It all started with three sentence I needed in Hokkien to quote in this post. And thus begin the search engine journey to uncover more about my real mother tongue.

But first pardon me for some thoughts and rant…

Oh wait!

By the way, his post was written in a whimsical approach. It started one morning when I woke up on the wrong underside of the sofa. However, if you still find this post repulsive or varying in any other way that you are entitled to perceived. Be it in a nationalistic, linguistic, historical accuracy and/or religiosity way, but not limited to. I will be humbled by your acknowledgement that like you, we both are entitled to our dissimilitude point of view. I am hereby truly grateful of our mutual endorsement. If you haven’t cultivate a sense of humor in your evolution by now, here is a great opportunity for you. If you have a very short attention span, a.k.a The Goldfish Effect. Perhaps may I suggest you to skip the first section and head straight down to the main topic.

Do you speak Chinese ?

Contrary to what most of us would believe, particularly in Singapore. Mandarin as we know is NOT a language for all Chinese. It is not even one for majority of our ancestors. The early immigrants were from Southern part of China, where our ancestors are the seafarers. We spoke mainly variants of Hokkien, Cantonese, Teochew, Hakka, Hainanese and minority in Foochow, Wu and then the least in Mandarin, a dialect from northern part of China, particularly in Peking (Beijing). Mainland Chinese name the latter as Putonghua (普通话) for a good reason, it literally means ‘common language‘, even they don’t regard it as a mother tongue for Chinese. It is also known as Northern Dialect (北方话). In Hong Kong, Taiwan and Macau they refer it as ‘National Language’ (国语).

Mandarin was the dialect of the Northern China prior to the establishment of People’s Republic of China (PRC). Also known as ‘dialect of the north’ (北方话). How was it chosen to be the ‘common language’ of China ? It’s too lengthy to explained here, do your own research if you are interested, and you can blame the Southern Cantonese for granting it. Otherwise we would be speaking Cantonese as Chinese language. And if the Republic of China (the other one that gave us Bubble Tea) were to maintain control of Mainland China. Likely we will be speaking Hokkien as a common Chinese language.

Even though formalize Mandarin, a dialect from Peking (Beijing) was taught in school established by new immigrants xīnkè (新客) since the 30s. Prior to the 90s and especially in the 70s. Multiple Chinese dialects are still widely spoken in Singapore. This led to the Speak Mandarin Campaign launched in 1979 ‘to simplify the language environment for Chinese Singaporeans’. (At least that what it sounds like on the surface, but there is more political undertone to it, more of it later). And partly due to the foresight of the ruling government then who predicted the rise of the sleeping giant – China, hence the adoption of ‘Mandarin‘ speaking and Simplified Chinese writing system, both a national standard of Mainland China. Similarly to our adoption of English as a first language in school as the latter is a global lingua franca.

Simplified vs Traditional Chinese

Simplifying the Chinese writing system was conceived as early as in the 1900s. Due to the vigorous manual handwriting of the complicated Traditional Chinese (繁體字) writing system that is ‘detrimental in modernizing China’. Lu Xun (鲁迅), a renowned Chinese author prompted “If Chinese characters are not destroyed, then China will die” (汉字不灭,中国必亡). Simplified Chinese (简体字) was developed by the 1950s just when the People’s Republic of China was formed and implemented by the Communist Party.
In my opinion, it all comes to avail in present time. My younger Chinese colleague I knew in Shanghai do not write Simplified Chinese as well as I expect them to, let alone to read in Traditional Chinese. In Singapore, we have access to both writing system in library, bookshops and was able to benefit from our neutrality (or maybe not, maybe because I was older! does the younger generation still go to library or bookstore?). Similarly with American and British English. We are fine with ‘color & colour‘ or ‘tyre and tire‘. It is the fight between them, we are a spectators, we are adaptable and we spoke their language. Born in the era of keyboards and predictive writing, you can literally key a sentence with a few letter – ‘srkl’ to type ‘生日快乐‘ or ‘生日快樂’. So Mr.Lu, China was saved!

