Penang Hokkien goodness!

Penang Hokkien Podcast

It has been a while since I last reviewed anything related to entertainment much or less talk about it. Sometimes it seems that my life only revolves around food or knitting…or worse, rants about Malaysian politicians and so forth. Kind of depressing or limited if you think about it.

So when I sat down in front of my lappie and decided to install iTunes, I hadn’t exactly thought about using it for anything else other than classes. Somehow I ended up subscribing to a variety of podcast services ranging from those relating to the study of language, documentaries and just cultural stuff. One in particular has always caught my attention – Penang Hokkien Podcast (note that the language and topic can be explicit in nature!).

I first heard about this podcast about two years ago, about a year or so after John Ong first came up with the concept of promoting Penang and especially, the Penang Hokkien dialect which is, in my opinion, a dialect that is fast disappearing from the Chinese communities. At that time, I hadn’t thought much about subscribing regularly because when you’re in Malaysia, surrounded by people who do speak Hokkien (not much though) and some (very minimal) Hokkien shows over the radio & TV, you don’t really care for anything related to your roots. It’s sad, I know…

Being half Penang Hokkien-half Hokkien, my Hokkien is perhaps slightly better than my French simply because I spoke the dialect to my grandmother until she died. After that, it was mostly Cantonese at home. Since my move to Switzerland and after spending one year surrounded by nothing by French, German or English speakers, I had really begun to miss things that reminded me of my roots and most of all, my family.

I have always felt that Hokkien is a down-to-earth language, informal and witty to listen to, not to mention earthy when spoken. Any cruder and you could say that it’s a marketplace language. Well, you won’t be far from the truth because if you look at the evolution or history of Penang Hokkien, it used to be the lingua franca in Penang and the surrounding northern states of Malaysia. According to Wikipedia’s entry on the Penang Hokkien dialect, Penang Hokkien is a local variant of the Minnan dialect.

Minnan is one of the sub-languages of the Chinese language and is mainly spoken in southern Fujian, Taiwan, Hainan and parts of Guangdong, with the main standard dialects being Hokkien, Teochew and Hainanese. Within Hokkien, the Amoy dialect is the prestige dialect. It is also spoken by many overseas Chinese in Malaysia, Singapore, the Philippines and Indonesia.

Penang Hokkien is based on the dialect of Hokkien spoken in the Zhangzhou (?? Hokkien: Chiang1-chiu1) prefecture of Fujian. It is said that it most closely resembles the dialect spoken in the district of Haicang (??) in Longhai (?? Hokkien: Liong5-hai2) county and in the districts of Jiaomei (??) and Xinglin (??) in neighbouring Xiamen prefecture. In Southeast Asia, similar dialects are spoken in the states bordering Penang, and in Medan. In contrast, in southern Malaysia and Singapore, most Hokkien speakers speak a dialect based on the Amoy standard.

Listening to John and his guests going on and on in Penang Hokkien brings back fond memories of home, of my family and well, of the closeness I have and feel with them. You could say that it’s a way of connecting with something that I have left behind a long time ago; I feel nostalgic, giggly and strangely…complete. As I’m writing this out, I have come to understand why John started this podcast.

Nil, on the other hand, doesn’t know any Hokkien at all. In fact, he’s tone deaf so Chinese dialects – Cantonese and all that – are totally out of his league. So he can’t understand what’s so hilarious or interesting about these fellas. I have given up explaining because when you translate what these folks are talking about, it just loses its uniqueness.

But I’ll say this – if you understand Hokkien, particularly Penang Hokkien and am in the mood for something casual (mind you, these folks are not into serious stuff – it’s all about having fun!), do check John out over at Penang Hokkien Podcast k?

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