Hokkien in Penang

Discussions on the Hokkien (Minnan) language.
SimL
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Re: Hokkien in Penang

Post by SimL » Mon Sep 20, 2010 4:48 pm

amhoanna wrote:... Whereas Holo is branded as a macho language in Taiwan, and this has been part of its downfall. Let a girl speak Holo with gusto, and right away she's just one of the guys. The solution for girls here is to stop speaking Holo, and speak it badly if necessary. 台妹 don't speak Holo anymore. Even radio stations and TV shows can't find women under 35 who'll go on air and speak three sentences back-to-back in Holo and risk exposing how unfeminine they are. And guys can't use Holo to pick up girls. Using Holo would be like saying, "OK, I'm not gonna acknowledge your femininity, I'm just gonna treat you like one of the guys." And she can probably barely speak it anyway. ...
Hi amhoanna,

Great to have this independent piece of input from you, based on your personal experience and analysis. It might interest you to know that I listened to a paper being presented at an EATS (European Association of Taiwanese Studies) Conference a number of years ago, precisely on this topic. The researcher (I think a PhD student) had done some research into the sociolinguistics of Taiwanese. Her approach was to give a bunch of students at a technical institute in Taiwan a questionnaire to fill in, and she then analysed the responses. Her findings paralleled your analysis in so many areas! (At least, from my memory) the main findings were:

1) Girls could speak Taiwanese a lot less than boys.
2) Of the boys who did speak Taiwanese, there was a correlation between the more "blue-collar / working-class" the course they were doing, the more they spoke Taiwanese.
3) The boys who spoke Taiwanese spoke it to one another, not to the girls.
4) The girls associated boys who spoke Taiwanese with being "ruffians" or "gangsters".

PS. Point #1 ties in a lot with sociolinguistic studies from all over the world. Apparently, girls are consistently more conscious than boys about "socially prestigious language", so in practically any situation in the world where there is a "High" language and a "Low" language, girls switch over sooner and in greater numbers to the "High" language than boys. (In this context, they also tend to use less slang, and to use more "grammatically correct" forms than boys do.)
SimL
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Re: Hokkien in Penang

Post by SimL » Mon Sep 20, 2010 5:20 pm

Ah-bin wrote:The attitude is also different, as a whitey speaking Hokkien, here I often get a blank stare if I try. I take it that that means a lot of people who live in Amoy have no Idea what language I'm speaking. I assume it is because they never hear it in their everyday life. If I speak Mandarin they immediately recognise and respond. In Penang, people would just reply to me in Hokkien naturally, and then express their happiness after a short exchange. It's actually quite difficult to make some people speak Hokkien in Amoy, but older people seem very happy when I do it.
amhoanna wrote:Ah, yes, the Amoy-Taiwan blank stare. Gotta love it. I talk to people in Holo and they go "HUH?" Something about my appearance deactivated their Holo listening skills.
Both of these are slightly different from the rather disappointing parallel experience I had at the last EATS conference I attended (though my experience in no way contradicts the responses that Ah-bin and amhoanna had in this area - it was just slightly different, but also disappointing).

At most EATS conferences, there is a mix of Western sinologists and Taiwanese academics. (The latter not necessarily "pure sinologists", just sociologists, linguists, historians, economists, political scientists, etc; they're there because being sociologists, linguists, etc in Taiwan, their specialization fits into the EATS context.) In any case, up to the most recent conference, I was - unsurprisingly - the only Penang Hokkien speaker present - everyone else either spoke (of course, English and) only Mandarin (= most of the Western sinologists/taiwanologists, some of the Taiwanese), and Taiwanese (= some of the Western sinologists/taiwanologists, most of the Taiwanese). With the latter group - because of my difficulty speaking with Taiwanese - we usually only exchanged very basic stuff in Hokkien/Taiwanese, and then switched quickly back to speaking English.

However, this most recent EATS conference was different because there was a lady from Medan there (I may have mentioned that when I wrote about my experiences there in another thread). The result of her presence was that we had quite long conversations (in between the papers, while drinking tea/coffee, or having cake, or having dinner).

While this lady and I were chatting away in Penang Hokkien, lots of the Taiwanese academics were either standing/sitting around next to us, or walked past us, on their way to getting coffee, cakes, joining other groups of people to chat, etc.

