What is “Hokkien” (and what is not)?

Discussions on the Hokkien (Minnan) language.
Mark Yong
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What is “Hokkien” (and what is not)?

Post by Mark Yong » Wed Jul 20, 2011 1:38 pm

You know how we always talk about “Hokkien words”, “how to say this-or-that in Hokkien” and the gradually-shrinking general Hokkien vocabulary. This has prompted me to think a lot about some fundamental questions:
1. What is Hokkien?
2. What is not Hokkien (i.e. another Chinese language*, such as Cantonese, Hakka, Shanghainese, Mandarin)?
3. What is Chinese, in general (and I will stretch that definition to include Classical Chinese)?

To put things in perspective: Nowadays, we tend to think a lot about “Hokkien” as a language that is separate from “Chinese” – by the very token of the existence of Hokkien dictionaries written in Chinese! But when you look at Hong Kong, the locals there do not sub-consciously think of “Cantonese” and “Chinese” in separate terms. Nor do you normally see “Cantonese-Chinese dictionaries”** used there (even though they exist – I know, because I own two). To them, they are one and the same thing (ironically, I get the impression that Hong Kongers think of Mandarin as something separate!). I believe this would have been very much the case in China, Taiwan and even in the predominantly-Hokkien 南洋 Lăm-IÓⁿ communities such as Singapore, Penang, Indonesia and Philippines before the 20th century.

Another way to look at it: When you flip through a “Hokkien dictionary” or a “Cantonese dictionary”, have you noticed how the word entries tend to fall into two broad categories:
1. Words that are unique to the said dialect, with the definitions provided in Modern Standard Chinese (i.e. they would not be cognates) or English (or whatever medium the dictionary is composed in)
2. Mainstream Chinese words, but just mapped to the said dialect’s pronunciation (i.e. cognates)

So, the question morphs into: What constitutes a dialect* dictionary, and what constitutes a Chinese dictionary?

Let me try to put forth some examples to illustrate the point:

1. 抌㧒捔 tìm hīat kàk (to throw) is Hokkien
2. tûiⁿ is Hokkien (well, actually not uniquely Hokkien, as Hakka also uses it, as cŌn)
3. is of Classical Chinese origin, now preserved in Min in its original definition for ‘eye’, with that definition now having fallen out of use and superceded by in the other major dialects
4. 幹嘛, (as in, the contraction of 不要) and (as used for the 3rd person) are Mandarin
5. are all Chinese in general
6. 反對 is a relatively-modern compound that is now part of Chinese in general, including Hokkien
7. 政府 and 圖書館 are Japanese borrowings that are now part of Chinese in general, including Hokkien

When you say 反對 hŭan-tūi, do you stop and think to yourself, “I just said a Hokkien word” or “I just said a Chinese word using Hokkien”? Interesting when you actually dissect it, right? I realise it is not so cut-and-dried, as real-life sentences in Hokkien are a mix of all the above categories (except #4, i.e. the outright Mandarin ones, though I have once heard a friend say 爲甚麼 ŭi-sàm-mÔ in Penang before).

*I am treading very carefully with the use of the word dialect for what we know should really be referred to as Chinese languages.
** This is different from Cantonese phrasebooks for tourists (which are rather abundant) and specialist Cantonese dictionaries / pronunciation charts for linguistic studies. The target audiences in these cases are quite specific.
Ah-bin
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Re: What is “Hokkien” (and what is not)?

Post by Ah-bin » Wed Jul 20, 2011 3:11 pm

I had a similar question when i was living in Japan, about where Japanese ended and where Chinese began. You would think 我們 was definitely Chinese, but if you write 'warera' next to it as Takizawa Bakin does in his novels, then it becomes Japanese. The conclusion I came to was that almost everything that was written in Chinese characters was potentially Japanese, since at some time or another it will have appeared in an old Japanese book. If you show someone some rare character, they will usually say it is a rare Kanji that they don't know, not that it is necessarily Chinese.

I say almost everything, because there are some characters now that Japanese would instantly recognise as Chinese from the simplified set and words like 你 that they have not seen in Japanese books (although I have seen this one in a Japanese book too).

I'm sure that the same went for Korean and Vietnamese at one time as well.
amhoanna
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Re: What is “Hokkien” (and what is not)?

Post by amhoanna » Wed Jul 20, 2011 5:51 pm

Tsinoys (Phils Chinese) are the same way, right? They don't think of "Fukien", "Chinese" and "Mandarin" in separate terms.
When you say 反對 hŭan-tūi, do you stop and think to yourself, “I just said a Hokkien word” or “I just said a Chinese word using Hokkien”?
When we say "nggak" (NOT) in b. Indo, do we stop, and go, "Wait, I just said a Javanese word using Malay?" I think every language has these layers...

