CM: Need to revive interest in Hokkien language


Periodical publications on display at Seh Tek Tong Cheah Kongsi in Armenian Street, Penang. — Photos: LIM BENG TATT/The Star

IT is important to speak Hokkien, as it could disappear if not for constant communication.

Penang Chief Minister Chow Kon Yeow said to many, the dialect is their mother tongue, but they do not seem to speak it.

“It is not just about learning the history of Hokkien as a language but holding on to it and passing it down to the younger generations, ” he said.

He was speaking at ‘The death and life of Hokkien: How an ideology wiped out your language’ exhibition at Seh Tek Tong Cheah Kongsi in Armenian Street, George Town.

Penang Hokkien Language Association president Sim Tze Wei said language used in schools had immense influence on the linguistic behaviour of the younger generation.

“The education system is prime mover in the large-scale linguistic change of our society.

“If parents are to be blamed for not speaking their mother tongue at home, then policymakers and educators are accountable for creating the very situation which give parents no choice, ” he said.

Chow (second left) with Bayan Baru MP Sim Tze Tzin (left), Cheah Kongsi chairman Alan Cheah     (second right) and other guests checking out the Heger prehistoric drum as Sim Tze Wei (right) gives a briefing at the exhibition.Chow (second left) with Bayan Baru MP Sim Tze Tzin (left), Cheah Kongsi chairman Alan Cheah (second right) and other guests checking out the Heger prehistoric drum as Sim Tze Wei (right) gives a briefing at the exhibition.

Sim said that Hokkien is set to vanish as its speakers are abandoning it for Mandarin.

“Many people tend to lament the death of languages with a sense of loss and attribute language endangerment to modernisation and globalisation.

“It is only when we learn the history of languages that we are able to understand where our ideas and beliefs originate from.

“Only then will we be able to stop the discrimination of languages, ” he said during the launching of the exhibition on Friday.

He added that the exhibition was organised to challenge the mainstream idea that blamed parents for not speaking their mother tongue with their children and to revive the interest in the language.

Sim said the other reason for the exhibition was due to the negative response to a proposal to reinstate Hokkien as a medium of instruction in Chinese schools in Penang.

“The people who said it is ‘impractical’ to teach in Hokkien today probably would not have imagined that it was equally impractical, and probably harder, to teach school subjects in Mandarin a hundred years ago.”

Sim added that visitors would find the exhibition full of facts, statistics and historical events.

A replica prehistoric bronze drum and old books printed in southern Chinese languages are on display for the first time in Malaysia at the exhibition.

The exhibition is on until Oct 25 from 9am to 5pm daily.

Admission is RM10 per person.

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