Malaysian state moves to boost Hokkien

Penang, Malaysia, is reportedly moving to adopt the Penang dialect of the Hokkien language as a thing of “nonmaterial cultural heritage” (fēi wùzhì wénhuà yíchǎn / 非物质文化遗产).

In Taiwan, Hokkien is also known as “Taiwanese” and “Hoklo.”

The chairman of the Penang Tourism and Creative Economy Affairs Committee said that to preserve Hokkien in Penang, the government there would support a “Speak Hokkien” campaign and allocate funds to NGOs and other groups for activities promoting Hokkien. He also hopes organizations will host competitions not only in Pinyin(!) but also in speaking topolects.

Topolects are an important part of the legacy of Chinese culture, he said.



Other Sinitic topolects (fangyan) could also be considered for nonmaterial cultural heritage status, he said.

Whether this really happens, and whether it will be enough to make a difference, remains to be seen. But at least it looks like someone influential in Penang is working hard to move things in the right direction.


Simplified or traditional characters for Malaysian heritage zone road signs: poll

Parts of Penang, Malaysia’s George Town are scheduled to get some new street signs that will include Chinese characters. (Penang has a high concentration of ethnic Chinese.) Controversy over whether to pick traditional Chinese characters or simplified Chinese characters has led authorities there set up an online poll to help resolve the matter.

Voting began today and will continue until Sunday, October 25, at

The site also provides some photos of signs.

The signage project, which involves putting up a total of 300 bilingual road signs on 82 roads, is expected to cost RM45,000 (US$13,400, or about US$45 per sign).

source: Online poll to pick Chinese road signs, The Star, October 10, 2009

misc. links

click for complete imageI’m feeling guilty that I haven’t posted in over a month. But since I still don’t have anything ready I’ll make do for now with mention of just a few relatively recent items elsewhere:

My parents speak Taiwanese better than I do. agree: 77%; disagree: 9%; no opinion: 14%

and for lagniappe:

Malaysia exams not to be restricted to English yet

Plans to have primary and secondary students in Malaysia use only English in their exams for science and mathmatics have been put on hold. Instead, the government’s current policy of allowing students to answer in English, Bahasa Malaysia, or the language of their school (such as “Chinese” or Tamil) will remain in force for at least a few more years, Malaysian Education Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Tun Hussein announced earlier this week.

The teaching of science and math in English has been phased in over several years.

Hishammuddin said secondary students would also continue to have the dual-language option although many of them have a “decent command” of English.

He said the weak students were mostly from the rural areas.

“I will not do things on an ad hoc and piecemeal basis. I want to do it (using English) as a whole.

“I want the foundation to be solid (at the primary level) before we look at the secondary schools,” he said.

He added, however, that many secondary students chose to do the papers in English.

Citing matriculation students, he said 95% of them did their papers in English.


see also teaching in English in Malaysia, Pinyin News, February 3, 2006

linguistic nationalism and Hoklo (Taiwanese, Minnan)

Sino-Platonic Papers has rereleased its August 1991 issue: Linguistic Nationalism: The Case of Southern Min.

An excerpt from the introduction:

In this paper, I will explore aspects of the social value of Southern Min. I draw on data collected in three Southern Min-speaking communities in which I have done participant-observation fieldwork: Penang, Malaysia; Tainan, Taiwan, and Xiamen (Amoy), the People’s Republic of China, focusing in particular on the political importance of Southern Min in Tainan. I take as one goal that of drawing attention to the importance of regional identities and differences in Chinese society, differences all too often disregarded by those who seek to reify ‘Chinese culture’ as a monolithic entity.

Also, the color scheme of the online catalog for Sino-Platonic Papers has been adjusted a little in order to make clearer which issues are presently available for free download.

Turkey, Hunchback, and Stinky Head — more on no-no names in Malaysia

A-giâu’s attempt at reconstructing some of the Sinitic names on Malaysia’s list of forbidden personal names (which I posted on yesterday) had me feeling a little guilty that I didn’t do more research on this. So I did some additional digging and came up with an article that listed some of the Hanzi (Chinese characters).

Here are the Sinitic names, as given in the article (see ref. below). I’ve added romanization in Pinyin and approximate English translations. A few of these, though, have me perplexed. What, for example, is so bad about Hor Kianh (??)?