The "disappointing" thing which I wanted to describe (and which differed slightly from Ah-bin and amhoanna's experiences) was that nobody even stopped to stand next to us for a bit longer, or come closer to us to hear what we were saying (either of which would have been a perfectly natural thing to do if we had been speaking in English, and they had happened to overhear the topic, and the topic had intrigued or interested them). Indeed, for the three days of the conference, on all the occasions when I spoke to this lady in Penang Hokkien, not a single Taiwanese reacted in any way at all. Not even to the extent of registering that "something unusual / interesting" was happening (e.g. slowing down slightly as they walked past, looking in our direction, etc), even if they didn't actually stop or try to join in.

This is practically the opposite reaction from the one I described earlier in this thread, where Penang Hokkien speakers would certainly be intrigued by hearing other (certainly Penang, but possibly also elsewhere in Malaysia) Hokkien speakers in a foreign country, and immediately try to join them and say something to them.
SimL
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Re: Hokkien in Penang

Post by SimL » Mon Sep 20, 2010 5:47 pm

After writing the previous reply, I remembered something which my mother told me about. From 2008 onwards, my parents started living in Melbourne, where they would occasionally run into (presumably) Taiwanese people in public (prior to this, they lived in a small country town in Australia, so there were hardly any Taiwanese there to run into). Anyway, from about 2008 onwards, on a few occasions, my mother had approached Taiwanese in the supermarket, if she heard them speaking Taiwanese. In the usual Penang Hokkien way, she went up to them with a smile, with "e, lin si m-si Tai-uan lang?", or words to that effect. She told me that she stopped doing that after the first few times, because invariably, she would get a very cold response, where they would hardly want to answer her, or if they did, they made it clear from tone and body language that they wanted to get out of the situation as soon as possible.

I should add that my mother speaks Amoy also (indeed, that's her native variety), so that is what she would use when approaching them. This means that the "alienating/awkward effect of the 'strangeness' of Penang Hokkien" can be discounted as a factor in explaining the response of the Taiwanese.

I suppose the best explanation for my mother's experiences (and mine at this most recent EATS conference) is what amhoanna wrote:

"Part of it, though, is just that Holo speakers in Taiwan and Hokkien are real finicky about accents and vocab. They will switch to Mandarin at the first sign of cross-dialectal discomfort." (Or perhaps they thought she was from the PRC, and Taiwanese anti-PRC feelings played a role... who knows.)
amhoanna
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Re: Hokkien in Penang

Post by amhoanna » Tue Sep 21, 2010 2:55 am

Hi, SimL. Seems that when Hokkien exported itself to "the colonies", the word "hoanná" became set in its meaning... So that today in Taiwan, for example, hoanná means exclusively Taiwanese aborigines... And old phrases like "Ji̍tpún hoan" sound strange. I doubt the Hokkiens in Vietnam ever referred to the Kinh Vietnamese as hoanná, though.

Goá sī Tâi'oân ê Tn̂gsoaⁿ hoan, tī Bíciu toāhàn ê. Bôlūn khừ tólo̍h, goá éng'oán sī hoanná ... m̄ koh sī "àm" hoanná :P
amhoanna
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Re: Hokkien in Penang

Post by amhoanna » Tue Sep 21, 2010 3:50 am

That's a whale of a topic. We should start a thread on it if there isn't one out there already. I think I know exactly what you're talking about. I've come across the same kinds of reactions. And what's really strange is how consistent this behavior is. There's almost no individual variation. That's what's really amazing.

Especially coming from a people that constantly remind each other that they are the most chinchiat + jia̍tcêng people in the whole world.

The people in the supermarket... Were they thinking, Goá sī m̄ sī khoàⁿ tio̍h kúi ah? Were they shocked that someone would address a perfect stranger in Holo in an Anglostani supermarket, possibly at a normal speaking volume? (gasp) ... What would've happened if a fellow Taiwanese person were to do this? Answer: a fellow Taiwanese person wouldn't've done this. What would've happened if someone, esp a white person, approached them and said in English, "Excuse me, are you from Taiwan?"

Probably a big, nervous smile. "Yes! How did you know?"

If you ask a Tâi'oân lâng, s/he'll REFLEXIVELY chalk it up to individual behavior. :lol: A knee jerk reflex. But the most interesting and possibly most relevant experiences would be interacting with well-off Taiwanese in the valley east of L.A. who migrated to the U.S. in the 70s.

The saddest part is the academics. Are we waiting for these people to help turn things around? There is something about our Sino upbringing which says, When you can't handle the truth, just sit there and do nothing. Imagine talking to a well-informed aTiong who likes politics and telling him about socialist Taiwanese activists who marched in China or were disappeared by the KMT. How would s/he react? Most likely by pretending you didn't say anything.
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