Multiculturalism in Action: Fish Crackers from Malaysia

The sales manager at my company recently went on a short trip to Malaysia, and, as per Taiwanese custom, brought back a bunch of snacks for the whole office.

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Malaysian packaging is language overload:

First we have Malay:

“Muruku Ikan”

“Ikan” means fish in Malay, whereas “Muruku” is a borrowing from the Tamil language – “முறுக்கு” (Murukku) – a word that means “twisted” and which has been adopted as a word for the snack all over India and in Tamil diaspora countries. You can see why the word twisted is used to describe the snack once we open the bag:

13389203_10102538902842129_825311224_o It may not be the most twisted thing in the world, but there’s definitely some curvature there. So essentially it means “fish twirls”. That’s more or less what it tasted like too.

Next up is Arabic:

موروكو  ُيكن

More specifically, this is the traditional use of Arabic characters to write Malay words, known as Jawi script. I’m indebted to Penang local @SimTzeWei for this correction, he wrote:

The Arabic letters are actually Malay. The Malay language was written in the Arabic script before the arrival of the Europeans. This script is called the Jawi script.

It is pronounced “maruku uykn” in standard Arabic romanization, and Maruku Ikan in Jawi script, according to Sim Tze-Wei.

Then it’s English with “fish maruku”

The Chinese has a more complex name:

「香化美味魚肉豆餅」

“Fragrant tasty fish bean pastry”

The 「香化」 for fragrant is a little odd in Mandarin as pointed out by Weibo user 「守望者青年客栈」(watcherxm).

dddddd

This is because it means “fragranced” or “fragrancified”, which is a rather unnatural way of expressing it.

The other interesting thing about the packaging is that the company’s name 「天祥」 is romanized using Hokkien or Southern Min, more commonly known in Taiwan as Taiwanese. I posted previously about a piece of wall art in Malaysia featuring the language that my friend spotted on a trip there.

The 「天祥」 is romanized as “Thien Cheong”, which is likely meant to represent a similar sound to the Taiwanese romanization “Thian-siông“.  Most Malaysian Chinese speak Hokkien so it’s not overly surprisingly that it makes an appearance on the packaging. There are also many speakers of the language and its variants in Fujian province in China. In terms of definitions, it literally means “divinely auspicious”, but I could only find it listed as a place name in the MOE dictionary.

@SimTzeWei suggested, however, that it might be Cantonese or Hakka rather than Hokkien and that it was just non-standard Cantonese spelling. The Jyutping Cantonese romanization for 「天祥」 is tin1 coeng4.

He stated:

‘Thien Cheong’ is probably Cantonese. Some people like to alter the spellings of their names to prevent them from having an obvious meaning in another language (in this case English). Instead of spelling it as ‘Thin Cheong’, they insert an ‘e’. It could possibly be Hakka or another Chinese language.

Food is definitely one of the highlights of Malaysia, as there are many Indian expats there and no shortage of curry buffet gardens. I got chatting to one of the waiters that served us at a place near Petronas Towers where we were staying. He had quite a dim view of incumbent Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who belongs to the Hindu nationalist party the Bharatiya Janata Party. The party, and Modi himself, is seen as unfriendly to Muslims, and many of the Indians I met there expressed concerns about him, some were Muslims themselves, while others were simply concerned for their countrymen.

This post was updated from the original on 15th June, 2016 to reflect suggestions made on Twitter.

 

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