On Trengganuspeak and the Spirit of Trengganu

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

11. How to...ranggöh

In this age of plenty when the dining table groans under the weight of akök and nekbak it is often difficult to say when you’ve had enough, but ranggöh is the word that draws the dividing line between the sated and the se’eh.

It is hard to hear the word ranggöh without hearing also the sound of goats lopping off the top of your potted tomato plant. “Ha, sudöh, abih döh kambing ranggöoh pohong mung, Mek!”* is bad news indeed for the green-fingered housewife; but when a mother says, “Hör, gi gök ranggoh lagi akök tu bbanyok sikik!”** it’s sarcasm writ large on a billboard, directed at someone who’s already too busy retching to appreciate its sharp edge. Time then for the Woodward’s Peppermint Cure or the minyök Cak Kapök belly rub.

But to earn the description ranggöh for your eating activity you don’t have to reach the level of se’eh — bloated — because ranggöh is often used to stirke a note of disapproval of one who’s tasted the forbidden fruit (see goat, above).

The companion words to ranggöh are bahang and pölök, each, in its own way, an ambiguous word in social etiquette. A person who declines a seat at the dining table because, on his way home from work, he’d bahang röjök has chosen a crude word to define an innocent act. Now bahang is no mere slurp, it is to attack with relish a pile or morsel, eyes fixed lovingly on the food. Bahang is both a gourmet and a gourmand word, but it’s pölök that really separates the cheekier nosher from the boys. To pölök is to stuff your face with two curry puffs while half a chicken drumstick is still dangling from one corner of the mouth. The mobile phone may ring while this business is undergoing its full course, producing an opening telephonic message that goes: “Hollow, splutter-splutter, pfft, puff...”.

Pölök is an intrinsically harmless act under controlled conditions where the rules are observed. Never, for instance, pölök anything bigger than your head; but bahang and its cousin tibang are essentially attacking words, a throwback to the days when food was killed before it was laid out on the plate, without benefit of a chilling-out period in the fridge. So, ”Aku tibang ayang sekor takdi” could mean both “I have just devoured a whole chicken” or “I have just killed one for the pot”. In Ramadhan, never bahang belong bang, before the muezzin makes his call, or you'll be caught out as a non-faster.

Of the lot, only ranggöh can be soft and hard for while you can eat plate after plate of laksang orderly and quietly in deference to etiquette, you can still draw an observation that’s no feather in your hat: Bukang makang tu, ranggoh!” (“That’s gorging, not eating!”) which is a signal for you to withdraw to the corner for a burp.


* ”Oh dear, the goat’s just devoured your plant in the pot!”

** “Go on then, stuff yourself some more with that akök”

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Thursday, February 22, 2007

A Word That Sticks Out

Ccokoh, is arguably the natural state of the homo erectus trengganuiensis; but can he also be so in a moving state? Can a person be ccokoh when he is swinging (berayong)? Hanging by one hand to the branch of a tree (nnoneng or ggatong)? Or must he be sitting still, not doing much (dok ssaja) or minding his own business (dok wak dök)?

These are difficult questions given that nothing is completely static, that everything moves or hums or beats. So, presumably you could sit ccokoh on the edge of your verendah, with your legs swinging merrily to the sound of the trumpeting P. Jalil. Or be crouched over a newspaper, occasionally turning over the page.

I have always thought that what makes a person ccokoh is his conspicuous presence, sitting or standing proud, like a nail sticking out from the ledge. Haji Zainal Abidin Safarwan says in his monumental work, the Kamus Besar, that it is that and more. Cokoh can be lambing, tegak (erect) or tercokoh (i.e. the Trengganuspeak ccokoh) and that's melengung or, as Winstedt says in his Malay-English dictionary, ‘brooding’ (dok nnengung). Do you have to be brooding to be ccokoh? I thought not, but I must bow to their superior knowledge.

