Tuesday, July 8

Your first lesson in Hokkien

I'm in Sydney (actually in suburban St. Ives) but only last week I was in Malaysia. I saw Eric and Jane Toh's new baby boy, Keith. Eric is the son of my old friend and well-known raconteur KC Toh.

Eric, a native speaker of both English and Hokkien, asked me if his son should be taught to address me as Ah Chek or alternatively, Ah Kong. Without telling him that this is the first time I've been asked that question, I told him I preferred the first (Uncle) to the second (Grandfather). Sigh.

Hokkien, of course, is the native dialect for many of the Chinese in Malaysia and Singapore.

Given that we've already learned the word for grandfather above, I've chosen an important sentence using the word for recondite readers to learn. I can't find the tone marks for transliterating the dialect. Still, let's try it. The sentence is:
Grandfather says: the tin can hit grandfather.
This is pronounced in Hokkien, roughly, as:
Kong-kong kong: kong-kong kong kong-kong.
So ends the first lesson.

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