Tan Choon Hoe and I

Discussions on the Hokkien (Minnan) language.
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timothytye
Posts: 29
Joined: Thu Jul 04, 2013 8:26 am

Tan Choon Hoe and I

Post by timothytye » Tue Oct 01, 2013 6:45 pm

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Mr Tan Choon Hoe is the author of the Penang Hokkien Dialect books. He began writing these books around the year 2000, when he discovered that there are no books that teach people how to speak Penang Hokkien. He went to the bookshops asking for such books, but was shown books on Taiwanese and Singapore Hokkien. There was simply none that taught Penang Hokkien. That gave him the initiative to come out with his own.

Today Mr Tan has written five books on Penang Hokkien. His first book is now into its fifth print run. Originally self-published, these books are now rolled under the MPH.

I have communicated with Mr Tan by email and shown him the TJ system of romanisation. He was so pleased with the system that we decided to meet up. During our first encounter, he gave me a whole set of his books. After that, we met up a second time, at my home, where I gave Mr Tan and his wife a run-through of how my system works, and why I decided to use it instead of the existing POJ and Tai-lo systems.

Mr Tan acknowledge the limitations his own system, as all tonemes in his system are compressed into homographs. This is also seen in the so-called POJ Penang Hokkien dictionary by Luc de Gijzel. The TJ system not only disambiguate the tonemes, it also disambiguates homophones. Another aspect we discussed what on the capability of a system to retain meaning. We took a sentence such as, "He can't sell her his horse because she cannot buy it," translate it into POJ/Tai-lo/TJ, then translate it back into English or onwards to Mandarin. The sentence has lost some meaning when it passes through POJ and Tai-lo, but retains the full meaning through TJ.

The benefit of a face-to-face encounter is that I was able to provide precise explanation which is lost in writing. I showed him the extend to which I adopted POJ and Tai-lo, and from where the new system move forward. We also discussed the weaknesses in the POJ and Tai-lo romanisation systems which a new system can overcome. We agree that a new system is free of "baggages", so where we found weaknesses, we have the opportunity to further improve on it until it is the best system for writing Penang Hokkien.

Mr Tan and his wife Sandy became my first two "students" of the TJ romanisation system. Yesterday he dropped by once again, and together we continued to discuss and scrutinize the system. We look at sentences that sound exactly the same, but have different meaning, such as "Ie1 e3 sai4 chut3 lai2" and "Ie1-eh3 sai4 chut3 lai2." We look at how such sentences are treated in POJ and compare it with TJ.

Mr Tan is so pleased with the development that I have put to the TJ system that he is seriously considering revising his books to adopt the TJ romanisation system. For that to happen, we will need to have many more sessions together, so that he can get up to speed on this system. Once I can read what he writes in this system and he can read my writing, then we know we have achieved mutual fluency and intelligibility in the TJ romanization system. At the same time, we know there will always be closed-minded people who criticize the new system. Unfortunately, there is no opportunity for me to explain it to them in person. Personally, I feel it's a waste of time trying to preach to such people. If they are sufficiently passionate about preserving Penang Hokkien, they should create their own lessons, using POJ, Tailo or whatever, and work hard to promote understanding of Penang Hokkien, rather than interfere with what we, the native speakers of the language, are doing.

Mr Tan has been extremely open minded and self-critical. However, I point out to him that despite all the limitation he faced, he has been instrumental in resuscitating interest in an otherwise endangered language, and for that, I reserve full respect for him and his effort.

Despite the 13-year head start that Mr Tan Choon Hoe has given to local romanization of Penang Hokkien, we feel like we are standing at the start of a long journey. His ambition is to see Penang Hokkien used in TV dramas. My ambition is to give the Chinese of Penang a writing system for their mother tongue, so that children can communicate with their parents in the language by email, whether they are living in Melbourne or London or New York City, and enjoy the intimacy of using the language they grew up speaking.
amhoanna
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Re: Tan Choon Hoe and I

Post by amhoanna » Fri Oct 04, 2013 9:04 am

Your style of writing Penang Hokkien is not regular / phonetic / systematic / predictable. Willy-nilly, "suka-suka" spellings are useless for anyone who doesn't already speak the language.

I would not recommend it for anyone who either:

(1) isn't already fluent in Penang Hokkien or some other form of Hokkien;
(2) is proficient in Malay;
(3) knows kanji; OR
(4) does not think exclusively in English.

