung guy never dreamt of writing books. It all started after a chance encounter with a foreigner that struck him with the idea to come up with a guidebook to Penang Hokkien dialect. He has, since then written a Malay version as well - Mai Belajar Bertutur...Loghat Hokkien Pulau Pinang and also pioneered PHD classes for corporate sectors. This includes hospitals which saw the need to cross boundaries and explore the human side of medicine (the human factor), thus improving communication between caregivers and patients - resulting in the well-being of their patients.
Remember, a dialect learnt is a dialect gained.
* 'ang kong keng' ('medium' houses) - Residential houses which double up as places of worship during the birthdays of Chinese deities. From time to time, people from near and far (sometimes, from overseas as well!) would fix appointments to consult the mediums ('kee tong' in PHD) who would get into a trance and supposedly act as a go-between with the spiritual world.
can already, thanks to my encounter with the forummer SimL at this thread http://www.sgforums.com/forums/2029/topics/355579 for giving me a chance to have an insight into Penang Hokkien
Unline the common Wade-Giles or the Pinyin System of Romanization, the author has opted for a different style.
The sounds of the PHD words are formulated by using the sounds of common Chinese surnames or names, letters from the English Alphabet (as how you would read the letters) and simple words and syllables from both the English language and Bahasa Malaysia. Nasal sounds are indicated by the letter 'n' which is usually slotted in as the second or third letter in a word which sounds nasal.
The few exceptions are words like 'eah', 'oowa', 'eow' and 'ia'. This is because if the letter 'n' was slotted in as the second or third letter, it may lead to mispronunciation, especially for the few words mentioned. However, it would be made known to the reader whether such words should sound nasal. Stronger 'h' sounds are indicated with a double 'hh'. Sounds of letters at the end of words are weak and need not be stressed; e.g. 'bark' in which the sound of 'k' is close to non-existent. 's' is not needed to indicate plural. Words like 'thhat', 'thhan' and 'tan' are to be pronounced using the Malay sound for 'a' while 'sung' and 'hung' are to be read as the past participle of 'sing' and 'hang' respectively. 'Bun' and 'pun' are to be read as English words.
There is also no standardised Romanisation; you can always use the way of pronunciation which appeals most to you. For example, the sound of 'C' can be written as 'C', 'see', 'seee', 'si' or even 'ci'! The sound of 'eye' can thus be written using the word 'eye' or the letter 'i'. Likewise, the sound of 'koay' can be written as 'koay' which is a common Chinese surname, 'kuih' (a Bahasa Malaysia word) or as 'kuey'. An Englishman may also prefer to use the English word 'ton' in place of 'tan' (a common Chinese surname which a local can easily relate to). So, use whichever suits you best; as long as you get the sound. The sounds of PHD words are quite simple and (except for the nasal sound) one does not need to excel in 'tongue gymnastics' to learn the dialect. However, do not worry about tones (Penang Bridge wasn't built in a day)... go sit at the coffeeshops, waiting areas in banks and hospitals; visit the hawker stalls, the markets and the pasar malam (night markets) and mingle with the crowd - sharpen your listening skills and practise, practise, practise because practice makes perfect!
1) Slang Words, Phrases and Sayings
2) 'Naughty Riddles'
3) Rhymes and Ditties
4) Some PHD Lessons Specially for Caregivers
5) How to Strike Up a Conversation
6) Helpful Medical Terms
7) Poon Tnua Kooi - Lazy Bone
8) Another PHD Lesson
9) Key Words to Remember
10) Various Types of Medicine
11) Names of Some Main Roads in Penang
12) Chiak Gua Khao - Eating Out