TV SMITH's Dua Sen: The Hokkiens
TV Smith's Dua Sen
TV Smith's Dua Sen. The politically incorrect irregular columnist combines his idiosyncratic observations and tangential commentary into a blog...


by TV Smith

"If there's a Chinese worker kidnapped in a rogue state, you can bet your arm that he's from Fujian Province" says an article in Running Dog. The Fujians (or Hokkiens as they are known here) are the unsung heroes of the far-flung Chinese diaspora.

The Hokkiens may be the biggest Chinese dialect group in Malaysia but the fact usually goes unnoticed except for one particular night. On the 9th day of the Chinese New Year, closet Hokkiens set off the loudest bang on earth. Armed with enough firepower to upset the earth's rotation - but thankfully restrained by the law - they settle for pissing off neighbours, pets and cops.

Most outsiders, understandably, consider Cantonese as the predominant Chinese dialect of Malaysia. In reality, Hokkien is the 'lingua franca' for many Chinese in Penang, Kedah, Kelantan, Trengganu, Malacca and Johor. Within the Klang Valley, Hokkien is also widely spoken in Klang, Kepong and Setapak. So how did we end up with this popular misconception? Some say it was due to a misguided political move to limit the use of Mandarin on our airwaves during the 80's. Mandarin was then promoted as an unifying language in the Hokkien strongholds of Singapore and Taiwan.

But why pick Cantonese instead of Hokkien? Firstly, ignorant advertisers thought only Cantonese consumers (of Klang Valley) had purchasing power. It didn't help that most Hokkiens spoke Cantonese and not vice-versa. Secondly, Hokkien television programmes from Fujian State TV and even Taiwan sucked big time. The soaps were overly melodramatic and its production quality flaky. In contrast, their southern neighbours in Hong Kong were light years ahead in technique and content. Thirdly, the dialect itself consists of so many sub-dialects and regional variations, making 'standardisation' impractical.

The Hokkiens were running away from home since the cavemen days but the first major exodus was at the turn of the last century. Many of them landed in Ma Lai Ar with only a shirt on their back. Through grit, grind and a frugal diet of chai por, a number of them became octogenarian billionaires and tan slee. Ironically, in some cases, their educated heirs reversed the hard-earned fortune almost overnight.

Other illustrious descendants conquered the political world (Latuk Slee Dr Lim Keng Yaik - Gerakan, Latuk Slee Ong Ka Ting - MCA, Saudala Lim Kit Siang - DAP) and the blogsphere (Bolok Ong Jeff Ooi - Screenshots). By the way, there is now also a Hokkien bolok (blog), albeit in romanised form.

If the Malays contributed the words amok and 'rangutan to the English language, the Hokkiens' only contribution must be the universal word; tea (from teh). The influence of the Malay language on colloquial Hokkien is undoubtedly unique, especially when many of the original words were borrowed from Sanskrit, Portuguese, Arabic and English. This linguistic mixture is a living testimony of our nation's colourful and diverse cultural heritage.

Hokkien > Malay
Beh Chia - Becha (horse carriage)
Bee Hoon - Bihun (vermicelli)
Chat - Cat (paint)
Chin Chai - Cincai (easy)
Gian - Gian (addicted)
Gua - Gua (me)
Goli - Guli (marble)
Kantang - Kentang (potato)
Kam Cheng - Kamcheng (close)
Kau - Kau (thick)
Ker - Kuih (pastry)
Kongsi - Kongsi (share)
Kueh Chee - kuaci (melon seeds)
Lu - Lu (you)
Mi - Mee (noodles)
Pan - Papan (wood)
Sar Tay - Satay (3 pieces, from Hainanese)
Teh Kor - Teko (teapot)
Tengki - Tengki (IC)
Tau Geh - Taugeh (bean sprout)
Tow Hoo - Tauhu (beancurd)
Towkay - Tauke (boss)

Malay > Hokkien
Agak - Agak (estimate)
Baru - Balu (recently)
Belacan - Balachian (shrimp paste)
Botak - Botak (bald)
Diam - Tiam (quiet)
Durian - Liulian (durian)
Duit - Lui (money)
Gaji - Gaji (pay)
Hutang - Otang (debt)
Jamban - Jamban (toilet)
Kacau - Kachiau (disturb)
Kahwin - Kauin (marry)
Kaki - Kaki (own, self)
Kari - Kali (curry)
Kaya - Kaya (coconut egg jam)
Lelong - Lay Long (auction)
Longkang - Long Kau (drain)
Main - Main (play)
Mana - Mana (where)
Mata Mata - Mata (cop)
Misai - Misai (moustache)
Pancit - Pumchet (puncture)
Pandai - Pan Nai (clever)
Pantang - Pantang (superstitious)
Pakat - Pakat (conspire)
Pasar - Parsat (market)
Pecah - Pit Chia (break)
Roti - Loti (bread)
Samseng - Sam Seng (gangster)
Sabun - Sap Bun (soap)
Salah - Salah (wrong)
Sama - Sama (all)
Saman - Sambang (summons)
Sayang - Sayang (pity, waste)
Sekali - Skali (again)
Senang - Sinang (easy)
Senget - Senget (crooked)
Sombong - Som Bong (unfriendly)
Sotong - Sortong (squid)
Suka- Sukak (like)
Tahan - Tahan (withstand)
Tapi - Tapi (but)
Tiga Suku - Sar Suku (crazy)
Tikam Tikam - Tikam (draw)
Timun - Timun (cucumber)
Tolong - Tor Long (help)

Some local Hokkien words are innocuous but may sound offensive with changing times:
Ahmad (driver)
Bang Ka Li (Sikh)
Huan Kia or Huan Na (Malay)
Kek Leng Kia (Indian)
Sakai (Orang Asli)
Sek Kia Ni (Serani)

Others sound bizzare but are actually quite logical (etymologically):
Ang Mo Liulian - (mangosteen)
Butokan - (bottle)
Chiak Hong - (eat wind > vacation)
Holland Tau (peas)
Kana Kiu - (olive ball > rugby game)
Tua Kow - Big dog (police inspector)

© 2005 TV SMITH
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