My preference ? just compare the character of dragon (龍) , the symbol of power and strength. Write it in Simplified Chinese and it becomes (龙). It literally turns itself into a covering lizard. For this fact alone, beside who write manually anymore ? Please China, correctly People’s Republic of China (Mr. Mao’s), as the Son of the Dragon (龍的傳人). Abolished Simplified Chinese!

Hanyu Pinyin vs Wade-Giles

Hanyu Pinyin (HYPY) only works for ‘Mandarin‘ – that dialect from ‘language of the north‘ (北方話). And in the 80s, there is a national exercise to convert all our names to HYPY, instead of the localized Wade-Giles (WG) translation. Overnight, we have 2 romanized name (3 if you include name in Chinese character), and in the next generation there are family with different romanized surname, a mixture of HYPY and WG romanization.

With the wider adoption of HYPY names, no longer can we trace the dialect origin of a person by their surname. Where surname 陳 is ‘Chan‘ for Cantonese, ‘Tan‘ or ‘Tang‘ is a Hokkien or Teochew and ‘Chin‘ for a Hakka origin. Or depending on the officer in the Registry of Birth and Death how he would (mis)translate your name on your registration day. But now there is only a ‘Chen‘ (陈) , like the millions of others ‘Chen‘ in the Mainland China. This makes ‘Beng‘ a way cooler and unique name than millions of other ‘Ming‘.

Romanized and Latinized

Having said that, do remember we that only romanized our name for the convenience of the lesser civilization adopting the mono-tonal alphabet of latin/roman characters. Our real name are spelled in strokes! Which they are incapable of deciphering.

Even though tones was incorporated for both system, the spiritus asper and diacritic mark (ā, á, ǎ, à) are usually ignored. Lazy to type in keyboard or just making it easier for the English speaking world. This can be most helpful for them who can only speak in their native mono-tonal language. Did you find whenever they try to pronounce your name, even if it’s already romanized, they sounded so Ching-chong!

Chinese or Chinese ?

Dear Oxford English Dictionary. Can we have another word for Chinese to replace Chinese ? ‘Chinese‘ to indicate a nationality and ethnicity. Since we don’t call a Tibetan a Chinese, even the Chinese themselves do not. So why we do have to name all Chinese a Chinese ? Hong Kong have Ar Chan (阿燦) and we tried Ah Tiong (啊中), but these are quite derogatory to my Chinese friends. I am already confused. How about ‘Cathay‘, do you still remember this name?

The last few times I read an online news that the Chinese (Mr. Mao’s, of course!) government proclaimed (yet again!) that the American or Japanesehurt the feelings of all Chinese‘. I was having an boner, from the same suspect, on my second monitor. My feeling wasn’t hurt (as it should?), only felt left out, only a spectator, a non-participant!

Please Oxford, find a new definition word for non-Chinese Chinese! For Trump’s sake!

The flag of Fukien People’s Government

Fukien People’s Government

There used to be a nation as 福建人民革命政府, for a very short embarassing period of 22 November 1933 to 13 January 1934. Form from an uninspiring military coup from an similarly uninspired leader who conspired with their communist enemy. It was retaken shortly by Kuomintang but eventually lost it to People’s Republic of China (PRC! Mao!). As we know, the Kuomintang eventually fled to Taiwan, and we get our bubble tea!

For the record. Minyue () was our kingdom in ancient time during the period of 334 BC–111 BC. In 100 BC Minyue was defeated by Emperor Wu of Han and thus the kingdom was open to settlement from other Chinese ethics group.