True, the subjective "psycholinguistics" are different for "Chinese" languages. The Arabic languages have the same kind of dynamic going on, but different :P b/c Classic Arabic is heard as well as seen, and there's no "Modern Standard Arabic", i.e. no "Mandarin of Arabic". Urdu vs. Hindi, w/ Sanskrit and Arabic looming in the bkgrd, is another interesting "test case".

I like dictionaries that help me improve in a language. For that, hybrid, "Swiss Army knife" Chinese-&-Cantonese! Chinese-&-Hoklo! etc. dictionaries are misleading at best. I like how the 台語白話小詞典 that came out a few yrs ago doesn't treat words different no matter whether they're Sinitic or non-Sinitic or exist in Literary Chinese. It does note the etymology of every etymon, except the non-Sino etyma in the oldest layers, like "bat"/"pat". Loanwords of loanwords (e.g. sapbun) are traced back stop by stop with much precision. The new pan-Chinese Sino-Japanese borrowings are marked as Japanese Sino loanwords, and in the Formosan context they really were -- they didn't pass through either Literary or "Modern Standard" Chinese. A complete and consistent Hok-Mand dictionary, yours for just 9.99. :mrgreen:

http://blog.roodo.com/taiwanbook/archives/12450321.html
http://www.books.com.tw/exep/prod/books ... 0010449853
niuc
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Re: What is “Hokkien” (and what is not)?

Post by niuc » Fri Jul 22, 2011 1:18 am

When Mark writes "another Chinese language" and “Cantonese-Chinese dictionaries”, it seems to me that those are two different definitions of "Chinese", the latter being equivalent to Mandarin. Using the former definition, personally I always think of (or rather "know") Hokkien as a part of Chinese, and Mandarin as a sister language.

When I said 反對 huán-tuì, I never paused to dissect it. But if I ever did, I would have been assured that it was (and is) Hokkien through and through. :mrgreen:
Yeleixingfeng
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Re: What is “Hokkien” (and what is not)?

Post by Yeleixingfeng » Sat Jul 23, 2011 2:31 am

If 反對 is not Hokkien - I am neither stating that it is nor isn't - then what do you call/express 反對黨?
amhoanna
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Re: What is “Hokkien” (and what is not)?

Post by amhoanna » Sun Aug 21, 2011 8:13 pm

It just occurred to me that maybe PgHK "kàliáu" is based on Cantonese saai (阴去) - even though it uses native Hoklo elements. I was just typing a sentence in Hoklo and I wanted to use saai, but the word isn't available in Hoklo. Then I thought of kàliáu. Perfect!
Ah-bin
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Re: What is “Hokkien” (and what is not)?

Post by Ah-bin » Sun Aug 21, 2011 9:40 pm

Ah, but then kā-liáu has a very wide range of usages in comparison to saai 嘥. I wonder if Taiwanese can understand it?

I believe it was SIm who said it was probably from kàu liáu "until finished" and I think that is the most probable explanation. It would certainly explain why the tone doesn't sandhi upwards (as liáu doesn't cause sandhi). I think in my dictionary I've been mistakenly writing *kà-liáu which would produce a different tone pattern from what actually occurs i.e. 'ka1 liáu'

Then in the more creolised version of northern Malaysian Hokkien it replaced lóng-chóng 攏總. I am aware this word is familiar to many PGHK speakers, but I wonder if it wasn't reintroduced by the sin-khek, as kā-liáu seems to have taken root in the very structure of the language.

I have been thinking over this for a few days, actually, even before I read this, and had been trying to come up with a list of the various meanings. Just now I thought of:

1) 全部, 所有
Kā-liáu lâng chai (replacing só•-ū or ták inTaiwanese)
Everyone knows… (ták-ták-lâng pún chai is possible too, but it is more like "each and every", isn't it?)

2) 都
I chò ê hì wá kā-liáu bat khoàⁿ kòe (replacing TW lóng)
I've seen all the films she made.

Iâng kā-liáu sī Penang ê lâng (replacing TW lóng, lóng-chóng)
They are all Penangites

3) 嘥
Tōa-pûi chiáh kā-liáu! (replacing 嘥 in this case, but doesn’t Taiwanese use liáu?)
Fatty ate the lot!
amhoanna
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Re: What is “Hokkien” (and what is not)?

Post by amhoanna » Tue Aug 23, 2011 3:54 pm

So the pronunciation is "ka33 liau55" or "ka11 liau55"? :shock: I've been misled!