Aside from your difficult romanization, I think what you're doing is great. Here's to Hokkien and Penang Hokkien. 8)
AndrewAndrew
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Re: Tan Choon Hoe and I

Post by AndrewAndrew » Fri Oct 04, 2013 9:42 pm

Please just include IPA and then everybody will be happy.
timothytye
Posts: 29
Joined: Thu Jul 04, 2013 8:26 am

Re: Tan Choon Hoe and I

Post by timothytye » Sun Oct 13, 2013 6:09 pm

There is nothing "suka-suka" about the system, even if there are those who cannot understand it. Unfortunately it is difficult to explain on the linear plane of a forum, so I will leave things as they are.

I know my priorities when creating the system. If I want to, I could have written Penang Hokkien using International Phonetic Alphabet, retaining all the 7 tones of Hokkien and all. Why didn't I? There has to be a good reason, right?

I create the system based on my own set of priorities. I understand my priorities, I know what I want and my system satisfies my objectives. Obviously not everybody understands my priorities, for some find it to be an exercise in anarchy. If my system is not aligned to your priorities, too bad lah. If you find it useless, it's your opinion, but I won't change it because you say so. If that displeases you, no choice lah. From time to time, I will make adjustments and refinements to the system, but other than that, I am perfectly happy to live with it.
Abun
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Re: Tan Choon Hoe and I

Post by Abun » Wed Oct 16, 2013 3:12 am

While I'm not totally sure about the exact meaning of "suka-suka" (your dictionary lists "suka" as "like", Tim, so from the context I would guess "as you like, random"?). I wouldn't quite agree with that in total as you obviously did spend quite some thought on your system. However, as with every transliteration/writing system, there are up and downsides (the same being true of course for POJ or Tailo), so let me have a short review of your arguments.
Please bear in mind that I am not a Hokkien native and my knowledge of Penang Hokkien is currently limited to what I hear on this forum, so when I'm saying things like "in my eyes", these opinions do not necessarily have to reflect the views of Hokkien native speakers (in general and much less so for Penang Hokkiens).

As I see it (in this text: http://www.penang-traveltips.com/learn- ... okkien.htm as well as this thread here: http://www.chineselanguage.org/forums/v ... =6&t=58517), your criticism of POJ and Tailo boils down to the following major points:
1. They indicate citation/"unsandhied" tone instead of running/"sandhied" ones on all syllables and let the reader figure out the actual reading.
2. They use diacritics to mark the tones. These diacritics however tend to get left out for reasons of convenience, thus adding to the next problem:
3. Being (mostly) phonetic scripts, they produce a lot of homographs (that is, homophones always become homographs in writing).
4. They miss the vowel [ԑ] which is not phonemic in Taiwanese and Amoy variants but in Penang it is.

In my eyes, the first point in particular is a question of taste. In my eyes, there are three basic possibilities to tackle the citation vs running problem: 1. You do it like in POJ and Tailo and always write the citation tone, using the reader's feeling and/or other means (such as punctuation) to indicate how running tones are used. This has the advantage of the morphemes being more easily identifiable because you don't have to think about how the original tone would have been spelt. On the other hand, this way of writing requires the reader to have a certain amount of knowledge about tones before being able to read aloud. 2. You always write everything the way it is pronounced. If POJ used this way in Taiwan for example, the sentence 有閒請來阮兜坐 wo͘uld become "ù-êng chhiaⁿ lāi (or lài, depending on the variant) gun tāu chē". The advantage would be that it would be rather easy to read it out aloud. However, the morphemes (including whole words) are not as easily recognizable as one would have to know where and how to rethink syllables in citation tone. Therefore, this system would make looking words up in a dictionary a lot harder as well. 3. Use a mixed way: Always write every word the way it is pronounced in isolated position, which means running tone on syllables at the beginning and in the middle and citation tone on the last syllable. This way, the form of the word as a whole is retained, making dictionary work more easy. However, the question of what is a word and what is not isn't always an easy one (for example, is 電視節目 one word or two? And what about 陰陽? Arguments could be found for both). More importantly, the problem of not being able to read aloud a sentence without knowledge of "sandhi" rules isn't solved because the last syllable of a word still remains in citation tone.
From a learner's perspective, I definitely prefer the first (i.e. POJ/Tailo) way, even though it requires some practice to think about and correctly produce the running tones. However, if I had learned it that way from the start, I guess I would not have had much more of a problem with the second way, although I would hope for an indicator which tells me which syllables inside of the sentence are NOT in running tone (such as the êng in the example above) because that would prevent me from looking up words in the wrong place because I changed a tone back where I shouldn't have. The third way in my eyes is the least preferable because it is somewhat halfhearted, retaining at least some of the problems from both of the extreme ways: Although whole words are more easily identifiable, morphemes inside of the words still require me to think of the citation tone; and while I could then read a word aloud without a lot of rethinking, I would still have to know the sandhi rules in order to read a sentence.