Min Language in South-East Asia

Min (闽语) as it is officially classified. It have sub-branches namely Minnan (閩南), Mindong (閩東), Minbei (閩北), Puxian (Henghua/蒲縣), Minzhong (閩中). Minnan (Min South), Minbei (Min North) and Puxian are known or rather unknowingly spoken in Singapore and Malaysia. Different region in Malaysia with concentrated Chinese population spoke a though intelligible but slight variants of Hokkien particularly in Johore, Kuala Lumpur, Ipoh and Penang. Medan in Indonesia are similar to Penang, Malaysia due to their close proximity. And are inter mixed with expression and description from the Malay language.

In Jakarta, their Hokkien are heavily blended with Bahasa Indonesia and Hakka. Some of their Hokkien verse are unintelligible to me, likely because of their different ancestry region. But Hokkien heavily influenced Bahasa Betawi (originally spoken by native people of Batavia – old name for Jakarta) the common language of Indonesia, also known as Bahasa Indonesia). “it‘ (1/一), “ji cap” (20/二十), “go pek” (500/五百), “lak ceng” (6000/六千), “kau ban” (90000/九萬), “gua or gue” (I or me / 我) instead of aku or saya as an example of words of Hokkien origin are use instinctively among the population.

Hokaglish is spoken in Philippines, in a mix of Philippine Hokkien, Tagalog and English. Though I am not familiar with this variant to note further.

Hokkien and Thai language too have a etymological relationship. For example in numerals of ๔ (4/si), ๕ (5,/ngo [‘ha’ – old Minnan pronunciation]), ๗ (7, chet), ๙ (9/kao). The other numeral are influenced by dialects of Hakka and Cantonese (๓/3/sam, ๖/6/lok, ๑๐/10/sip).

Having said that, Hinduism had a more significant importance in shaping the history of ancient South East Asia. But their history of dominance are gradually being systematically erased by religious and educational bureau. This will a topic reserved for another day. Their influence are unavoidable and will be more noticeable than Hokkien. As the mark of Hinduism and Brahmanism (oh India, as a country does not exist then) are imprinted all over the popular destinations and culture throughout South-East Asia.

Linguistic Imperialism or Unification

The colonist, rulers and warlords know it best. Expansion of territories and extending control over a population will require assimilation, by force or social engineered gradually over generations. Historical events of library burning and burying the scholars, forbidding religious practice or even interpretation of the similar belief, change your name, way of life and culture under the pretense of advancement and betterment.

In present time even without territorial occupation, latent organization can conspire with government or religion to exert their influence through Neo-colonialism.

While I am not here to galvanize a revolution to change the course of history or reviving an old empire. Some feudal customs and tradition are best left on the library shelves. But do at least be familiar with some history of your ancestral root or roots, if you colorful mixed family tree. If you found yourself disregard your own ancestral custom, refer the name of your traditional festival to one on the other side of the earth, frown upon the history, traditions and philosophy closer to home. Either the big brother or commercialism has done a very good job to acculturate you. And I am writing this in …

Well, one should not be inferior one when you know more!

Look! Cheongsam is not the dress of our grandmothers. Red is not the preferred festival color of every Chinese. Our great-grandfathers did not don that foreign culture pig-tailed hairstyle (Queue) by choice. Not all Chinese (in Mainland China) have ever seen a live performance of a lion and/or dragon dance.

Significance of Hokkien in Singapore

Starying with the Chinese name of Singapore, 新加坡, was a transliteration from Hokkiensin-ka-por. That is how influential the dialect is, and not from some foreign northern dialect in China. Even the name of some historical estates in Singapore are named in Hokkien.

The following are a list of estates in Singapore that is named in Chinese characters from their pronunciation or name in Hokkien and Malay. The latter where some name are deformed throughout period of time.

