Dialect in decline: Penang aims to make Hokkien popular again


GEORGE TOWN: Hokkien has always been the Chinese dialect synonymous with Penang.

One is sure to hear a line or two – if not more – in Hokkien when waiting in line at hawker centres.

However, the number of people who speak the dialect here has dwindled, with increasing use of Bahasa Malaysia, English and Mandarin.

Caretaker Chief Minister Chow Kon Yeow said many Penang-born youths no longer speak the Hokkien and the state government is now moving to address this to prevent the dialect from fading away.

"It has been proposed that the dialect be gazetted as a state heritage under the Penang Heritage Enactment 2011.

"Gazetting the dialect is one way to preserve Penang's cultural heritage.

"I hope locals will continue to use the dialect in their daily communication," he said when officiating the Penang Heritage Forum "Penang Hokkien: Our Language, Our Heritage" at Penang Town Hall here on Wednesday (July 5).

The forum was organised by the Penang Heritage Department and the state exco for tourism and creative economy.

Its caretaker committee chairman Yeoh Soon Hin said the gazettement of the Penang Hokkien dialect as a state heritage is underway.

"We will need to submit it to the state heritage council and it needs to be brought up to the exco for approval.

"The dialect has been used in Penang for over 300 years, but it is slowly dying out as the younger generation has grown up without learning it.

"The majority of the ethnic Chinese in Penang learn Mandarin, Bahasa Malaysia and English in school so Hokkien is seldom used," he said.

Other than organising a forum about the dialect, Yeoh said the state is also encouraging educational institutions to support speaking Hokkien among the younger generation.

"I have approved an allocation to support an initiative by Han Chiang University College to produce a video on Penang Hokkien," he said.

The event also saw the launch of the Penang Hokkien Dictionary and the "Learn Penang Hokkien" YouTube channel.

Both platforms were created by Hokkien dialect activist Timothy Tye.

The dictionary can be accessed at https://www.penang-traveltips.com/dictionary/index.htm and the YouTube channel can be accessed at https://m.youtube.com/c/learnpenanghokkien.

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