As for the use of diacritics as tone marks, I agree with your argument that they tend to get left out because people are too lazy to type them. Although it would be no problem to use numbers instead of diacritics with POJ or Tailo, this is apparently rarely done, unless if somebody lacks the keyboard to type the diacritics. I am not quite sure if numbers might not be seen as superfluous as the diacritics in, say, Vietnamese when writing informally, but I can't see a reason why it could be worse (except maybe aesthetics), so why not give it a try.

Regarding your argument that the (close to) phonetic nature of POJ and Tailo produces too many homographs to be practical, I think this comes down to a very fundamental decision: Do I want to create a script of its own, for a wide-spread use, or a transliteration system used mainly for learning and teaching purposes? While POJ has been used as a script to write texts (mostly in the context of christian churches), it was developed primarily as a tool to get access to spoken Hokkien, be it as a means for learning/teaching or as a device to translate the bible to spoken Hokkien. I would therefore classify it as primarily a transliteration system and only secondarily a script to compose literature in. This is even more true of Tailo which has never been intended as a script of its own but merely a tool to facilitate the access to a character writing system. Therefore, the comparison between your system and POJ or Tailo can only be made while bearing in mind the different intentions of the respective creators. Criticism of POJ or Tailo for their many homographs is futile because that it was not the intention of their creators to produce a script with few homographs. On the other hand, it would be equally pointless to criticize your system for not being entirely phonetic when your intention was precisely to sacrifice some of the phonetic consistency in favour of a system with less homographs. In differentiating them, you of course had to choose some of the homophones and spell them in a different way than others, which I believe is what amhoanna meant with "suka-suka" (if that indeed means "arbitrary"), and unless you had some system in choosing the words to change and the ways to change them, I guess that this accusation is hard to be rebuffed, but I understand your reasons for doing so.
That being said however, I have to say that I have yet to come upon an instance where homographs created an ambiguity so big that it could not be resolved by context. True, in an isolated position, I could not say whether káu means "dog" or "nine", and even with multi-syllabic words, such cases occur, altho͘ugh less frequently (compare for example siau-sit (disappear, 消失) and siau-sit (news, 消息). In context however, there hardly ever is any ambiguity. In a sentences like "góa phēng káu khah kah-ì niau" or "cha̍p ê siuⁿ chē--lah, káu ê tio̍h kàu", there is no question about which of the two is meant. Consequently, I see the (admittedly very much existent) ambiguity of certain words in POJ and Tailo as not very big a problem, even if they were used as scripts of their own. (Again, keep in mind that I'm not an advanced learner yet and not even close to familiar with Penang dialect. I admit that there's a possibility that the situation there somewhat differs from my feeling of Taiwanese dialects up to this point.)
A point that particularly struck me, was that you differenciate POJ/Tailo i (伊) as ie1 (he), ee1 (she) and i1 (it) in writing. You as a native speaker will have a much better feeling for that than I do, but I personally never percieved these three as three different words that just happen to be pronounced the same way (thus fitting the definition of homophones) but rather as one word which happens to have multiple equivalents in European languages such as English. I would therefore pose the question whether or not it might be an artificial split to differentiate them in writing. Or maybe that idea stems from the Mandarin Chinese practice of differentiating 他, 她 and 它 (and in Taiwan even 牠 (for animals) and 祂 (for deities)), which I also percieve as an artificial split which cannot be justified argumenting only with things inherent to Mandarin (or even other Chinese languages).