Chinese NamePronunciation in HokkienRemark
宏茂桥ang-mo-kio‘Red tomato’ or ‘Caucasian Bridge’ – various unverified origin of name.
蔡厝港choa-chu-kang‘tributary by the house of Choa’
林厝港lim-chu-kang‘tributary by the house of Lim’
杨厝港yio-chu-kang‘tributary by the house of Yio’
后港ao-kang‘at the rear of the tributary of a lake’, renamed in HYPY as ‘Hou Gang’
中峇鲁tiong-bahruoriginally Tiong was ‘塚’ which means cemetery, inauspicious name for a residence area, and was changed to ‘中’ of similar sounding. Bahru is a Malay word for ‘New’
大巴窑toa-payohToa or 大 means ‘Big’ and paya is swamp in Malay

The following will not make any sense in their name written in Chinese as they are phonetically transliterated from their pronunciation in Hokkien.

Estate NamePronunciation in HokkienWritten in Chinese
Bukit Batokbu-kiat-pa-tok武吉巴督
Dhoby Ghautto-bi-ko多美歌
Outram Parkao-lam-hng欧南园
Tanjong Pagartan-jong-pa-kat丹戎巴葛

Written in Hokkien

Okay we’re here!


Common Terminology

Hokkien / pronunciationStandard ChineseEnglish / SinglishRemark
我 / guá,阮 / gúnI, me
汝 / lìyou
伊 / è他/她/它he, she, it
恁侬 or 恁人 (lín lâng)你们you all
我侬 or 我人 (góa lâng)我们we all
伊侬 / i lâng他们they all
爱莫? / ai-mài?要吗?want it?
是无? / si-boh?是吗?really ?
是咩? / si-meh?是吗?really ?* ‘咩’ is Cantonese
甚物事志?/ si-mi dai-ji?什么事?what’s the problem?
爱 / aiwant
欲 / beh要, 快要want, almost
错 / chhòwrong* usually replace with malay word ‘salah
食饱未? chia̍h-páh bē吃饱了吗?Have you eaten?Informally used as a form of greeting
箸 / ti筷子chopstick
物件 / mě-kiǎ东西object, thing
安呢 / án-ni这么like this, in this way
按怎 / án-chóa怎么how, why?
老君 / ló-kūn/医生doctorfrom “太上老君”
佗落 / to lo̍h哪里where?“汝去佗落?”
徛 / khiā居住/站stay (residence) or stand“伊徛這爿“
厝 / tsu 家,房子home
伫 / tiin, at (location)“汝伫底落?”
古早 / kū-zhá从前in the past
斗跤手 / tàu-kha-chhiú帮忙to help
刁工 / tiao-kang特地intentional
刁持 / tiao-ti特意intentional
无 / boh没有
无影 / bôh-nyea虚假的not true
无路用 / boh-lor-yeong不中用
看无 / kua-boh看不到don’t understand / can’t see
袂 / beh不会
袂见笑 / beh-kian-siao不要脸shameless
袂晓 / beh-hiao不懂don’t know
袂和 / be
袂赴 / beh-hu赶不上too late
毋 / mmno毋甘願
毋是 / mm seewrong
毋通 / mm tang不可don’t do
毋著 / mm-tio不对not right
毋捌 / mm-bat 不認識not familiar
莫 / mai不要don’t‘莫按呢’
兮 / e‘我兮名…’
暗冥 / am-mi晚上night time
晏 / ua‘真晏了!’
门骹口/məng-kha-khao/门口door entrance
正手爿 / jia-ciu-peng右邊right hand side
倒手爿 / toh-ciu-peng左邊left hand side
即阵/tzit-tzun/现在right now
即擺 / tzit-pai這次this time
当今/tɔng-kim/现在at this moment
倒转/to-təng/回去turn around
犹未/ia-bue/还没not yet‘我犹未食饭;
趁钱/than-tziⁿ/赚钱earn money, work
趁鐳 / than-lui赚钱earn money, money
几镭 / gui-lui多少钱?how much?
几箍 / gui-kor多少元?how much (in price)?
今日 / kia-ji̍t, kin-jit今天todayor 今仔日 kin-á-ji̍t
当今 / tong-kim现在now
这阵 / chit-chūn现在right now
拄拄 / tu-tu刚刚right moment
四散 / sì-sōa随便anyhow‘伊四散讲’
定着 / tiāⁿ-tio̍h一定surely
攑 / giah or giatake
惊输 / kia-su怕失败afraid to lose
公司 / kong-si分享share
伤 / siong很困难difficult死父伤 (死父 derive from Teochew)
幸 / heng幸运lucky‘真正幸啊!’
相像 / sioⁿ-siâng一样
食风 / chia̍k-hong去度假holidaying
𨑨迌 / thit-thô玩耍playful, michevious
袂癮 / beh-gian不爽unsatisfied
袂爽 / beh-song不爽unhappy
癮飯 / gian-pung貪心greedy
安呢款 / ar-ni-kuan這樣it’s like this
烏目匼 / oh-bak-kark黑腫swell
烏肚䆀 / oo-tóo-bái摩托車motorcycle*use in Taiwan
烏肚車 / oo-tóo-chia摩托車motocycle
雞婆 / kuay-bo (kaypoh)多事nosy, meddlesome
裝 / zhng, tsngfix, accessorize
咖啡店 / kopi (ka-pi) tiamkopitiam / coffee shopcorrectly pronounce as ‘ka-pi‘, but colloquially read as ‘ko-pi‘ from ‘co-ffee’
囡仔 / gín-á小朋友young children
囝 / kiánn孩子children