source’s romanization Hanzi Romanization in Pinyin (Mandarin) English translation
Ah Chwar 阿蛇 Ā Shé Snake
Ang Mor 紅毛 Hóngmáo Westerner (figuratively; literally: “red hair”)
Heoy Kay 火雞 Huǒjī Turkey
Hor Kianh 虎仔 Hǔzi Tiger
Khiow Koo 駝背 Tuóbèi Hunchback
Tok Sim 毒心 Dúxīn Evil Mind
Tua Pooi 大肥 Dà Féi Fatty
Tua Bug 大目 Dà Mù Big Eyes


source’s romanization Hanzi Romanization in Pinyin (Mandarin) English translation
Ai Chai 矮仔 Ǎizi Dwarf
Chow Kow 臭狗 Chòu Gǒu Smelly Dog
Chow Tow 臭頭 Chòu Tóu Stinky Head
Sor Chai 傻仔 Shǎzi Fool
Kou Lou 高佬 Gāo Lǎo Tall Devil
Tai Ngan 大眼 Dà Yǎn Big Eyes
Soh Low 傻佬 Shǎ Lǎo Stupid Imp
Tai Yee 大耳 Dà Ěr Big Ears


source’s romanization Hanzi Romanization in Pinyin (Mandarin) English translation
Ar Loo 阿驢 Ā Lǘ Donkey
Hwai Sze 壞死 Huàisǐ Bad Death
Chang Chee 娼妓 Chāngjì Prostitute
Ho Sze 猴子 Hóuzi Monkey
Sun Choo 山豬 Shānzhū Wild Boar
Tha Thaw 大頭 Dàtóu Wastrel, Silly Person (lit. “Big Head”)
Chue Sze 豬仔 Zhūzi Piggy
Sze Kwee 死鬼 Sǐguǐ Devil

source: Jiazhang wèi háizi qumíng xuzhi: Agou, Jizi, A-Zhuàng jìn yòng (????????? ????????), China Press (Malaysia), July 30, 2006

Malaysia deems some names ‘unsuitable’

Malaysia’s National Registration Department has compiled a list of personal names deemed “unsuitable.” Parents will be blocked from having their children registered under these names. Among the groups contributing to the compilation of the list are the Buddhist Missionary Society of Malaysia, the Malaysian Hindu Sangam, and the Universiti Malaya Tamil Language Association.

Parents will be prevented from bestowing upon their children specific names in a variety of languages (including Cantonese and Hoklo/Hokkien/Taiwanese). In addition, entire categories of names — such as the names of animals, colors, fruits, and vegetables — will also be blocked. Numbers and initials are also to be denied approval.

According to Jainisah Mohd Noor, a spokeswoman for the National Registration Department, parents who insisted upon using a name on this list could appeal to the department.

“We can only advise them, but if they are insistent even after knowing they are unsuitable, they may be allowed to use them,” Jainisah said.

I haven’t been able to find a copy of the list. Perhaps it’s on the National Registration Department’s Web site; but that’s only in Malay.

Here are some “unsuitable” names from Sinitic languages, as given in the news stories below. I’m just copying these from the news stories listed below, so don’t blame me for the romanizations.

  • Ah Kow (dog)
  • Ah Gong (unsound mind)
  • Chai Too (pig)
  • Kai Chai (chick)
  • Sum Seng (gangster)
  • Ah Chwar (snake)
  • Khiow Khoo (hunchback)
  • Chow Tow (smelly head)
  • Sor Chai (insane)

Here are some forbidden names from other languages:

  • Zaniah (female adulterer)
  • Zani (male adulterer)
  • Woti (sexual intercourse)
  • Karruppan (black fellow)
  • Sivappi (fair)
  • Vellayan (fair)
  • Amma-kannu (mother’s eye)
  • Batu Malai (stone hill)

You will also have to prove your lineage if you want your child to carry the prefix Ungku, Engku, Ku, Syed or Syarifah to your name.

Names with officials titles such as Tun, Tan Sri or Dato’ Wira Jaya, Haji, Nabi, Rasul, Guru, Ustaz and Hakim are also out.

Pinyin, mispronounced Mandarin linked: Malaysian official

Although announcements in Mandarin are being mispronounced in Kuala Lumpur International Airport, that’s only to be expected because the announcers are paid little and must use Hanyu Pinyin, according to Malaysian Deputy Tourism Minister Datuk Donald Lim Siang Chai.

Bah. Pinyin doesn’t take long to learn. Moreover, it’s simple and accurate. The problem is simply a lack of training. Hanyu Pinyin is probably more closely phonetic than the spelling systems of any of the other languages the airport personnel would have to deliver announcements in.

Here’s the article:

Announcements in Mandarin pronounced wrongly at KL International Airport should be tolerated if the information is accurate, said Deputy Tourism Minister Datuk Donald Lim Siang Chai.

He said information should include time of flight arrivals and departures and gate numbers.

Lim attributed the wrong pronunciations to the announcers, who relied on hanyu pinyin (romanised Chinese).

“It is not easy to get good announcers given the low pay and long working hours,” he told reporters after opening a workshop organised by the Malaysia Mental Literacy Movement here yesterday.

Lim said RTM also has a similar problem in getting newsreaders fluent in dialects.

Sin Chew Daily reported last week that wrong pronunciations at KLIA had not only drawn laughter but also made some tourists irritated.

source: Info more important than how you say it, Star, May 14, 2006

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