Foochow language

Discussions on the Hokkien (Minnan) language.
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ransek
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Joined: Fri Dec 21, 2007 9:19 pm

Foochow language

Post by ransek » Wed Jan 16, 2013 12:20 pm

It's an off-topic but I guess it's not totally irrelevant. After all Foochow is the capital of Hokkien :lol: Hopefully some of you guys are also interested and will shed some lights.

Just took a short trip to Foochow and had been fascinated with the Hok-ciu language. Although more heavily influenced by Middle Chinese than Hokkien, Hokciu is probably 100 times harder to learn (at least for me). Sandhi is not limited to tones--everything (inc consonants and vowels) changes in such a complicated manner and --according to some online linguistic enthusiasts from Foochow-- "there seems to be no sandhi rules".

The status of the language is very bad, perhaps (partly) due to its difficulty. Out of ten people I knew from Foochow back in college (now in their mid-twenties), only two could speak it. During this trip I visited a close friend of mine. His family and family friends spoke exclusively in Foochow; he grew up in such environment (for 18 years) but couldn't even make out a complete sentence in Foochow. This has been unimaginable to me, as I always believe that young children are able to acquire language without being taught explicitly. And he is definitely not an exception (he "acquired" fluent Cantonese in Hong Kong within two years without really putting much effort).

Although my exposure to the language was really brief, I could make out some words that were similar to Hokkien, like 行 囝 kiang, 目睭 moi-ciu, 厝 chuo. It seems to be almost certain that the two shared the same origin but it is unclear to me when and how they diverged.
Mark Yong
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Joined: Fri Apr 29, 2005 3:52 pm

Re: Foochow language

Post by Mark Yong » Thu Jan 17, 2013 2:29 pm

Hi, ransek,

Yes, that is also the impression I got about the state of the 福州 dialect in the capital. Perhaps it is due to its being the capital of 福建省 that has resulted in a greater emphasis on 普通話 at the expense of 福州話?

That said, as far as I know, the 福州 dialect is alive and well in certain parts of Malaysia. In particular, the Chinese in the East Malaysian state of Sarawak are predominantly of 福州 origin, particularly in the state capital of Kuching and town of Sibu. I had an ex-colleague from the town of Limbang in Sarawak. Eavesdropping on his occasional telephone call to his parents, I gather he speaks fairly fluent 福州話.

Over in Peninsular Malaysia, there are significantly less 福州 people, with one exception being the town of Sitiawan, which is noted as the 福州 town of Peninsular Malaysia.

福州 cuisine is also alive and well in Malaysia, with the most famous dish undoubtedly being the red-coloured 福州手工麵線 “mee suah”.
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If I am not mistaken, there are copies of the 福州 Bible available on the Web - both in Chinese characters and Romanised version.
Ah-bin
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Joined: Mon Aug 21, 2006 8:10 am
Location: Somewhere in the Hokloverse

Re: Foochow language

Post by Ah-bin » Thu Jan 17, 2013 8:54 pm

Not only the Bible, there is a dictionary for learning here:

http://archive.org/details/alphabeticdictio00macl

There is also a Manual of the Foochow Dialect floating around. Unfortunately google consors book search results to people outside the US, meaning that only people with a US IP address can download it as full view. I have a pdf of it I can send you that I got before the censorship started a few years back, I can send it to you if pm me your e-mail address.

As far as I have heard, Foochow is like Amoy, full of outsiders who have no interest in learning it, and full of locals who can't be bothered speaking it to their children.

There is a film called 金壁辉煌 or Fujian Blue in English, almost entirely in something close to Foochow.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2Mqs5QAjzxM

I've only seen a bit of it so far but I rather enjoyed it even though it is a bit depressing. Why is it good? Because the censors had nothing to do with it....it was privately made and filmed without CCP meddling.

I've overheard Hokchius in conversation, and to start with I always mistake it for Hokkien, to the point of going over to ask them. All the Min dialects seem to have some sort of sound in common. Even Hainanese and Lui-chiu have a certain Min sound to them.
ransek
Posts: 21
Joined: Fri Dec 21, 2007 9:19 pm

Re: Foochow language

Post by ransek » Fri Jan 18, 2013 10:32 am

Hi Mark: In Foochow the language is still alive. People above 40 use it extensively (e.g. on the streets and among friends/family members). I got the impression that it is the kids from rich family and city center that have lost the dialect. My friend told me speaking Hokciu was considered "bad practice" when he went to school.

