Penang Hokkien in Decline?

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-oē) – 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.

10 Responses to “Penang Hokkien in Decline?”

  1. GnuDoyng says:

    Tio-chiu language is not “almost completely unintelligible” to that of E-mng. If you are a native Taiwanese speaker I’m pretty sure you’ll understand most part of this video:

    http://www.tudou.com/v/z5Mr7Hd19V4

  2. admin says:

    Interesting – I have both read that this was the case, and seen Teo-chew and Taiwanese speakers struggle in vain to have a conversation before giving up.

    I’ll try that video out on a few native speakers and report back!

  3. GnuDoyng says:

    Yup. It’s not at all surprising that they’d probably give up such a conversation, because the tonal values are quite different and thus both speakers may sound awkward to one another. But that doesn’t mean both languages are mutually unintelligible.

  4. Johan says:

    As for Singapore, English rather than Chinese seems now responsible for the demise of Hokkien, since English is increasingly replacing Chinese. Here’s one link to a recent survey:
    http://www.dlsu.edu.ph/research/journals/taper/pdf/200706/zhao.pdf

  5. Silenus says:

    Speaking of Singapore- is there any reason why Singaporean Mandarin sounds so similar to Taiwanese Mandarin?

  6. admin says:

    I would guess because the majority of Singaporean Chinese are Hokkien/Hoklo people, like Taiwan. The phonetic values of Mandarin have been adapted, largely to fit the pre-existing sounds of Hokkien. The lack of retroflex sounds (the “sh”, “ch” and “zh” of Mandarin, for example) in southern Chinese languages means that these sounds merge with existing sounds in Hokkien, so ch > c, sh > s, zh > z and so on.

  7. sjcma says:

    http://www.chinahistoryforum.com/index.php?showtopic=26459

    Links to a discussion of the same topic in another forum. The last comment is quite interesting.

  8. 暗生番 says:

    Is there room for international Hohlo/Hokkien media? Sports, music, news, “culture”, politics, cooking, religion, travel, business, securities, etc., weather reports centered on the South China Sea and surrounding area…

  9. sjcma says:

    > Speaking of Singapore- is there any
    > reason why Singaporean Mandarin
    > sounds so similar to Taiwanese
    > Mandarin?

    Those sharing a common mother tongue will sound similar when speaking another language. This is, of course, equally true for native Minnan speakers speaking Mandarin, whether they’re from Taiwan, Singapore, other SE Asian countries or from the source of it all, Xiamen and surrounding areas.

    More than once I’ve mistaken mainlanders from Xiamen for Taiwanese. Their accents are just so bloody similar.

  10. Moonbat says:

    Interesting – I have both read that this was the case, and seen Teo-chew and Taiwanese speakers struggle in vain to have a conversation before giving up.

    I’ll try that video out on a few native speakers and report back!

    My parents are native Taiwanese speakers. They have met some native speakers of Teochew. My mother says that mutual intelligibility is about 70%, as long as they stick to rudimentary topics.

    Most Teochew have had some contact with Hokkien speakers though, so it is possible that Teochew code-switch to Hokkien upon encountering Taiwanese speakers or Hokkien speakers.

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