But even then I must disagree with my esteemed fellow Trengganuer Clark Gable of Pulau Duyong [see Comments, below]who seems to think that co’ko is synonymous with ccokoh (for which please see above), but must thank him for proposing that I be given the weight of the Awang Embong Dagang Award which is Trengganu’s answer, he says, to the Nobel Prize for Literature. I rather like the name, and will accept it — if offered — and will even pretend that I am deserving of the award. In true Trengganu spirit of göng and wak ek, no doubt.

My thanks to all of you who’ve put in comments here and elsewhere. I welcome and value every one of them; but please do not be disheartened if I take a long time to respond. I shall, in due course, give each one of them my attention.

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Friday, February 16, 2007

Self and Others

Among Father’s friends in the vicinity of the Masjid Abidin was one called Che Ali Orang. He was “Orang”, as I later discovered, because of his disconcerting speech habit that knocked you off your presumed place, requiring you — the listener — to re-orientate. He would say, for instance, “Orang gi ppasör sebetör takdi,” to mean “I made a short visit to the market earlier”. He was, like many speakers of Trengganuspeak (and of many other ‘speaks’ too in the wider Malay world) reluctant to throw in the directly personal pronoun (aku, saya) into his conversation, but he replaced it with one that was totally unexpected.

Orang kata döh takdi!” a mother would say when a careless child trips over while running around the house. What’s fascinating about this remark is that orang (person, people) is used as a personal pronoun for emphasis in this instance, but it was Che Ali’s insistence on taking it to an even wider embrace that earned him the amusing sobriquet.

Malays generally avoid identifying the self so overtly as in the “I” of Indo-European languages, and are even more reluctant to address directly the ‘self’ of another person to whom he is speaking. Saya or more familiarly aku are of course used and understood in everyday speech, but Trengganuspeakers sometimes hide behind the collective pronoun kita (we) or ambe (from standardspeak hamba, servant), or he would even refer to himself by name rather than use the pronoun “I”. “Mbong nak gi dah,” is said by Embong of himself: “I’m going now.” Likewise, a person speaking to Cik (Mr or Miss in Trengganuspeak) Embong would ask him, “Cik Mbong makang döh?” (“Have you [Mbong] eaten?”) More confusingly, he/she may ask, “Kita sapa bila?” (“When did we [i.e. ‘you’] arrive?”). “Nök gi döh kita?” asks a lady at the well of a child in school uniform, laden with a book-filled rucksack. Are we going [to school] now?

Many years ago, a bored American insurance company executive named Benjamin Lee Whorf took up linguistics as a hobby and discovered that language shapes society. Society, it can also be said, shapes language — how a person thinks is reflected in how he speaks. If you ask a Trengganu person “What fruit is that?”, unmindful of Aristotle’s A is A, he/she will reply, “Hök tu orang panggil buöh ppisang, kang?” Now is that an answer or a question? Or does it show an inner sense of modesty that makes this world look like a pretty uncertain place? Haven’t I seen that before in some philosophical works? This shyness about what Stuart Chase* calls ‘the law of identity’ (Aristotle’s A is A) is also found among the Wintu Indians of North America. “We say ‘This is bread’ but in Wintu they say, ‘we call this bread’,” says Chase. Again, ask a Trengganuspeaker what is that? and he/she will reply: “Tu lah kita panggil ggenang.” That’s what we call ggenang. Ask another for directions, and the reply will most probably be, “Kot tu lah kot!” That’s probably the way.

But in one situation a Trengganuspeaker is certain about what he/she is looking for or thinking about. I’ve heard this said many times: “Höh aku dok mmikir pasa nnatang apa takdi?” [about some lost chain of thought], or “Mana dia nnatang tu Mek?” [about some lost things]. And here the lost physical object or abstract thought is referred to simply as nnatang, the beast. And that brings me to my all time favourite: "Kita lupa dök setarang nök bawök nnatang tu!" or its richer, fuller version: "Kita lupa dök setarang nök bawök nnatang tu, döh nök wak guane setabok!"**

*Stuart Chase, Power of Words, Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc., NY; 1954

** "Drats, I forgot to bring that darn thing, can you believe that!"

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Tuesday, February 13, 2007

10. How To...Co'ko

Sometimes in this hurly-burly whirdy-girdy business of life you have to call a stop, to put your life on hold so to speak. In life this may be hard as all those people who are wheezing past are probably not game for that. But in the more serious business of to [q.v.] or wök [q.v.] you can do just that by resorting to the co’ko that puts everything to a halt. It was from there that the idea of the ‘pause’ button on your video or DVD player originated.