Fruit and Food

檨仔 / suāinn-á芒果mango
肉脞/ba-tsɔ/碎肉minced meat
柑仔蜜 / kam-á-bit番茄tomato (from Filipino ‘Kamatis’)
莲雾 / lián-bū水翁wax apple, jambu (from Indonesian)
弓蕉 / kim-tsio香蕉banana
王梨 / ông-lâi鳳梨/菠蘿pineapple
柑仔 / kam-á橘子mandarin orange
桃仔/ thô-á桃子peach
菝仔 / pa̍t-á芭樂 / 番石榴guava

Essential Beng Terminology


To be a true Ah Beng and to upheld the honor of the ‘cloud and rain‘ hairdo clan. The following are indispensable in every conversation, with or by them. Not limited to verbal stylistic but most expressive in articulate parietal art on toilet cubicle wall. But only a true devotee of Bengism will start their sentence with a salutation of ‘Chee-by …’ and end identically with the exact incantation, ahead of every full-stop. The true essence of this psalm is yet mysteriously unknown, but distinctively and uniquely tribal.

When Beng Say…意识MeaningRemark
掠无球 / liah-bo-kiu完全不了解clueless‘catch no ball’
假勥 / keh-kiang自作聪明smart alec
俏母 / chio-bu美女cutie
督公 / tok-kong很厉害,顶尖the bestfrom 拿督公 (Na Tuk Kong)
恁爸共你講 / lin-beh-ka-li-kong‘老爸更你說‘‘I’m telling you as a father’
哇老誒 / wah-lau-eh我的天OMG!
莫/無招? / boh-jio沒邀請?uninvited?
豬哥 / ti-ko好色skirt chaser
捏 / 用手按knead (squeeze, grope)
捏奶 / tē-nicaressing a breast
相奸 / sio-kan性交copulate
著姦 / tio-kan被训given a scolding, to get fucked
鄉姦 / hiong-kango get fucked, fuck off
奸恁娘 / kan-lin-niaf your mom
奸恁老母 / kàn lín lāu-búf your old mother* Extended Version
姦恁老母臭膣屄 / knnbccbf your old mother’s stinky c***t* Full Version
殀寿 / yao shiu夭寿die young (curse)
卸朖 / sia-lan‘asshole’
怪朖 / guai-lan‘cunning person’
崁朖 / kham-lanidiotic
吭跤翹 / kong-kar-kiao四腳朝天dead person
痟 / siao神经病crazy, stupid
死痟痟 / si-kiao-kiao‘completely dead’

