Friday, April 13, 2007

A Chinese Signboard Written in the Jawi Script

I went on a short trip to Johor, Malaysia, in October 2006. It was quite fascinating to see lots of signs written in the Jawi script, an Arabic-derived script devised to represent the Malay language. One of the most exciting moments was when I saw this signboard at a Chinese-owned bank called Hong Leong Bank (豊隆銀行), which was written in Chinese, Latin and Jawi characters. The Jawi part would be transliterated as something like hong lyong bengk, with the notable ε-shaped velar nasal character - 'ayn with three dots on it - which is not found in the original Arabic script.
I found this particularly interesting because it was an actual example of the Jawi script used to write a Chinese name. While there are similar cases attested in historical texts, I am not certain if such usage is still wide-spread in Malaysia today. My impression is that the use of Jawi is on the rise among the Malays especially in the southern part of the country, where I met several people who would write their names in this script.

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