While the world asks ‘How are you?’, Penang locals once greeted each other with ‘lu chiak pa boey’ or ‘have you eaten?’ – a reflection of their deep-rooted dialect, Hokkien. The dialect was once the common tongue across hawker stalls and wet markets, a unifying language among different ethnic groups such as Indians and Malays.
However, a wave of globalization has seen a shift towards Bahasa Malaysia, English, and Mandarin among the Penang-born youth, creating a disconnect from their linguistic heritage. To remedy this, Penang’s government has taken measures to protect the Hokkien dialect from oblivion.
Caretaker Chief Minister Chow Kon Yeow shared at a recent public forum on Penang Hokkien that a proposal to enshrine the dialect as a state heritage is being considered. This official recognition under the Penang Heritage Enactment 2011 would serve as a beacon to retain the cultural legacy of Penang. Alongside this, Chow expressed his hope that locals would continue to incorporate Hokkien in their everyday conversations.
In support of this endeavor, Chow introduced the Penang Hokkien Dictionary and the ‘Learn Penang Hokkien’ YouTube channel by local activist Timothy Tye. Further, Yeoh Soon Hin, Caretaker State Executive Councillor for Tourism and Creative Economy, affirmed that the process of making the Hokkien dialect a state heritage is in motion.
Despite the dialect’s existence in Penang for over three centuries, its prevalence has dwindled, as the younger generation leans towards Mandarin, Bahasa Malaysia, and English. To counter this, Yeoh noted that the state encourages educational institutions to promote Hokkien among students. An initiative by Han Chiang University College to produce a video of Penang Hokkien has also gained his endorsement.
(Source: Malay Mail)