Loanword from other dialect

Teo Chew
扑母 / poo-bor‘mother fucker’
偏 / phi便宜cheap (price)
死父 / sî-bēh非常very
山龟 / suā-ku井底蛙country bumpkin
无便 / bô-piàn没办法no other option, hopeless
做阵 / chò-tīn一起together
緊張 / kan-cheongdistress, hurried
是咩? / si-meh?是吗?really ?咩(meh) from Cantonese
/ buay-gam(ngam)不合适/不对not right / unfair (ngam) in Cantonese
Yet to be identified
撥 / pooto fuck
相撥 / sio-poohaving sex
撥某 / poo-borbitch

Anatomy and Biology

HokkienBody Part
骹/kha/脚 / leg
尻川/kha-chung/屁股 / buttock
膣屄 / chee-bytsi-bai/cheeby / virgina
朖鸟 / lan-jiaolān-tsiáu/lanjiao / penis
朖脬 / lan-pahlān-pha / testicle

Loanword from Malay Language

Spoken Hokkein / MalayWritten in HokkienMandarin / English / SingaporeRemark
soo-kah / suka舒合喜欢 / like
sap-boon / sabun雪文肥皂 / soaporigin: Arabic صَابُون(ṣābūn)
kao-yin / kawin交姻结婚 / marriage结婚 (kiat-hun)
kah-cau / kacau打扰 / disturb
bah-lu / baru最近 / new, recently
pah-sat / pasar菜市场 / market
ma-ta / mata-mata警察 / police警察 (kéng-chha)
gar-doh / gaduh吵架 / quarrel
sin-nang / senang空闲 / easy, chill简单 (kán-tan)
lui / duit钱 / money
toh-long / tolong拜托 / need help拜托 (pài-thok)
sa-lah / salah出错 / wrong犯法 (hōan-hoat)
ta-pi / tapi但是 / but但是 (tān-sī)
lo-ti / roti面包 / bread面包 (mī-pau)
poon / pun也是 / similarly嘛是 (mā sī) or 也是 (iā-sī)
sah-man / saman罚款 / fine (penalty)
agah agah / agak-agak猜/随便 / guess, estimate凊采 (chìn-chái)
kan-dang / kentang马铃薯 / potatoe
bo-tah / botak秃头 / bald head
pah-kat / pakat巴结串通 / conspire
buah-ya / buaya磨仔鳄鱼 / crocodile‘womanizer’, ‘flirt’
buey tahan/ tak boleh tahan袂扙捍无法忍受 / unbearable挡袂牢 (tòng bē tiâu)
mana eh sai / mana bolehMana 会使怎么可以? / how can it be?

Contraction of word from other language

gostango astern回頭a nautical term commonly mistaken as Malay word (correct word : pusing)

The above are gathered from informative site available from the site listed in the references, with some terms included from my own memory. If there is a mistake or correction to be made, or any other terms you may suggest to add. Leave a comment…

References :

  1. Singapore Hokkien
  2. Singaporean MandarinLexical Interference of Hokkien language in Indonesian
  3. Inilah Arti Kata Gocap, Cepek, Gopek…
  4. Thâu-ia̍h
  5. 新加坡福建話
  6. Hokkien_profanity
  7. Language_death
  8. Linguistic_Imperialism
  9. Cultural Imperialism
  10. Language Shift
  11. Language Attrition
  12. Burning of books and burying of scholars
  13. List of book burning incidents
  14. Neocolonialism
  15. Cheongsam
  16. Queue (hairstyle)
  17. Hokkien Community
  18. The Origins Of The Hokkien, Teochew, Cantonese, And Other Chinese Dialect Groups In Singapore
  19. Why Do These Hokkien Words Sound So Similar to Japanese?
  20. English proficiency unaffected by early exposure to Hokkien
  21. Is Hokkien a Dying Language in Singapore?
  22. In Singapore, Chinese Dialects Revive After Decades of Restrictions
  23. iTaigi 愛台語
  24. Thai numerals