Saturday, October 08, 2011

Speaking Hokkien

For my brother and me, the main lingua franca for us at home when we were kids would be English. Dinner time conversations were usually carried out mainly in English with a smattering of Bahasa - our local native language - and our own Hokkien dialect as well.

Since my parents hailed from the northern state of Penang - where the Hokkien dialect is easily spoken everywhere by almost everyone, it was a dialect that was familiar to them both. The dialect itself originated in the Southern region of Fujian province, an important centre for trade and migration, and has since spread beyond the mainland borders to become one of the most common spoken Chinese languages overseas.

So as a side note, some of the patriotic Penangites speak it so much that they've even started making regular podcasts in the Hokkien dialect just to keep it alive.

Something my parents tried to do as well when they passed on the torch, so to speak, to my brother and me. At least that's what I clearly recall. Pretty sure my brother spoke in Hokkien back then!

Dammit. What do I say in Hokkien?

Lately however for some peculiar reason whether from lack of usage or severe cerebral concussion sometime in the past, my brother seems to have forgotten how to speak the dialect. Or at least he seems to have misplaced the ability to speak it conversationally.

Seriously. He speaks like an earnest foreigner trying to pick up the language. Stilted, forced and highly formal rather than the more informal speech the natives are used to. Simply put it would be the equivalent of a Shakespearean thespian painstakingly speaking to a regular English-speaking joe today.

Which we find simply hilarious.

Brother : O thou invisible spirit of wine! If thou hast no name to be known by, let us call thee devil!
Paul : So you don't want to drink?
Brother : Has thou taken leave of thy senses? If wine be the drink of love, then pour on!
Paul : Probably not as much for you then.

We can acquit my brother of any false pretense. I know what you're thinking but it's not a conceited affectation since my stolid brother simply doesn't participate in such shallow artifice. And he doesn't do accents. Much.

Wonder if he can even understand a Hokkien podcast nowadays!


GVP said...

Mentioning of Penang is rather nostalgic as I have spent a year living there.

I think I have the same linguitic issue, and the lack of usage is to blame. The only time I speak Thai is when I'm calling my family. They find my sentence construct odd and funny while there is no accent. Practice makes perfection, perhaps.

Chen Xing said...

Forget the root not.

Life for Beginners | Kenny Mah said...

Hokkien podcasts? That sounds cool, actually. I wonder if I can pick up some Hokkien by listening to some of these podcasts? Hmm. :)

savante said...

Wow! You spent a year in Penang, GVP? Were you studying or was it during a gap year?

Definitely, chen xing. :)

IT does sound cool. Gonna be hard to pick up the dialect from the podcast since they don't exactly explain what the words are, kenny. And they do speak in rapid-fire :)


Anonymous said...

I find it hilarious too...