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Learn Penang Hokkien 来学槟城福建话

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Learn Penang HokkienLearn Penang Hokkien (9 August, 2014)

Welcome to Learn Penang Hokkien! Since mid 2013, a new writing system has been created for Penang Hokkien, so that going forward you can write the language using the Roman alphabet without diacritic marks or unique characters, The intention is to make Penang Hokkien easy for people of all races and communities to learn, and can be written on SMS and emails on a standard keyboard.

If you already know Hokkien, get familiar with Taiji Romanisation for Hokkien Speakers to help you quickly make sense of the tone numbers in use.

If you are unfamiliar with Hokkien, get to know the Taiji Romanisation as well as basics of Penang Hokkien at Penang Hokkien Made Easy. Use the Penang Hokkien Dictionary to check the meaning of words in Penang Hokkien. Join the the Learn Penang Hokkien Facebook Group to interact with speakers and other learners. This is where you also get to see words being analysed for inclusion into the dictionary.

I wish you a pleasant journey as you enter the fascinating world of speaking and writing Penang Hokkien.

Learn Penang Hokkien with Memrise

Now you can enjoy learning Penang Hokkien using the online course provided by Memrise. To start your lesson, click here.

Learn Penang Hokkien Videos

Here's the latest series of Learn Penang Hokkien videos to help you learn the basics.

NEW ! Audio-Reading Material in Penang Hokkien

To increase the amount of material in Penang Hokkien, and to help people become familiar with Taiji Romanisation, a project is afoot to translate a few popular children's stories into Penang Hokkien, and is listed below.

  1. The Story of Joseph in Penang Hokkien
    This is a popular story from the Bible. I selected it as my first translation project, because it not only provides an opportunity to get children to read in Penang Hokkien, for Christian parents, it is an opportunity to provide their children exposure to Bible stories.

Material on Penang Hokkien

The following material is created to provide with material covering a broad aspect of the language.

  1. The World of Penang Hokkien
    A series of articles in Penang Hokkien, written specially for those who already speak the language. To assist in the reading, all articles are accompanied with audio.

  2. Penang Hokkien Grammar Lessons
    Main list of lessons covering all aspects of Penang Hokkien language.

  3. Penang Hokkien for Beginners
    A series of lessons to help people learn Penang Hokkien from scratch.

  4. Learn to Write Penang Hokkien
    Lessons combining aspects of grammar with examples for writing the language.

  5. Learn to Speak Penang Hokkien
    Lessons to communicate orally through gaining familiarity with sentence structures in the language.

  6. Penang Hokkien Reading Material
    Reading material for learners to familiarize themselves to written and spoken Penang Hokkien.

  7. Penang Hokkien Vocabulary
    Lists of words under various major categories.

  8. Penang Hokkien for Native Speakers
    Lessons geared to those speak Penang Hokkien, who want to learn to write using the Taiji Romanisation.

  9. Belajar Hokkien Penang
    Belajar bertutur, membaca dan menulis dalam Bahasa Hokkien Penang.

  10. Videos in Hokkien Penang
    A miscellaneous collection of videos we made in Penang Hokkien.

  11. Penang Hokkien Rhymes & Songs
    Collection of songs, nursery rhymes and ditties in Penang Hokkien.

  12. Penang Hokkien Culture & History
    Understand the history of Penang Hokkien and the people who speak it.

  13. Resources on Hokkien
    List of web resources on Hokkien.

  14. Issues
    Issues related to/affecting Penang Hokkien.

Video Lessons in Penang Hokkien

This series of videos provides you the details and information to start learning Penang Hokkien.

Individual Lessons on Penang Hokkien

Using the Penang Hokkien Dictionary
This video tutorial gives you an overview of how to use the Penang Hokkien Dictionary.

Learning the rules of Intonation in Penang Hokkien
In this tutorial, we learn of the four tones used to articulate all syllables in Penang Hokkien. These tones are numbered 1, 2, 3 and 4, and the number is placed immediately following the syllable.

Learning the rules of Tone Sandhi in Penang Hokkien
Tone Sandhi is the term used to describe how syllables change their tone according to their placement within a sentence. Citation tone refers to the original tone in the dictionary, while sandhi tone refers to the tone after it has undergone change. In this video, we learn that citation tones 1 and 2 sandhis to tone 3 while citation tones 3 and 4 sandhis to tone 1, and some syllables of citation tone 3 remain tone 3.

50 Important Words in Penang Hokkien
People learning to write Penang Hokkien - particularly those who already speak the language but want to become literate in a specific writing system - are often overwhelmed by the sheer number of words to learn at once. I recommend therefore that you start by learning these 50 words, as they serve as important building blocks for constructing sentences. From there, you can expand your written vocabulary by adding on words that are useful to your specific need.

Using "I" and "You" in Penang Hokkien
Learn to use the pronouns "I" and "you" in Penang Hokkien, paying attention to how they chance their form to reflect their location as object or subject, and whether they are employed in the regular or emphatic form.