As for your fourth point (the one concering the [ԑ]) is of course a hinderance for people who strive to use POJ or Tailo for Penang or other dialects which use vowels not comprised in the standard forms of these systems. I wouldn't see it as a major obstacle because one could easily add a symbol for that (ԑ itself for example, or German ä, Nordic æ or the digraph ae as you have done), but certainly one that has to be thought of. I'm 80% sure that Douglas has a distinct symbol for it in his dictionary, but I can't look right now because I just moved and the book is still buried somewhere deep in some carton :lol:

Conclusion:
While I myself (judging by what little I know about of course) would most probably ultimately have chosen to use POJ/Tailo (with a few adjustments to do justice to local pecularities) to write Penang Hokkien, I understand your arguments against that. And while I myself would go for phonological consistency when creating a new script, I understand that you deliberately chose to do it differently and that you had your reasons for it. After all, the most important thing is that a script is understood by its recipients. In order to facilitate things for learners using multiple sites, I would also advise you to continue using IPA and/or (modified) POJ alongside your own script. Big chàn for all the work you do!
AndrewAndrew
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Re: Tan Choon Hoe and I

Post by AndrewAndrew » Thu Oct 17, 2013 4:22 am

Thanks to Abun for a very considered analysis.

Tim's system has some commendable features - for instance the simplified tone system, which is very appropriate to Penang Hokkien learners who will be familiar with Mandarin tones, and who will be confused by the 7-tone system. Many of my criticisms of Tim's system came about when it was still in development - while some of the issues I raised have, to his credit, been addressed, others have not.

Fundamentally, my view of his system is that it is entirely an Anglocentric construct that inappropriately tries to duplicate many of the worst features of English orthography, including inconsistent and non-phonetic spellings, for instance English spelling conventions that originate in the Great Vowel Shift, e.g. oo for (=Middle English [o:]) , ee for (=Middle English [e:], or other peculiar English conventions: e.g. only an English-speaker would know that -oay is meant to represent [oe] and not [oai] (this diphthong is missing from Tim's table) - this is an unnecessary ambiguity, when Tim already has -oey and -oe to represent the same sound.

Tim also attempts to use different spellings to distinguish homophones. As Abun states, this may be useful if the system is intended primarily to be a non-phonetic written script, like written Chinese or English, but at the cost of forcing learners to memorise the distinct spellings of words that sound identical. In order for this to be acceptable, texts for learners must also include IPA, to resolve ambiguities and to reinforce the association of spelling with sound. This is all I ask for.

Abun has noted the distinction between he, she and it, which is completely alien to any spoken Chinese language, and in written Chinese has only been introduced in the last 50 years. Many Penangites when speaking English use he and she incorrectly PRECISELY BECAUSE there is no distinction between he/she in their native Hokkien. To attempt to force the distinction into Hokkien is to me an Anglocentricity typical of Tim's way of thinking, and is highly questionable if he wishes the system to succeed, particularly as the number of English-educated Penangites continues with each passing year to decline, as >90% of Penang Chinese children are educated in Chinese schools, and the remainder are educated in Malay schools.
Ah-bin
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Re: Tan Choon Hoe and I

Post by Ah-bin » Thu Oct 17, 2013 4:51 am

All things considered, I still prefer a completely phonetic representation of Hokkien, where one symbol (or set of symbols in the case of digraphs and trigraphs) always corresponds to one sound. It's just a lot easier to read, remember and learn that way. I don't even mind the digraph ae for [ԑ] as long as [ԑ] is spelt "ae" everywhere that it occurs, the same goes for "oo" and "ee" and so on.

It's when there are exceptions and contradictions that I tend to think it is messy. How does one know, for example, whether an initial n indicates a nasalised vowel or is an initial consonant? Is "nia" [ĩã] or [nia]? It's impossible to know without checking back to another reference. Why not just make it clear from the outset with a definite rule? When I was starting to learn Hokkien I had to check back all the time with every word from Tan Choon Hoe's books to another reference, and the same is the case for Timothy's spellings, although he has kindly provided the IPA in his very long wordlist.

The simplicity gained by retaining familiar spellings is lost again by introducing phonetic inconsistency. In the end I think it's easier to have one rule that applies to everything rather than a lot of exceptions to deal with.

As far as the differences for he and she go, I can see no benefit at all in introducing grammatical gender into a language that is lucky enough not to have it to start with. Hungarian, Turkish, Finnish, Malay, Māori, and many other languages get on just fine not knowing whether male or female is referred to, and I feel that;s actually a good thing.

By the way "I" meaning "It" has a slightly different grammatical function in Sinitic languages in that it is usually omitted as the object of a verb, so "Wá khoàⁿ tioh° i" usually means "I saw him/her" rather than "I saw it".
timothytye
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Re: Tan Choon Hoe and I

Post by timothytye » Thu Oct 17, 2013 4:59 pm

When I was council member of the Penang Heritage Trust, I lamented to my fellow council members that we spent a lot of time trying to save our tangible heritage, but not enough to save our intangible heritage. And an intangible heritage that was dying before our eyes is our own language, Penang Hokkien. I told them we have to do something to save it.

