Still recovering from the crazy 11-hour voice-over in Hokkien (a Southern Chinese dialect) last Monday. I was drained and subsequently caught a cough and cold.
The voice-over is for a hospital app that caters to older patients who are only conversant in Hokkien - probably about 200,000 of such people in Singapore.
First, a quick question...
Which one is correct in Hokkien, to say "I tell you"?
A. Wa ka li gong.
B. Wa kai ler gong.
According to a language expert, it should be A. The second answer, B, is influenced by Teochew, but is commonly heard in Singapore. Oh, by the way, as I learned later on, strictly, neither is correct, as to be fully correct it should be "Gua ka li gong".
While it is important to stick close to standard Hokkien, we also need to make the voice-over instructions intelligible to the recipients. That means choosing to go colloquial when appropriate.
For instance, while the standard Hokkien word for soap is 'teh-kor' (literally tea leaf cakes), I have never heard it used in Singapore before. Instead, the universally understood Malay word 'sapboon' is commonly used. The Malay word 'sapboon' is in turned borrowed from Portuguese 'sabonete'.
Some Hokkien words are trickier. For instance, how do you say 'money' in Hokkien?
Is it 'looi' or 'jhee'?
While 'Jhee' is used in Xiamen, Fujian, and therefore is correct, but (to my surprise) 'looi' is also used in different regions near Xiamen. Surprise because I had always thought that 'looi' is borrowed from the Malay word 'duit'. Which could well mean that the Malay had borrowed the word from the Hokkiens, and then to have the Hokkiens borrow it back years later.
Hokkien is an ancient language, pre-dating the common use of Mandarin, but is now declining in usage. Some words in Hokkien use very ancient Chinese characters and phonetically sound more like old Chinese. eg.
This voice-over assignment is the toughest I ever had, not only because it took 11 hours, but also we had to debate what the suitable spoken form should be vs the standard form. Besides, we also have to translate technical terms of hospital equipment and personnel-on-duty to terms easily understood by the old folks.
And that was why I was drained!!!
In all, it is very thoughtful of the hospital executive to implement the app with instructions that the older folks understand. This will definitely help the staff and nurses, many of them whom are from the Philippines and do not speak Hokkien.
I think these senior citizens have been denied their right to their true mother-tongue for far too long - a sacrifice in making Mandarin as the common Chinese language. Now we are experiencing the painful aftermath.
PS1: One fun (crazy) fact. While 'chiobu' is commonly used by young people in Singapore to honour a beautiful young lady, the original use of the term was used to describe a slut. Yes, the kind that sleeps around. :)
PS2: The Malays could have borrowed the word 'duit' from the Dutch, who used it as a unit of money during their colonial days in Indonesia.