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Wednesday July 16, 2008

Penang Hokkien in peril

GEORGE TOWN: Penang Hokkien may become extinct if no effort is made to preserve and encourage the young to speak the dialect.

This is the observation of author Tan Choon Hoe who has written two books Learn to Speak PHD-Penang Hokkien Dialect and Penang Hokkien Dialect (PHD) for Penangites and Tourists to promote the dialect.

Tan, 47, who teaches English and Hokkien here, described the dialect as the essence of George Town and a part of its heritage.

He lamented the fact that Chinese children here spoke very little Hokkien nowadays.

“Parents would usually speak to their children in English or Mandarin and the only chance for the kids to learn Hokkien is from their grandparents, if they are still around,” Tan added.

He said it was even more important now to preserve the dialect with George Town’s recent listing as a Unesco World Heritage Site.

“Many people here do not know that our native dialect has become a dying heritage,” Tan told a press conference to promote the sale of the books to raise funds for Penang Adventist Hospital’s needy patients.

Penang Adventist Hospital community relation coordinator Chin Hsien Hui said the hospital’s nurses, staff and doctors who were non native speakers took Hokkien lessons from Tan in the hospital to enable them to communicate with patients.

“Speaking Hokkien to those who cannot speak English, especially the elderly, makes them feel more comfortable,” she said.

The books can be purchased from the hospital, with 30% of the proceeds going to the hospital’s Dr J Earl Gardner Fund. For details, contact Tan at 012-4820038 or the hospital development department at 04-2227603.

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