To save Penang Hokkien means to preserve it, not change it. I look at what's out there, and I don't like what I see. Penangites don't like diacritics, so anything written with diacritics has only a slim chance of survival.

POJ has had its chance, and it failed. The writing system has been around for a century. It has been taught in the classroom in Penang for a few years. If people like it, you would see it being used widely in Penang today. And yet, if you walk down the streets in Penang, you won't see it used. Nobody has heard of it, apart from the small minority of Hokkien enthusiasts.

It uses diacritics. Penang people don't like diacritics. Anything with diacritics will fail. At most, they will write without bothering to mark the tones. POJ not only has diacritics, it also has a more complex tone system than what most people in Penang are accustomed to seeing, the four tones in Mandarin, and the tone accents do not correspond to those in pinyin. POJ has shot itself in the foot even before the race began. Trying to force people to use POJ is like trying to force a big thing through a small hole, you will cause a lot of pain to the thing and the hole.

POJ was not created specifically for Penang Hokkien. A person who learned POJ and thought he was learning Penang Hokkien would get a cultural shock the minute he walks down the street in George Town (as I described in the story, http://www.penang-traveltips.com/the-ri ... -oe-ji.htm) Not only that, a person who learned POJ would not be familiar with how the locals spell. He may even mispronounce people's names like Khoo, simply because our names were not written according to POJ. So, it's not the TJ system that is useless, it's POJ that is useless.

Anybody who condemn how the people in Penang spell missed the point. The purpose here is not to correct how they have spelled, but rather, to communicate with them, and to accept them as they are. I, as the native speaker of Penang Hokkien, rejects POJ because it attempts to modify how I spell words that appear in my "world". If you want to communicate with Penang people, you must play by their rule, and if I am the one who establish the rule, then you have to play by mine. So far, POJ enthusiasts are trying to change Penang people to conform to the romanization system that they understand, and that's where the resistance come in.

On the day I decided to save Penang Hokkien, POJ failed in its sales pitch. I don't see much (or rather, any) material written specifically for Penang Hokkien that is in POJ. I have a mission, and that's to save Penang Hokkien - not standard Hokkien per se, but the one spoken in Penang. On the day that I, the customer, entered the "language showroom" to "purchase" a system for Penang Hokkien, the salesman for POJ was in the toilet. By the time he came rushing out, it was too late. I have made my choice.

On the day I decided to save Penang Hokkien, POJ lost a customer. Not any customer, but a very important one.

I tell you honestly: the one that gets my endorsement gets the best chance of survival. It's like, you have a song, and I'm the DJ of the biggest radio station. If I refuse to promote your song, no matter how good it is, it will sink. POJ and Tai-lo will survive on their own for standard Hokkien and Taiwanese, but their use for romanizing Penang Hokkien will be overshadowed by TJ as most of the reading material for Penang Hokkien will be written in the system.

If you want to speak and write Penang Hokkien, you have to learn the TJ system. POJ was used for a while to teach Penang Hokkien, because the TJ system hasn't yet been invented. But now that it has, a lot of reading material is coming out, and it's all going to be written in the TJ system. I have also "sold it" to Tan Choon Hoe, whose books form a large portion of reading material in Penang Hokkien.

Within the span of just a few months, I've put together the dictionary, the grammar, vocabulary list, preserved rhymes and idioms, and plan to get more writing material out over time. For the first time, a person can get to learn Penang Hokkien for free, from anywhere in the world. But to learn to write Penang Hokkien my way, you need to play by my rule. That includes accepting whatever I deem important for my language. Just as Lionel Logue said to the Duke of Yoke in The King's Speech: "My house, my rule".

To the question of "how does one know whether the initial n indicates a nasalized vowel or an initial consonant," a learner who asks me that question will get the answer, that if the initial n is nasalized, the word would be written "nya". If it is written "nia", the n is simply an initial consonant. Check the dictionary, and you will see all the entries spelled with the initial ny are nasalized.

Why is it necessary to differentiate the grammatical gender. For that, we need to look at practicality. Penang Hokkien is like a mousedeer standing between two elephants, English and Mandarin. Anything translated into Penang Hokkien would most likely come from these two. The purpose of a written language is to communicate, and to do so in the most economical, concise manner. Why does Mandarin decide to differentiate them? If a sentence as simple as "he gave it to her" becomes a lengthy, "the man gave the item to the woman", the system is not good enough. So the writing system for Penang Hokkien has to accommodate what it expects to receive, particularly from its two major contributors, English and Mandarin, and retain the meaning without becoming unnecessarily lengthy.