Co’ko is probably one of those pure Trengganuspeak words because it incorporates a glottal stop. It may seem a spurious idea but in the mad rush of to or wök the pause is badly needed as a co’koer is often compelled to ask for pause in the middle of a hot pursuit, and the glottal stop gives him or her just enough time to catch a little breath. When a co’ko is thus declared, everything comes to a stop and everyone repairs to the shade.

There are people who draw comparisons between co’ko and the event that took place in the trenches in in WWI Europe, when the Germans and the Brits called for a Christmas eve break and were soon outside the trenches in a friendly football match. Co’ko isn’t at all like that, for the first rule of co’ko is that you don’t stop a game in point to start another sport. Co’ko is an oasis in the desert, the Milo van on a hot day during school break, for its main purpose is to replenish lost energy, not to re-divert.

It helps of course if the caller of co’ko is the biggest in the crowd, or if he or she is the owner of the kör [q.v.] in a game of wök. Here size and/or ownership is an advantage because the other rule of co’ko is that it really must stick. The other aspect of co’ko is that the co’koed party is often from the marginalised in a playgroup, whose inclusion in the playing crowd is only at the pleasure of those who call the shots.

Too many spurious co’kos make the person against whom it is called a veritable lepèk , i.e. one who is incapable of rising above the position of an underdog. In to or wök the underdog is the searcher/puruser in a chase that involves seeking players beneath houses, in disused wells, or in the rök. As if the co’ko isn’t enough, being lepèked is to be punished and humiliated, and the duration of the sentence is expressed in this rhyming couplet:
Pè’li watakollang,
Lepèk sekali, berbulang-bulang.
You can be co’koed more than once in a day, but you’ll be a lepèk for months after that.

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Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Mat Sprong Ngilla Sapa Ddarak II

Part II of the latest exploits of Trengganu's most famous private dick, Mat Sprong. For Part I, go here.

Mat Sprong göbör perok, dada ddebor dak-dak. Dalang hati dia ada dua perasaang dok nnoneng: nak tahu ccapor denge takut. Di leher dia ada ggatong kaing kuning bbalot satu benda kecik, diikat denge tali hitang keliling tekök — macang ddalang cerita hindustang bila orang muda nök gi ggomo denge pok sauk. Kadang-kadang dia berasa serabuk, tapi kerja kena buak jugök sebab pitis takdok sekepeng ddalang pokek.

Bila lepah pejabak polis, Cik Kaleh pèro teksi dia ke kanang, takdök orang laing setarang habok, dök napok ssatu benda, cuma nnatang kecik sepuluh dua-belas ekor dok terbang ddalang cahaya malap lampu teksi Cik Kaleh, bunyi ggateh dia kerek-kerek dddalang gelap.

“Ba’ape yang mung bawök aku ikut Jalang Jèrak ni Leh, bukang mung tau aku dok tengöh seria perok?” Tangang Mat kketör sikik-sikik, ppeloh nneleh dari ppala dia, panas sejok, panas sejok.

Mula-mula Cik Kaleh buak dök, dia gateh teksi making jauh masuk ddalang malang pekat, gelak gelemat. Krek-krek! Krek-krek!

“Aku dök tau Mat,” kata Cik Kaleh tiba-tiba bila teksi dia lalu ddepang pokok sena dekat jalang bekok.

“Apa yang mung dök tau Leh?” tanya Mat, ppala dia ppaling kkiri kanang sambil dia dok ngellik bbawöh hood. Dari jauh bbunying macang burong hantu, ook-ook. Ddepang jalang sekor bewök nnitah, macang beroya darak. Cik Kaleh pèro kkanang cepak-cepak, Mat masuk ccelöh jari hood teksi sapa ppala dia keresök. Mat dök kata apa-apa, dengör suara Cik Kaleh je ddalang gelak, “Hisy nnatang bewök ning, kalu aku langgor mapuh kerah kang!”