I've been using kàliáu in writing, but not in speech. I think it's borderline understandable for TWnese... Kāliáu or kaliáu wouldn't be. No idea what kā or ka would mean! The "ka" initial-final combo is overloaded, so tone is "strictly construed".

I think "kà liáu" could be used in TWnese in its literal meaning of TILL FINISHED, TILL ALL GONE. Might need native spkr to confirm, or somebody that watches a lot of TW telenovelas. :mrgreen: "Liáuliáu" might be more common, though. "Dụnpiáⁿ cá tọ hõ· i ciạ' liáuliáu ·ala." (潤餅早就與伊食了了 ·a。)
SimL
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Re: What is “Hokkien” (and what is not)?

Post by SimL » Wed Aug 24, 2011 8:44 am

Hi Ah-bin,

Two points:

1. Your mastery of Penang Hokkien is now truly phenomenal. The renditions you gave of the various variants of "all" using ka-liau sound so "native" to me.

2. This is the first time I've realised your point about "liau2" not causing sandhi. So, for example, in "i1-lang5 kau3-liau2" (= "they have arrived"), the "kau3" doesn't sandhi (and any other verb for that matter). But doesn't that then totally discredit my original explanation that "ka-liau" is an elided form of "kau3-liau2" (= "until finished")?
Ah-bin
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Re: What is “Hokkien” (and what is not)?

Post by Ah-bin » Wed Aug 24, 2011 10:12 pm

Your mastery of Penang Hokkien is now truly phenomenal. The renditions you gave of the various variants of "all" using ka-liau sound so "native" to me.
Wow, I am very flattered to hear that. One of the sentences isn;t really mine though....it comes from that poem about the fat boy and the paper bag full of 屎! :lol:

I was actually trying to thick of other sentences like:

*kui-ê thô∙-kha tâm-tâm kā-liáu

The whole floor was totally wet. (replaces 完全)

and

I Kà i-ê hák-seng kā-liáu sī iōng Hok-kiàn-ōa.

He teaches his students entirely in Hokkien. (replaces 完全)

But I feel something is wrong with them.
This is the first time I've realised your point about "liau2" not causing sandhi. So, for example, in "i1-lang5 kau3-liau2" (= "they have arrived"), the "kau3" doesn't sandhi (and any other verb for that matter). But doesn't that then totally discredit my original explanation that "ka-liau" is an elided form of "kau3-liau2" (= "until finished")?
Not at all! If liáu doesn’t cause sandhi, kà(u) will sound exactly the same as kā(u).Well in Penang at least! I just write it kā-liáu instead of kà(u) liáu for convenience’s sake, because it acts as a single word and deserves a hyphen to keep it together I think, despite its etymology. I suppose I could have written it as the could be the equally etymologically problematic kâ-liáu or ka-liáu, as these both have the same tone pattern as kā-liáu in PGHK (low falling tone + high flat/rising/dipping).
SimL
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Re: What is “Hokkien” (and what is not)?

Post by SimL » Thu Aug 25, 2011 12:07 am

Ah-bin wrote:Not at all! If liáu doesn’t cause sandhi, kà(u) will sound exactly the same as kā(u)...
Yes, indeed it would. But for my particular pronuncation, I pronounce it "ka1_liau2" (sandhi-tone written for first syllable), not "ka3_liau2". In other words, my first syllable of ka-liau is identical in pronuncation to "ka1" (= "to cut with scissors").

I think that is what caused amhoanna some puzzlement a few replies back.

Could you listen out for the tone of this first syllable in your podcasts... I don't recall people saying "ka3_liau" in my youth.
amhoanna
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Re: What is “Hokkien” (and what is not)?

Post by amhoanna » Thu Aug 25, 2011 4:27 am

This kaliau thing totally confuses me.

My Hoklosense says "ka" should be in its running tone. This "liau" is not the sentence final particle "liau".

Yet, if it's T3, then its RT would be high-level.

But Sim says its tone is actually mid-level.

So ... it's not the same "ka", but a different one? Or maybe the same "ka", after a tone mutation?

Goá thàuté hoe kà liáu ·a.
Ah-bin
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Re: What is “Hokkien” (and what is not)?

Post by Ah-bin » Thu Aug 25, 2011 7:49 am

This "liáu" is not the sentence final particle "liau".
Ah, yes! It is the verb meaning 'to finish', in which case the rules might be different and the relevant question is not about whether the liáu makes verbs sandhi or not, but rather whether or not kàu sandhis when placed directly in front of other verbs.