Most languages don't have the luxury of refinement if it doesn't fit its purpose. Many, including POJ, has lots of baggages in the form of existing written material, so it can't decide to change the rule. But Penang Hokkien doesn't have a standard writing system, so refinement can continue to be carried out to make it useful to native speakers. Of course, as I created the system for my use, how it appears is based on my own needs.

A person who is a true Penang Chinese is Anglocentric. Remember this: English was formally taught in schools in Penang a good hundred years before Mandarin was. The Penang Chinese has been a banana people long before the term was coined. Walk down Northam Road, and you see their bungalows bearing pompous English names. The Mandarinization of the Penang Chinese only began in the early 20th century.

How come nobody complained that when Hokkien was romanized into POJ, it lost its homophones? Enthusiasts overlook the fact that the word-recognition of Chinese characters is erased by the phonetically precise POJ romanisation system. Those who feel that the TJ system is difficult should remember that when learning Chinese, every character has to be memorized too. You can stare at them all you want, but if you haven't learned to pronounce it, the pronunciation won't come to you. Like Chinese characters, the TJ system is phonetically indicative. Pictograms within a compound character give clues to how the word is pronounced. Similarly, how the words in the TJ system is spelled give clues to how it should be pronounced, but to get the exact pronunciation, refer to pinyin for Mandarin and IPA for the TJ System of Penang Hokkien.

You don't write Mandarin using pinyin. You can try, but it's a bumpy ride. You suffer the same consequence if you try to write Penang Hokkien using IPA. Phonetically precise alphabets are there to render the sounds precisely. They are not meant to replace the written word. Use IPA for its intended purpose, to render pronunciation; use words, even the romanized words of the TJ system, for the language.

The people of Penang can be split into two groups. Those wanting to learn Penang Hokkien, and those who don't. Putting aside those who don't, those who do are given to choices: learn it using the TJ system, or learn it using some other system.

The salesman for the TJ system will tell a native speaker this: "The TJ system respects how you spell. It doesn't attempt to change you. You can continue to spell your name and your food just as your parents and your parents' parents did. This system uses a 4-tone system that corresponds to that of Mandarin, which is familiar to most of you. Its tone sandhi is much less complicated compared to other existing systems. You can express the emphatic tone when you write it. All lessons are free. The dictionary is free, the textbook is free. It's a self study that you can do at your own pace. A Facebook Group is available to provide you support."

Whom are we creating a writing system for? Is it for linguists? No, it's for the common people. Tan Choon Hoe gave me a very good example. He turned his book to the back and said, "When I came out with my first book, I was shocked that people's English is so bad, they couldn't understand what I wrote in the blurb." He never expected government servants who are Malay would be interested to learn Penang Hokkien. But to address the need, he came out with another book in Malay.

The number of Penang Hokkien speakers continue to decline. POJ has had a chance to save the language, but it doesn't do a good job. Now another system takes over. If you are keen to save Penang Hokkien, you should support this system. At the end of the day, whether anybody like it or not, I will promote the TJ system for writing Penang Hokkien. I would therefore encourage all of you to learn the system, so that we can communicate using it.
Mark Yong
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Re: Tan Choon Hoe and I

Post by Mark Yong » Thu Oct 17, 2013 6:33 pm

Hi, Tim,

Having not been active in this Forum for quite a while, I have resisted the urge to put in my comments on the recent discussions here regarding TJ. But in the light of the recent discussions, I think I need to say something. Please take it objectively.

Firstly, and I have said this before: I sincerely commend your mammoth efforts in preserving and promoting Penang Hokkien. I am not saying it to sugar-coat you - I mean it. Really. Like you said, a lot of people just talk, but few actually take any action.

Any new system that is being rolled out - whether it is linguistic, engineering, IT or commercial - is subjected to many rounds of review and stress-testing, in order to make it robust. The feedback and criticisms that you have received regarding the initial roll-outs of TJ are no exception. Some criticisms may be phrased in a less palateable way than others, but the intentions are no less sincere, as I am sure all of us here love Penang Hokkien - otherwise, why would we even bother commenting? It is my opinion that the ones who just give short positive comments like “nice work!” and “good job!” are the ones who really don’t give a shit. Now, which group would you rather receive feedback from? Painful but constructive truth or saccharine-sweet but unsubstantial crap? Take the feedback for what they are, and use them to refine your system.