Using "He", "She" and "It" in Penang Hokkien
Learn to use the pronoun "he", "she" and "it" in Penang Hokkien to render precise meaning based on whether the antecedent is masculine, feminine or neutral. Note that in the original spoken form, there is no differentiation between the masculine, feminine and neutral forms, but these are added into the written form.

Cardinal Numbers in Penang Hokkien
Learn to say numbers in Penang Hokkien, bearing in mind all digits are read in the sandhi tone except the final number, which remain in the citation tone.

Ordinal Numbers in Penang
Learn to say numbers that are arranged in a particular order or sequence in Penang Hokkien.

Using "eh2" in Penang Hokkien
The grammatical particle "eh2" is an important word in Penang Hokkien as it appears very frequent in sentences.

Demonstratives in Penang Hokkien
Learn the demonstratives (this, that, these, those) in Penang Hokkien.

Rules of Hyphenation in Penang Hokkien
Learn how and when the hyphen is used when writing Penang Hokkien with this system.

Penang Hokkien Authors Speak Penang Hokkien

Tan Choon Hoe has written four books on Penang Hokkien.

Johny Chee wrote the book A Tapestry of Baba Poetry.

Learn Penang Hokkien is perhaps the most serious attempt so far to preserve Penang Hokkien, and to develop it into a written language. On this website, you learn more than just a few Penang Hokkien words. If you are serious about learning the language, this is where you learn the grammar and writing system, so that you can communicate effectively in the Penang Hokkien.

As one of the biggest information websites on Penang, Penang Travel Tips considers Penang Hokkien to be an important cultural asset and intangible heritage of Penang. It is therefore the mission of this website to make the learning of Penang Hokkien freely available to learners all across the world, using a unique easy-to-learn writing system that is specially developed to preserve the characteristics of the language.

For hundreds of years, Hokkien seafarers have visited this part of the world to conduct trade. Over the centuries they developed merchantile sea-routes that linked the seaports of their home province to the seaports of many ancient kingdoms. The seafarers come from Fujian Province in southern China, with the majority of the merchant ships originating from three major seaports namely Zhangzhou, Xiamen and Quanzhou. Each of these cities saw their importance grew and waned over the course of history.

Straits Chinese cultureThe culture of the Straits Chinese is reflected in their fusion of East and West (8 October, 2009)

Understanding the History of Penang Hokkien

Penang Hokkien is over three hundred years old. It is older than Penang itself. The language is believed to have been brought to this region following the fall of the Ming Dynasty (1644), after the takeover of Fujian Province by the Manchus, and in particular, after the massacre that took place in Zhangzhou in 1651-52, which is believed to have caused an exodus of Hokkien diaspora throughout Southeast Asia.

Fleeing their homeland, the Hokkien refugees relied on their ready knowledge of merchantile sea-routes to re-establish themselves all over Southeast Asia, or Nanyang, as it was known to them.

The ancestors of Penang Hokkien are believed to have re-established themselves in southern Thailand, in the then Kingdom of Kedah, which covered a larger area than the present State of Kedah. For at least one generation, the immigrants were cut off from their ancestral homeland. Living in isolation, they began to adopt properties of local culture, borrowing many Malay loanwords as well as elements of Malay and Siamese cooking, to create the distinctive culture of their own, which we know today as Penang Nyonya.

Refugees from different parts of Fujian Province resettled in various locations along the Malay peninsula, as they did elsewhere in Southeast Asia. As a result, the Hokkien spoken in Penang is different from that in Klang and Muar, and is again different from the Hokkien spoken elsewhere in the region. After links with China was re-established, the region continued to receive Chinese immigrants, particularly Ming loyalists who continued to wage wars against the Qing government, and were forced into exile when they were defeated.

Among the later arrivals was Koh Lay Huan, who was born in Zhangzhou, Fujian Province, and was also a prominent member of the Tiandihui, or Heaven and Earth Society, a secret society plotting to bring down the Qing Dynasty. When that failed, he fled to southern Siam, where he became a prominent figure in Nakhon Si Thammarat and later Kuala Muda. When Francis Light founded the British trading port in Penang in 1786, Koh led a group of Chinese and Malays to relocate to the island. In so doing, he introduced Penang Hokkien to the island.

Over the course of the 19th century, Penang continued to receive Chinese immigrants. In addition to Hokkien immigrants, there were also Cantonese, Teochew, Hakka and other subgroups. Though they spoke their own dialect among themselves, they accepted Penang Hokkien as their lingua franca, the language they use to communicate among themselves.

In the mid-19th century, the Taiping Rebellion displaced millions of people in China. It coincided with the Industrial Revolution in Britain, which brought about a surge in demand for tin. At the same time, tin ore was discovered in vast quantities in many mining fields in Perak, and later on in other states along the peninsula. With that came an influx of Hokkien and later on, Hakka and Cantonese miners into the peninsula. The earliest batch of miners were indentured laborers sponsored by Hokkien investors in Penang. They established the mines in Larut, leading to the use of Penang Hokkien as the eventual lingua franca of towns there such as Taiping. In comparison, later mining towns were established by the Hakka and Cantonese miners, and these adopted Cantonese as the lingua franca.

