Monday, August 21, 2006

Sing-Song Hokkien

I was waiting for the lady to pack my order of noodle soup when a call came in from my cousin. Exchanged a few words with her and quickly ended the call when my order was ready. The stall owner then remarked in Hokkien, "Eh, you're from Penang ah? I'm from Penang too. Air Itam, to be exact. Funny, how we have been speaking to each other in Cantonese."

This was one of the many instances whereby I came across folks from my hometown when we overheard each other speaking the distinct Penang Hokkien dialect. It's nothing unusual really, but whenever we bump into someone who speaks the sing-song type of Penang Hokkien, we kinda feel some kinship and we find ourselves rattling off like long lost friends. For many of us, eventhough we have been in KL for quite a while and have learnt to speak the predominant Cantonese dialect, somehow we do not truly feel at home. Hear someone speak our lingua, and that someone deserves a second glance.

I grew up in a colourful neighbourhood in Penang - a big community of Malay families, a few Indian Muslim households; a sprinkling of Indian Hindu families and quite a sizeable group of Chinese families. It was a non-gated (means no gates one lah) of mostly wooden houses with attap roofs and a few units with zinc-sheet roofs. Most of the Chinese families were of the 'Sin-Ning' dialect which sounds to me somewhat like a cross between Hakka and Cantonese. My family and a couple more were the only Baba/Nyonya households there. Nevertheless, in Penang, the peculiar Hokkien twang rules - quite a few of the Malays and Indians in the our neighbourhood could it speak fluently too.

When I first started working in Penang, I had a few colleagues from KL who could neither speak nor understand a word of Hokkien. So whenever we went out for our meals at the various coffeeshops, it would more often than not turn into an impromptu penanghokkien 101 lesson for dummies. Like, when Francis went to order 'wantan mee chit tiao'. Francis thought he got it right when he switched from Cantonese 'wantan meen yat tip' - to him, 'tiao' is the equivalent of 'tip'. And another time when he tried to order 'see koe tng' (now we call it 'lin chi kang' in KL) and he pointed to one ingredient which he does not want. The stall operator asked in rapidfire hokkien, "Mai phorng tai hai ah?". Francis was horrified that the stall operator cussed at him so loudly. Actually, Francis was asked if he does not want the 'phorng tai hai' which is the name of the black mossy-looking ingredient. But it sounded so awfully vulgar to Francis. After suffering through so many embarassing episodes and endless teasing from his newfound friends, Francis finally managed to pick up the dialect, albeit only a passable version.

In my many years here in KL, I have met people who speak a different type of Hokkien and frankly, often times I just can't quite make out what was being said. And sometimes, I have been told too that they can't understand me as well because I speak like a bullet.

No lah, where got? I speak simple and sweet sing-song Hokkien only mah.
posted by nyonyapenang at 8:54 AM, |


  At 2:38 PM Blogger Ianfluenza said:
Ahahaha.. I was imagining the look of Francis taken aback by the stall owner haahahah!
damn, ian has beaten me to the first spot on the comments page!

I do cantonese only, sorry.
  At 2:53 PM Anonymous Anonymous said:
my wife speaks the sing song northen hokkien. i go lembek on the knees when she speak hokkien to me... ;-).

i dont speak hokkien but love the dialect...
  At 2:57 PM Anonymous MLNS said:
I speak Hokkien, but not the Penang version
  At 3:41 PM Anonymous Jemima said:
Nyonya, lu hor boh?
Gua ki na jit chin boh eng.
Kang chin cheh - cho beh liao.

For those who don't understand hokkien:
Nyonya, how are you?
I'm very busy today.
A lot of work - cannot finish.
  At 5:50 PM Blogger AceOne said:
I dun understand hokkien, 'tampo ehsai la' !!!
  At 1:01 AM Blogger Helen said:
do a podcast and let us listen to your singsong hokkien?? lol

I dun speak but I can understand alittle hokkien. I was infatuated with Yang Li Hua...
  At 2:58 AM Anonymous angel said:
*high five with nyonya*
ci jit, lang lai blog in penang hokkien, ai mai? cham cham bee em, engrish, rojak language... :D
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
  At 9:16 AM Blogger Ah Pek said:
penang hokkien very funny wan. sometimes i oso cannot make head or tails about it.
he was too shocked to give a repartee. hahaha

las montanas,
nevermind, no.1 or no. 2, i lurve you all the same.
you can't do s'pore hokkien ah?

you're so sweeeeet and your wife is even sweeeeterrr...
learn the dialect from darling wifey and perhaps both can go lembek together. LOL

i think i can understand your version better now ledi. :)

wa chin ho, kam siah. lu pun ho.
kang cheh cheh, mm sai cheh kong. barn barn lai.
eh ki hek chuan (remember to rest)

eh sai, eh sai! ;)

podcast?? LOL
  At 9:47 AM Blogger sming said:
**nod** **nod**
Whenever I hear ppl speak in Hokkien, I feel 'bonded' to them and secretly pleased with myself as I can understand them.. :P
Sadly, my Hokkien isn't so fluent. Pai seh !!
  At 9:50 AM Anonymous suituapui said:
Penang Hokkien and Sarawak Hokkein should be similar, I think cos I've got lots of Penang friends and we often converse in the dialect and have no problem at all! Can't understand a word of Cantonese...and wait till you hear Foochow (I'm Foochow actually but can't speak a word!)! Virtually impossible to get the correct intonation!!! You haven't heard "sing-song" until u've heard Foochow (with quarrelling tone thrown in for good measure)!
lan lang sing-song, ee lang beh hiao tniah wor? :O

ah pek,
nebermind, can understand 'teh lam pah' can ledi. LOL

speak more often, then will be ok liao. ;)

go get Cantonese tuition from Helen.
thot sibu is predominantly foochow, mana boleh you tak fasih? ;)
Eh I like the sing-song Penang hokkien wor..sounds very pleasant wan..I know quite a number of sing-song Hokkiens lor..trying to learn,,,hehehe..
  At 10:20 AM Blogger sming said:
I also want to .. But my friends all dun wan to give me chance.. They cannot tahan my Hokkien. All laughing only..