“Mak, aku dök tau mung paka azimak,” tiba-tiba Cik Kaleh tukör tajok. “Aku dok tengok dari takdi dok koteng-koteng bbawöh dagu mung macang buah gomok. Mung ingat aku dök napok.”

Mat lepas selalu jari dia hök dok urut tali azimak di keliling tekök. Mula-mula dia nök buat dök je bila dengör kata Cik Kaleh tapi dia tahu kalu dia wak ggitu making lama jjadi making parök.

“Tapi ba’ape yang mung bawak kita lalu kot Jalang Jèrak malang-malang nnari ning, mung dök takut ke?” tanya Mat.

Making masuk jauh ddalang gelak making bising bbunyi kerek-kerek ggateh teksi Cik Kaleh ddalang keadaang senyap sunyi. Dari jauh napok api di tiang Wailis; bunyi burung hantu uuuuuk, uuuuk! making dekat. Perut Mat making kecut, tapi Cik Kalih molek-molek ada, ketör pong dök, sejuk pong dök.

“Kang mung suroh aku bawök mung gi ddarak? Kot ninglah dekat,” dia jawab.

Mat ngelloh panjang, mata tengök ssana sining, mmusing ligak. “Nasib baik aku ada paka azimak ning, Leh, kalu tidök habih macang-macang jenis polong keluör nngusek. Tapi mung gohek dderas sikik aku döh nök kecing ketik-ketik!”

“Aku tau mung takut Mak, tapi mung jangang pacör kecing ddalang teksi aku nati sia maja orang takmboh naik setabok,” Cik Kaleh angkat suara dia, bbunyi macang ggaung dalang gelak.

“Leh, mung jangang buak beraning. Bila kita sapa ddarak aku nök tunjok kat mung nnatang jing hök dok usek aku. Lepah tu aku nök bawök mung gi rumöh ttina garek hök upöh aku selesa masaalöh dia ning,” jawab Mat.

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Monday, February 05, 2007

Left Is Right

A friend, an expert in English phonetics who’d spent most of his life looking at English mores and verbs, pointed out to me the other day something that I’d never thought about. “You know,” he said, “in Malaysia, the left bank of the river is on the right.”

“How’s that?” I asked, brushing croissant crumbs from the left side of my shirt (that was his right).

“The Malays prefer to live upstream, so they look down the river to the Kuala and the English left is their right,” he said.

I thought of Kuala Trengganu and began to doubt his word, but no, the glory days of Trengganu were in Kuala Brang which was the trading centre where went Admiral Cheng Ho and many other notables, including the man who carved the inscribed stone, our Batu Bersurat. The present royal house of Trengganu, in fact, started in Kuala Brang after they came down from Johor via Patani.

But the Malays aren’t a culture best defined by this side or that (and I’m saying this as one who’s married to a lady who doesn’t know her left from right) preferring to use, in their speech references, to the direction of the sunrise or set (and latterly the qiblat), or the direction of the blowing wind. Occasionally, they refer to points of the compass, but even then they appear to be pretty jumbled up in spite of being children of a seafaring race. In Trengganu, for instance, Kelantan people are known as orang barat (western people) though they aren’t exactly there on the map, while the rest of the people from the peninsular’s other parts are simply known as ‘outsiders’ or orang luar. On their own patch, people were divided into two: orang kuala (people of the rivermouth) and orang darat (people of the interior, hinterland). To make it even more confusing, in the Tanjong where we lived (around the bay by the rivermouth, and looking out to the sea), folk from Kuala Ibai which was a mere four miles from us, were orang darat, as immortalised in this pejorative verse:
Orang darak Kuala Iba,
Mulut birak bibir teba.
The telling point is that Kuala Iba (standardspeak, Ibai) was (as is) on the shoreline of the South China Sea, and its folk could well have waved their batik lepas (rectangular piece of unsewn batik) at the fleet of Cheng Ho aka Zheng He even before we could see his gonfalons at the rivermouth.

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