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Posts Tagged ‘Chinese dialects’

By IpohBornKid

In Ipoh ACS during the 1950s, all names were written in English in the student register.  Three types of names generally occur – Malay, Indian and Chinese.  Sometimes there were one or two European names.  There were also a number of alias (also known as or aka) in the register but the alias was not used.  Romanized Malay and Indian names were not a problem and most of them were spelt correctly, whilst the Chinese names have 50% spelt wrong.  Why you may ask?

In discussion here, the modern Romanization of Chinese surnames are used according to the Mandarin dialect.  Consider some of the “Anglicized” spelling of the surnames commonly encountered in Malaysia and their respective Romanized forms in different Chinese dialects.

 Pinyin            Hakka              Cantonese       Hokkien

Chen            Chin                Chan                Tan

Li                 Lee                  Li                     Lee

Zhang          Chong             Cheong            Teoh

Wang   /  Wong              Wong              Ong

Wu              Ng                   Ng                   Goh

Liu               Liew                Lau                  _____

Pan              Pun                  Poon                Phua

Hong           Hoong             Hoong             Ang

Liang           Leong              Leong              ______

Kao             Kau                 Go                   Koh

In the above list, can the reader identify the Chinese pinyin and guess what dialect will his family speaks.  Please note that the Hainan, Hock Chew and other Fujian dialects are very close in pronunciation.

I have left the Hokkien names for Liu and Liang blank and hope that a reader might fill it in.  By looking at the Romanization of the Chinese surname, one can guess what dialect his/her family speaks.  Little did I know about these until I started to learn the Chinese language a bit further bearing in mind that ACS Ipoh only has 1 period of Chinese language every week until Std 6. 

Here are some of the boys that I have known in ACS and their Romanized Chinese names are, Yee Voon Chee, (Hakka) Chan Siak Hoi (Cantonese), Chin Kim Chen (Hakka), Lim Jit Ting (Hannan), Leong Hoi Siew (Cantonese), Tan Kee Peng (Hokkien), Doong Ming Kwong (Shanghai or North China), Wong Kong Yoke (Cantonese), Lee Ah Kow (Cantonese), Chong Ah Fat (Hakka), Chew Gee Boo (Hokkien), Liew Loon Teik (Hokkien), Lau Kok Loong (Cantonese), Loke Kok Wan (Hakka) and a teacher the late Quah Kuan Teik (Hokkien).  My first guest about the dialect is in parenthesis.  Maybe some should correct me because I am not a Chinese scholar and these guesses are reflexive.  The Chinese dialect in school was predominantly Cantonese.

A person from China today, will not be able to decipher by looking at the surname and give it correct Chinese character, nor he will be able to tell whether the person is of Hakka, Hokkien or Cantonese origin.  On the other hand, a Malaysian or Singaporean of Chinese origin is more likely to get the right answer.

Sometimes a good meaning Chinese name may not sound too good in another dialect.  For example, the Cantonese name Lee Say Hoi (four seas, translated into a man well-known in all four seas, knowledgeable etc.) can mean dead and gone in Hakka. 

At other times, the dialectal interchange can be hilarious, mischievous and not auspicious.  Many boys were teased and became the butt of many jokes in the school for having names which can have a different connotation in another dialect. I encourage readers to give examples of such interchanges.

My association with Hong Kong friends in Australia soon taught me more innuendos in Cantonese names viz.  Lee Wan Bun, Lee Fan Shu, Chew Yin Sung.  Some of you may guess what it means!

Now to the reason why many names were Romanized incorrectly.  At the local Police Station where a birth is registered, the local constable may not be a good speller, and most Chinese immigrants then could not write their surname in English.  If all else fail, the local constabulary has the last say in your name.  For example, the correct surname “Pun” may end up as “Phun”.  A “Cheong” may end up as “Chong” and a “Wong” may end as Ng, Ong or Huang” depending on who won the argument, your father or the person who recorded your birth. Fortunately, you will not get that in China because they use Chinese characters and secondly there is a universal pinyin (based on the Mandarin dialect) for Chinese characters irrespective of dialect.

Very soon, most Malaysian of Chinese descent will use the pingyin for the Romanized names (I hope).

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