Yes, you may lament that others only know how to criticise while the rare few such as yourself are doing the real work. But that is the noble mission that you have chosen to undertake, which others do/may not have the capacity to. Does that mean they are not entitled to share their opinions with you, in order to help you advance your cause? A cook cannot be a Master Chef unless his food is tasted by and commented upon by clientele and consumers. Does that mean therefore that every one of the cook’s clients has to be a cook first, before he/she earns the right to comment whether someone’s cooking tastes good or bad?

Now, onto the crux of my message. While I have my own opinions and reservations about TJ (and I have already shared my comments to you elsewhere), in principle I have no issue with your introducing a new Romanisation system as a viable option for the masses. That is fine.

But what I do take issue with is your method, i.e. when you resort to promoting TJ by openly, directly and continuously discrediting POJ and Tailo. If you want TJ to be the Romanisation system of choice for Penang Hokkien, then make TJ better than POJ and Tailo. Your viewers have already spoken. Use their feedback to make TJ better.

The success or failure of a system is largely determined by the masses and the degree of user uptake. If POJ and Tailo have not succeeded as a vehicle for Penang Hokkien, it will already be clearly visible, and there is no need for you to explicitly point it out. And if TJ is really successful, you will already see the results.

Make TJ successful on its own terms, not via spitting the dummy with POJ and Tailo. The latter have their own functions and roles to play, and they have contributed to Penang Hokkien in their own way, even if you choose not to accept it. Tan Choon Hoe’s own Romanisation system is not without criticism, yet people still buy his books (I am one of them). Did he need to openly discredit POJ and Tailo in order to advance his cause? Not that I am aware of.

If I may kindly leave you with an extract from Joe Hyams’ classic book Zen in the Martial Arts.

Peace,
Mark

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Lengthen Your Line
By Joe Hyams
Taken from his book 'ZEN IN THE MARTIAL ARTS'

I first met with Kenpo Karate master Ed Parker in 1952 in a Beverly Hills gym where he rented space. A handsome, six-foot-tall Hawaiian with a thick thatch of black hair, Parker reminded me of a huge tree, with arms like powerful boughs and bare feet rooted firmly on the canvas mat (despite his size, he is a whirlwind in motion). He was wearing an old, loose-fitting GI, a two-piece cotton uniform worn by most martial artists. The GI, like his black belt, was white in places from fraying and repeated launderings. His face was serene and peaceful, as though he had just completed meditating.

I will remember one of my initial sessions at his dojo in Los Angeles where I was practising Kumite (sparring) with a more skilful opponent. To make up for my lack of knowledge and experience, I tried deceptive, tricky moves that were readily countered. I was outclassed, and Parker watched me get roundly trounced. When the match was over I was dejected. Parker invited me into his small office; a small sparsely furnished room with only a scarred desk and battered chairs. “Why are you so upset?” he asked. “Because I couldn’t score.” Parker got up from behind the desk and with a piece of chalk drew a line on the floor about five feet long. “How can you make this line shorter?” he asked. I studied the line and gave him several answers, including cutting the line in many pieces. He shook his head and drew a second line, longer than the first. “Now how does the first line look?” “Shorter”, I said. Parker nodded. “It is always better to improve and strengthen your own line or knowledge than to try and cut your opponent's line.” He accompanied me to the door and added, “Think about what I have just said.” I did think about it and studied hard for the next several months, developing greater skills, increasing my knowledge and ability. The next time I went on the mat with the same opponent, he, too, had improved. But I fared far better than I had previously because I had raised my level of knowledge as well as developing my skills.

Not long after, I realised I could apply the principal Parker had taught me to my tennis game. An avid weekend tennis player, I frequently found myself pitted against better players, and when things started to go badly for me on the court I often resorted to trickery - slicing the ball, trying to hit it with a spin, attempting difficult drop shots. Invariably I lost and was frustrated. Instead of trying to better my game I was trying to “cut their line.” I recognised that I had to play to my best ability rather than to try to worsen my opponent's play. Keeping Parker’s advice in my mind, my game soon improved. It has been nearly three decades since then, and in the intervening years Parker has taught his art to thousands of students. Even long after their training they think of him as a good friend - and as a wise and gentle sifu who embodies the martial arts spirit and philosophy.

