Teochew (also: Diojiu, Teochiu, Chaozhou, Chaoshan, Chiuchow, Trieuchau, Tiociu, etc.) is linguistically categorized as a member of the Minnan (Southern Min) group of Chinese languages, which is itself a part of the Sino-Tibetan Family. Teochew is closely related to Hokkien (Taiwanese) - also a member of the Minnan group. With practice, Teochew and Hokkien speakers can mutually understand one another. On the other hand, two popular Chinese languages: Mandarin and Cantonese, are not as closely related to Teochew and therefore are not mutually intelligible with it. Teochew has a lexicon and grammar that differs a good deal from other Chinese languages outside of the Minnan group. Some of Teochew's features include: 8 tones, tone sandhi (tones change for words in succession), nasalized vowels, lack of the sound /f/, dual sets of literary and vernacular pronounciation, and much more. There are an estimated 30 million speakers all over the world, mostly concentrated in China and Southeast Asia and in major urban areas elsewhere.
TEOCHEW LANGUAGE ISSUES
The younger generation of Teochew youth living outside of Diosuan (China) have limited Teochew language ability. Why are young Teochew people losing their language? Let’s look at some of the factors involved:
1. Other Languages, Other Cultures
Teochew people have settled all over the world in two major waves of migration: first leaving China for Southeast Asia in the 1800s to early 1900s, and second leaving Southeast Asia for Western countries in the 1970s and 1980s. Like any other group of transnational immigrants, Teochew people face the prospect of maintaining their language in addition to learning others. What happens is that local languages are typically given precedence in a child’s education and even in everyday adult speech. This practical perspective reflects the often immersive nature of the other languages to which Teochew people are exposed. Without a doubt many second generation Teochew immigrants are quickly losing their language. Languages such as English, French, Mandarin, Cantonese, Thai, Khmer, Malay, and Vietnamese are national languages that are adopted by Teochew people unfortunately to the detriment of Teochew. A major reason why Teochew is being lost is because the Teochew people living away from Diosuan have fewer chances to interact in a cohesive community which reinforces language use. Even in China, Teochew living in Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Bejing or Shanghai may have lost their ability to speak Teochew. Within a few generations the Teochew language could be lost to all living outside of Diosuan.
2. Lack of Teochew Multimedia
Outside of Diosuan, Teochew is spoken primarily at home. Teochew language learning materials, entertainment, and other resources, while available in some quantity on the internet, are often not accessible to non-Chinese speakers and sometimes questionable in quality. Many Teochew people may not be interested in the resources out there, often citing availability and practicality in expressing their desire to learn or be entertained in other languages besides Teochew.
3. Writing and Literacy
Teochew is traditionally written in Chinese characters, with the vast majority of the characters the same ones used by other Chinese dialects like Mandarin, Cantonese, and Shanghainese. Writing Teochew with Chinese characters can be complex and confusing because up to 20% of everyday vocabulary doesn't have standard character representation. Modern Teochew linguists have taken the route of creating new characters for Teochew, as has been done for other Chinese languages like Cantonese and Taiwanese. Unfortunately, these characters remain popular only among linguistis and are not generally known to the general Teochew populace of any country. With practically no schools teaching how to write Teochew, Teochew literacy has become rarer and rarer.
For many Teochew not living in China, access to learning in Chinese can be an incomplete if not a difficult process. At the present time, publications, newspapers, educational books, e-mails, letters, notes, etc. are not being written in Teochew, anywhere. The older (and younger) generations do use Chinese characters, but use them in a written style that reflects spoken Mandarin and literary Chinese.
Gaginang recognizes the importance of being able to not only speak Teochew, but to write in Teochew. Gaginang promotes the usage of Peng’im (literally: “spelling-sounds") as a practical and easy method to writing down Teochew language. Gaginang Peng'im is Gaginang's standard. It uses a romanization scheme based on the official system adopted by Guangdong province in China. Gaginang promotes Peng’im not only as a complementary system to Chinese characters but also as a stand alone way to write down Teochew language.