It was amazing that you could pick up Hokkien in six months. I guess you might have some exposure to Hokkien even before you went to Penang.
Okay, admittedly I did have some exposure to Hokkien before I went up to Penang.
But it was limited to a smattering of basic words - 大 toa
, 細 se
, 淡薄 tam-poh
, 熱 joah
, 冷 leng
, 會使 e-sai
. Hardly enough to string a sentence more than five words long, and absolutely no way that I could have carried out a conversation. And at that time, partly due to limited exposure, I looked upon Hokkien with disdain, seeing it as crude, lexically-limited, and unconnected with the Chinese language as a whole. That all changed when I went up to Penang (partly because it also coincided with a period of renewed interest in the Chinese language for me). As to how I picked up the dialect quickly, there really are no two ways about it. Listen hard and absorb words like a sponge. And here’s the next crucial step: You must constantly use
what you have learnt, at every possible opportunity. This takes a bit of thick skin (and unfortunately, some people are just too darn proud to risk making mistakes), but it has to be done. Then you get to experience the language ‘at work’.
That said, it is not impossible to learn the language outside of its native environment. We have Ah-bin
on this Forum who is a prime example of one who has pretty much mastered the intricacies of 閩南 Minnan
without having had the advantage of spending an extended period of time immersed in a 閩南 Minnan
Finding 本字 is a tough task. I've been frequenting linguistic forums for some years but there are still so many Wu words that I had no clue what their 本字 are.
It’s a similar challenge for 閩南 Minnan
, too. The more difficult ones come in the form of:
1. Grammatical particles and functional words （虛詞
）. E.g. where 閩南 Minnan
5 ‘this’, 吳 Wu
2. Words of non-Sinitic origin (probably less of a challenge with 吳 Wu). These I do not even try to artifically-impose 本字
on them, as I feel there is no point in denying their non-Sinitic roots.
That is the reason why my primary focus are on content words （實詞
） - nouns, verbs, adjectives - as those are the ones more likely to have 本字
. That way, I amass more characters right off the bat (sort of like quickly completing all the easy questions on an examination paper first, before flogging yourself to death with the more difficult ones!), thus making the exercise a lot less discouraging.
To ease the exercise somewhat, I normally approach it from two directions, and in the process, see if I can meet halfway:
1. Identify the word(s), and then search for the 本字
2. Identify the Chinese character, and then find out how it is pronounced (both in 文讀
By this method, every now and again I find that (2) leads me to identify a 本字
in (1), via word combinations or cross-references to related words.
This is part of the reason why I generally commence 本字
analysis via 文言文
Literary Chinese texts. In the past, they must have been recited using the standard 文讀
readings of the region, with each character mapped to a known regional standard pronunciation. And 吳 Wu
should be no exception. I realise it imposes a somewhat artificial structure, as the spoken vernacular would correspond to 白讀
, but if the 文白
patterns can somehow be established, it forms a pretty good guide (imperfect though it may be).
Regarding the similarities between 閩南 Minnan
and 吳 Wu
, one aspect that comes to mind is the consistent pattern in the dropping of the consonant -n endings and replacing them with nasalised endings in the 白讀
colloquial readings. E.g. 看
3 in 閩南 Minnan
in 吳 Wu
3 in 閩南 Minnan
in 吳 Wu
. Vocabulary-wise, the most obvious example that comes to mind is 伊
as the 3rd person pronoun.
One aspect that intrigues me about 上海話
are the dual readings - as in, I am not sure if they are simply 文白
pairs, or different readings depending on context. E.g. 人
in 人民 zeng-ming
, but is ning
in 人家 ning-ka
. And there again, 家
can be either ka
. Somehow, I get the feeling that the zeng
reading for 人
reading for 家
is a stratum from Northern influence.
Since you have now renewed my interest in 吳 Wu
, I just downloaded an old book 『蘇州方言誌』
(plus a couple of others). Chapter 8 『蘇州話標音舉例』
has example texts with each character marked with its pronunciation and tone mark, totalling close to 100 pages. As to why I am focussing on 蘇州話
rather than 上海話
, what little I have read seems to point towards 蘇州話
as the “orthodox” 吳 Wu
, rather than 上海話
which is more of a “Wu
-eclectic” dialect that has - as amhoanna
pointed out - suffered the onslaught of 北方語
influences. I realise that I am swimming upstream, as 上海話
is the de facto
standard for 吳 Wu
today - but then again, isn’t all dialect study and preservation?
By the way, thanks for the YouTube link - most interesting. I had to rely on the subtitles to get through the dialogue, and even that took three viewings!
...he went to 尊孔獨中 and said they needed to pay fines if caught speaking Cantonese...
Yes, 尊孔獨中 Confucian Private High School
and 中華獨中 Chung Hwa Independent High School
are two of the more well-known Chinese Independent High Schools in Kuala Lumpur (there are currently a total 60 獨立中學
across the whole of Malaysia; it is the only country outside of mainland China and Taiwan where a fully Chinese language-based education system all the way to the end of upper secondary still exists. As I did not attend Chinese school (yes, I am part of the estimated 30% minority in my generation of Chinese Malaysians who are bananas - yellow outside, white inside!), I am not entirely familiar with the strict rules in regards to the use of dialect within the school compound, though I recall hearing of such a rule being imposed at the 檳城鍾靈國民型中學
Chung Ling High School (Penang).