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Ah-bin
Posts: 830
Joined: Mon Aug 21, 2006 8:10 am
Location: Somewhere in the Hokloverse

Re: Tan Choon Hoe and I

Post by Ah-bin » Fri Oct 18, 2013 1:50 am

I have a few questions and comments about all of these things.
To save Penang Hokkien means to preserve it, not change it.
I would say not changing it is impossible, since it is changing all the time.
POJ has had its chance, and it failed. The writing system has been around for a century. It has been taught in the classroom in Penang for a few years.
Really? Has someone been teaching classes in POJ in Penang? I would like to find out who that is.
If I refuse to promote your song, no matter how good it is, it will sink. POJ and Tai-lo will survive on their own for standard Hokkien and Taiwanese,
ARRRGGH! This never fails to annoy me. Where is this mythical "Standard Hokkien" people are always mentioning? To have a standard, something must be standardised. Taiwanese Hokkien, with the backing of the ROC government, is the only variety of Hokkien that is even coming close to being standardised.
If you want to speak and write Penang Hokkien, you have to learn the TJ system. POJ was used for a while to teach Penang Hokkien, because the TJ system hasn't yet been invented. But now that it has, a lot of reading material is coming out, and it's all going to be written in the TJ system. I have also "sold it" to Tan Choon Hoe, whose books form a large portion of reading material in Penang Hokkien.
No, that is plainly untrue. I learnt Penang Hokkien entirely through POJ, asking native speakers who culd read and write in POJ to tell me how to pronounce things. It hasn't failed me yet.
Why does Mandarin decide to differentiate them? If a sentence as simple as "he gave it to her" becomes a lengthy, "the man gave the item to the woman", the system is not good enough. So the writing system for Penang Hokkien has to accommodate what it expects to receive, particularly from its two major contributors, English and Mandarin, and retain the meaning without becoming unnecessarily lengthy.
Mandarin decided to differentiate them because European languages did. The languages I mentioned before are quite happy to say "tema andis selle temale" (Estonian) and "I hoatu ia i tāua taonga i ā ia" (Māori) meaning alternatively "he gave it to her" "she gave it to him" "he gave it to him" and "she gave it to her", and even in Hokkien written in characters it is 伊與伊許个物件 (with some disagreement on how to write hō• but none on how to write i). They just don't care, and why should anyone?
You don't write Mandarin using pinyin. You can try, but it's a bumpy ride. You suffer the same consequence if you try to write Penang Hokkien using IPA. Phonetically precise alphabets are there to render the sounds precisely. They are not meant to replace the written word. Use IPA for its intended purpose, to render pronunciation; use words, even the romanized words of the TJ system, for the language.
True, you don't write Mandarin using Pinyin (yet) but then again, you don't write it using an inconsistent kind of Pinyin either. The best way to differentiate homophones, if it is at all necessary (and I actually don't believe it is, as Hokkien is phonetically rich enough to guess words from context), 就是用唐儂字來寫,按呢款較閒明白!
POJ was not created specifically for Penang Hokkien. A person who learned POJ and thought he was learning Penang Hokkien would get a cultural shock the minute he walks down the street in George Town (as I described in the story, http://www.penang-traveltips.com/the-ri ... -oe-ji.htm)
Hmm.... was that story based on actual events though. I thought I read that it wasn't actually a true story?

There are many things I think are good about your spelling, especially the way of learning tones, but I think homophones are such a small problem for Penang Hokkien that you create more problems for learners having to remember different spellings for different morphemes, than you do on disambiguating a tiny number of homophones, some of which (like liau3 and leow3 =了) are identical in Chinese to start with.
AndrewAndrew
Posts: 174
Joined: Mon Aug 09, 2010 10:26 am

Re: Tan Choon Hoe and I

Post by AndrewAndrew » Fri Oct 18, 2013 6:31 pm

Ah-bin wrote: ARRRGGH! This never fails to annoy me. Where is this mythical "Standard Hokkien" people are always mentioning? To have a standard, something must be standardised. Taiwanese Hokkien, with the backing of the ROC government, is the only variety of Hokkien that is even coming close to being standardised.
Even then, when I ask my Taiwanese friends (I am currently studying in Taipei btw) whether they say ke1-nng7 or koe1-nng7, sio2-be7 or sio2-moai7, etc. they all say that either is acceptable. So if there is a standard, it is a very loose one. And then you get people in Gilan who say ke1-nui7, just as in Penang...
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