Yes I also heard that it is in good state in East Malaysia. There are even some Hokciu singers from Malaysia:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k9vluclrkrc

But I'm curious about the variety(of Hokciu) spoken in Malaysia. In the Fujian province, the language has many varieties, some of them not mutually intelligible with the dialect of the Capital. I guess in Malaysia the language might have gotten simplified. Do you know if Hokciu serves (or used to serve) as the lingua franca in any Malaysian city?
ransek
Posts: 21
Joined: Fri Dec 21, 2007 9:19 pm

Re: Foochow language

Post by ransek » Fri Jan 18, 2013 10:50 am

Hi Ah-bin: thanks for the info. I will pm you shortly.

Foochow is full of in-migrants and yes a lot of local families chose to speak to their children in Mandarin. It is kind of sad to see that a whole generation of Foochow kids becoming monolingual in heavily accented Mandarin.

Still, I'm puzzled by the fact that people like the friend I mentioned couldn't even complete a single sentence in Hokciu. I visited his family and heard his parents and relatives speak Hokciu all day. It is also spoken on the street by policemen and shop-owners. On the surface the language seems well alive and in a better state than Suzhou Wu (Suzhou has one of the highest percentage of in-migrants in China). Yet in Suzhou kids in their 20s who are from local families generally speak Wu pretty well. That is why I dare to guess the difficulty in the language itself make it harder to be acquired passively and thus more vulnerable.

I never mistook it for Hokkien. It sounded a lot more "alien" to me even before I knew the basics of Hokkien. And I heard Hainanese is closer to Hokkien than Hokciu (many scholars classified Hainanese as Minnan).
AndrewAndrew
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Joined: Mon Aug 09, 2010 10:26 am

Re: Foochow language

Post by AndrewAndrew » Sat Jan 19, 2013 5:38 am

ransek wrote:Still, I'm puzzled by the fact that people like the friend I mentioned couldn't even complete a single sentence in Hokciu. I visited his family and heard his parents and relatives speak Hokciu all day. It is also spoken on the street by policemen and shop-owners. On the surface the language seems well alive and in a better state than Suzhou Wu (Suzhou has one of the highest percentage of in-migrants in China). Yet in Suzhou kids in their 20s who are from local families generally speak Wu pretty well. That is why I dare to guess the difficulty in the language itself make it harder to be acquired passively and thus more vulnerable.
I suspect that this is a psychological thing. There is nothing so difficult to do as something you find distasteful or beneath you.
amhoanna
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Joined: Sat Sep 18, 2010 12:43 pm

Re: Foochow language

Post by amhoanna » Thu Jan 24, 2013 10:05 am

I think Andrew hit the nail on the head.

I think I've heard this kind of thing many times regarding the downfall of the Hokciu tongue. In history, it also seems that the Hokciu area is always collaborating with "central power". I wonder if the low number of Hokcius in diaspora is b/c most Hokcius didn't want to set sail when it was against the law!

Province lines matter in Chinese socio-linguistics, more than I can understand. E.g. I was in Cantonese-speaking Fongsing 防城, Kwongsai (near the most seaward VN border crossing) a few weeks ago and several of the many who switched me to Mandarin actually, as I gradually "detected", did speak fluent Cantonese. Also, one YOUNG guy actually replied in this kind of non-白話 Cantonoid language, even though we were in 白話 territory. And up in my room, there was not a single Cantonese channel on cable. Aha. Maybe there we have it. In any case, all very different from the set-up in the province next door.

Being set up in the same province as Hokciu seems to have been the last thing "Hokkien" (the language) needed. If there was a province that took in just southern Hokkien and Teochew, give or take some Hakka Country, things might be different right now.

On the other hand, there are thousands of newly arrived Hokcius up and down the Atlantic seaboard of the U.S. and all of them speak Hokciu fluently and as often as they can, AFAIK. That is probably the state of the art still, then, among uneducated folks who are desperate enough to migrate illegally.
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