Found this article on Asiaone. Very interesting read if you’re into “why our Chinese dialects are so rojak!” 😉

Is Hokkien my ‘mother tongue’?

A LONG time ago, a Chinese man saw some Malays eating a fruit. It had a spiky shell, but its insides were filled with large seeds covered by yellow, buttery flesh. He had never seen (nor smelt!) a fruit like it in his native village in Fujian. What was the fruit called, he asked the Malays.

‘Durian,’ they replied – from the Malay word duri, meaning ‘thorn’. And so the Chinese man went back and told his friends about this new fruit. As the word spread, it became incorporated into Hokkien as loo lian.

Then one day, a new fruit made its appearance, native to South America. It was also green, with a spiky exterior. It was known as ‘soursop’ in English.

The Malays had a tendency to append the word belanda (meaning ‘Dutch’) to anything foreign that they had never seen before. Examples include kambing belanda (sheep), ayam belanda (turkey), kucing belanda (rabbit). So they called soursop durian belanda.

The Hokkiens, on the other hand, called it ang mo loo lian. Ang mo – roughly ‘Western’ – was also used for other edibles, like ang mo kio (tomato) and ang mo chai thou (carrot). The word ang mo loo lian carries traces of Hokkien’s contact with both Malay and the West.

The study of loan words has always fascinated me, for they give clues to the kinds of social interactions that occurred in the past. I sketched a scenario above of how a single word from one language entered another. But the process is much more complex than that, probably involving long-term, sustained contact. The chain of transmission might even involve an intermediary, such as the Straits Chinese (or Peranakans), whose Baba patois contains both Malay and Hokkien words.

Here are some words that were borrowed from Hokkien into Malay: beca (trishaw), bihun (vermicelli), cat (paint), cincai (any old how), gua (I/me), guli (marbles), kentang (potato), kamceng (close), kuih (cake), kongsi (share), kuaci (melon seeds), teko (teapot), taugeh (bean sprout), tahu (beancurd) and tauke (boss). (Note that ‘c’ in Malay has the ‘ch’ sound.)

This linguistic exchange was a two-way process. Here are some Malay words that penetrated Hokkien: agak (guess or moderate), botak (bald), champur (mix), gadoh (fight), gaji (wages), jamban (toilet), kachiau (disturb), otang (owe/ debt), pakat (conspire), pasar (market), pitchia (break), salah (wrong), senget (crooked), sukak (like), tiam (quiet) and torlong (help).

Read more click here

Now you know why my English is half-cooked, Malay-not masak, Hokkien-pua tang chui and rejected by the Foochows for being jing ngong. None of my language or dialect ability can work independently – I’m a pure Sarawakian rojak 😉