The Chinese population that have already established themselves in Penang, Malacca and Singapore prior to the large influx of the mid-19th century called themselves the Lau33khek3, meaning the "old timers". They refer to the new comers as Sin3khek3, meaning "new guests". To differentiate between the two, the British coined the term "Straits Chinese" to refer to the Lau33khek3, though many of the newcomers settling in the Straits Settlements also acculturated themselves to the customs of the Lau33khek3, and began calling themselves Straits Chinese as well.

The cultural characteristics of the Lau33khek3 include their cooking style, their dressing, and most importantly, their language, a creolized form of Hokkien that borrows Malay loanwords and spelling convention from Malay and English. In comparison to the largely penniless Sin3khek3, the Straits Chinese form the upper middle class of the Chinese society in Penang. Many of them are English educated, and they send their sons to English schools, in order to take on clerical positions in British firms. Their homes reflect an eclectic fusion of East and West. They have refined tastes, and their homes are filled with Nyonya porcelain (made in China specifically for local use), European enamel wares, glass vases, jewellery and furniture. The majority of the Straits Chinese do not learn to write Hokkien, they were educated in English, and pledged allegiance to Queen Victoria, and they prided themselves in speaking the Queen's English. But at home they continued to speak Penang Hokkien.

Until now, Penang Hokkien remained an oral form of communication. Hokkien itself was largely a spoken language, though a small number of the immigrants - particularly the upper crust merchant class and priest class - learned to write Hokkien using Classical Chinese. This is the literary form of Chinese used for almost all formal communication in China until the early 20th century. However the literary register often differ significantly from the colloquial. It was a form of communication of the upper crust, and needless to say, the majority of the Hokkiens remained illiterate. Moreover, written Hokkien never developed to a stage comparable to the written form of Cantonese and Mandarin5. Various expressions in Hokkien are not associated with Chinese characters in Vernacular Chinese, and so some of the Hokkien words could not be written as there were no Chinese characters assigned to them.

Until present-time, the most serious attempt to romanize Hokkien was carried out by Western missionaries in the 19th century. It is called by various names including Romanized Amoy Vernacular and Church Romanisation, to name two. This romanisation system is known in Hokkien itself as Peh-oe-ji, or POJ for short. The Southern Min language, or Min Nan, for which this romanisation system was developed, is called Bân-lâm-gú, literally, "Southern Fujian language"7. The name Peh-oe-ji means "vernacular writing"6, a term many regard as misleading, as both the literary and colloquial registers of Southern Min appear in the system, not just the "vernacular", as the term seems to suggest.

The Taiwanese Romanization System for Hokkien, also called Tai-lo, is derived from Peh-oe-ji. However, when a writing system is created for Penang Hokkien, a wholesale adoption of Peh-oe-ji was rejected due to glaring cultural incompatibility. Instead, a writing system was created for Penang Hokkien that borrows elements from Peh-oe-ji, with characteristics of English and Malay orthographies. This writing system preserves the spelling of commonly used words in Penang Hokkien, particularly those related to food and people's surnames. Observations were made on how the locals intuitively spell, and these are adopted into the writing system. The resulting writing system is called Taiji Romanisation for Penang Hokkien. This writing system is intended not only to write down the spoken language, but also develop it into a written form of communication, by clearing away ambiguities that cloud the spoken form, due to the presence of numerous homographs.

Penang Travel Tips' Learn Penang Hokkien is the most comprehensive free online course for learning Penang Hokkien. It covers every aspect of the language. Users of Penang Hokkien benefit from the online dictionary with audio output listing over three thousand commonly used words. The mission of this website is to make Penang Hokkien easy to learn for all people, whether they are tourists, expatriates or locals.

Those who already speak Penang Hokkien as their mother tongue are encouraged to learn to write the language using this system, so that they can communicate with their loved ones and friends in writing. Efforts are also on the way to make teach Penang Hokkien in Malay and other languages, so that all Malaysians have the opportunity to learn Penang Hokkien.


I want to thank the following people for their help in establishing the Learn Penang Hokkien online language centre:

  1. Tee Joo Tiat, who helped to write the script for incorporating audio, enabling audio output on the dictionary and lessons.

  2. Tan Choon Hoe, who collaborated with me in establishing uniformity in the spelling of Penang Hokkien words.

  3. Raymond Kwok, for the support and advise with regards Peranakan matters.

  4. Johny Chee, who has also been supportive of the preservation of Penang Hokkien.

  5. various members of the Learn Penang Hokkien Facebook Group who helped in contributing words into the vocabulary, as well as input in helping me establish the meaning of various words. While I cannot single out any particular person, I do feel that everybody's input is priceless and extremely valued, and that I myself learned a lot from the interaction.

  6. all my friends, relatives and family members for their support.

Selected Books related to the Hokkien Language

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