In 'phah kàu sí' (beat to death) does the kàu sandhi or not? I don't remember hearing this sort of construction without a pronoun separating the kàu from the verb 'phah kàu i sí' (beat him to death) in which the kàu would not sandhi.
Yet, if it's T3, then its RT would be high-level.
Penang 'high level' is quite low at 33 (as opposed to TW 'high level' which is nearer to 55) and low level (ā and à) are something like 21, much closer in Penang Hokkien than the difference between TW 55 and 33/21. so I could just be mishearing it. I've never heard you speak, but if you are using a Taiwanese accent to pronounce your words, then I guess the difference between 'kā-liáu' and 'kà-liáu' will be much more extreme than in PGHK, and it is therefore more important that you know whether it is 3 or 1 in the first syllable.

This sort of thing gives me a headache too, so I avoid it by sticking firmly to one variety and learning and using only the words from that variety in the context of that variety. I've been a bit slow to realise, but Amhoanna, is it right to say that you are aiming at learning a larger inclusive unified sort of Hokkien that includes all the riches of the different varieties? That's a much better ambition i think than a narrow standard that excludes anything not from Amoy, as it makes everyone happy. The reason why i try to stick to Penang only (even avoiding conversations in Taiwanese) is partly out of fondness and partly because there is still no good record of the language, and I don't want to go injecting bits and pieces of non-Penang Hokkien into my final description.
SimL
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Re: What is “Hokkien” (and what is not)?

Post by SimL » Thu Aug 25, 2011 7:36 pm

Ah-bin wrote:In 'phah kàu sí' (beat to death) does the kàu sandhi or not? I don't remember hearing this sort of construction without a pronoun separating the kàu from the verb 'phah kàu i sí' (beat him to death) in which the kàu would not sandhi.
Spot on question! Half the art of good linguistics is finding the right test-cases :mrgreen:.

Indeed, the most normal way to say it is with the "i". But *if* one leaves it out - and, to me, it doesn't sound wrong without the "i", just not what one would 'normally say' - then the "kau" does sandhi. Which helps to support the idea that "ka-liau" might indeed be an elided form of "kau-liau", with "liau" being a full verb.

Nice.
amhoanna
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Re: What is “Hokkien” (and what is not)?

Post by amhoanna » Thu Aug 25, 2011 11:06 pm

Which helps to support the idea that "ka-liau" might indeed be an elided form of "kau-liau", with "liau" being a full verb.
Not sure if this applies here, but kàu regularly elides to kà in Formosan Hoklo. In a lot of contexts, unelided kàu sounds weird to me and might even be incorrect.
I've never heard you speak, but if you are using a Taiwanese accent to pronounce your words, then I guess the difference between 'kā-liáu' and 'kà-liáu' will be much more extreme than in PGHK, and it is therefore more important that you know whether it is 3 or 1 in the first syllable.
People who hear me speak usually think I'm from somewhere else. TWnese usually think I have a Malayan sound, Malayans think I'm from Taiwan or some other island in Nusantara, and Hokkienese think I'm from Kwongtung. :lol:

Now, I think the tone band in TWnese Hoklo (and other dialects too, inc. Amoy) is actually pretty narrow, and subjectively low. My impression of PgHK is that it goes pretty high. Then again, I still can't tell who's a native spkr vs who's speaking it with a Teochew or Canto lilt. All I know is that I always have to remind myself to squash my tone band when I speak Hoklo. In Amoy and TW, it can be the difference btw people switching to Mandarin on me or not! Day and night.
This sort of thing gives me a headache too, so I avoid it by sticking firmly to one variety and learning and using only the words from that variety in the context of that variety. I've been a bit slow to realise, but Amhoanna, is it right to say that you are aiming at learning a larger inclusive unified sort of Hokkien that includes all the riches of the different varieties? That's a much better ambition i think than a narrow standard that excludes anything not from Amoy, as it makes everyone happy.
Well, Ah-bin, U're sticking to one dialect (actually two) for the sake of mastering it and describing it. That's probably necessary. Yeah, I do subscribe to a unified theory of Hokkien-Teochew! In TW and Amoy I feel constrained to use the localized Hoklo that I've learned. I always feel set free in MY and even SG to talk Hoklo any damn way I see fit. I'm driven by aesthetic urges and by ideology as well. I won't argue with Freud here. The Hoklo urge is tied to the sex drive for me. :mrgreen: For me, no dialect of Hoklo is less sexy than TWnese, with its clipped cadences, Japanese influences e.g. overuse of Tng 唐 literary readings and lack of female spkrs of childbearing age. :lol: If some people ever read this and get offended, good! Things didn't have to be this way.
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