Tan Hak Heng in Jawi

This brought a smile to my face when I saw it, walking along a road in Johor Bahru. A Chinese name written in Jawi script as well.


What is Jawi? Wikipedia explains it:

Jawi (Jawi: جاوي‎ Jāwī; Pattani: Yawi; Acehnese: Jawoë) is an Arabic alphabet for writing the Malay language, Acehnese, Banjarese, Minangkabau, and several other languages in Southeast Asia.

Jawi is one of the two official scripts in Brunei, and is used as an alternate script in Malaysia. Usage wise, it was the standard script for the Malay language but has since been replaced by a Latin alphabet called Rumi, and Jawi has since been relegated to a script used for religious and cultural purposes. Day-to-day usage of Jawi is maintained in more conservative Malay-populated areas such as Kelantan in (northern) Malaysia and Pattani (in southern Thailand).

It interests me because I am learning Arabic, in weekly lessons, and as I learn every new word in the regular Roman script, I find myself looking for the word as spelt in the actual Arabic script. It’s not listed in the course I’m using, so I have to look for it online. And it has slowed down my learning quite a lot ever since I started doing this, because I’m basically learning to spell with a different script than the Roman letters I’m used to. The effort is worth it, though. It helps with making sure I get the correct pronunciation, I find.

And sometimes as I do that, I think of how wonderful it would be if the Malay language still solely uses Jawi, because I think it’s largely a lost art in many parts of the Malay-speaking world. In terms of everyday usage by the Malays, I mean. We already learned the Roman script in school to read and write English, so it would be nice to have ‘our own’ script for our Malay language, just like the Chinese has for their Mandarin language, and the Indians for their Tamil language, here in Singapore.

I regret not taking an interest to learn it from my late father, who was not only well-versed in writing Malay in Jawi script, but was skillful in Arabic calligraphy, so he wrote beautifully. He was very artistic. Whereas here I am, my writing so comically awful, as I practise writing in Arabic alphabets as I spell out the words I learn. I hope it will improve over time.

Looking at the name ‘Tan Hak Heng‘ in Jawi in the photos made me smile and laugh to myself because it reminded me of when I first tried to write my own name months ago. I was embarrassed to discover I got it so wrong, haha! Fortunately for us Malays in Singapore, our name in Jawi script is actually provided in our national Identity Card (which is pretty cool, actually), so I know the correct spelling.



Day 35

happy meter: pleasantly surprised

8 thoughts on “Tan Hak Heng in Jawi

  1. Interesting, I hadn’t heard of the Jawi script till now.
    So I guess you are following your late fathers footsteps by learning Arabic. Or is there another reason, like a move to the middle east or something.
    By the way the national language of India is Hindi. Tamil is spoken only in the state of Tamil Nadu, in South India, and in Northern Sri Lanka.
    It’s a common misconception. North Indian’s think all of Sri Lanka speaks Tamil. And Sri Lankans think all of India speaks Tamil. I tend to get tired of explaining to both Indians and Lankans ;(

    • It was actually to learn the holy book of my Muslim faith the Quran, in an effort to ‘absorb’ it better in its language. But the funny thing is that I approached the Arabic language the wrong way, I think. I picked up a course more to do with conversational Arabic. I thought, you know, learn the basics of Arabic before moving on to the more complicated flowery language. After all, a newbie to the English language won’t jump into Shakespeare, right? But after I started, I learned/realised this is not the right way because it will take me many more years. I should have just focused on learning the words of the Quran, and build my vocab from there to read the sentences, as in, spend all my learning time focused on that.

      However, I had already bought my book+CDs set, and I’ve always hated not finishing what I started, so I’m going to slowly go through that first till completion.

      As for Tamil, oh sorry I wasn’t clear enough: I meant for Singapore, where Tamil is one of our official languages, as the Indians here (whose ancestors were largely from Tamil Nadu I guess) are one of our major groups (alongside Chinese, Malays and Eurasians). I will now edit that paragraph to reflect what I mean more clearly. Thanks, Nuwan!

      That’s interesting what you said about the common misconception between North Indians and Sri Lankans, haha! Cheers.

      • OK, that makes a lot more sense. Yes, I guess Indians in Singapore are mainly Tamil descendants.
        So, as Muslim, had you read an English translation of the Quran earlier?
        Good luck with your Arabic, and reading the Quran in Arabic.
        And Thanks for reminding me of Shakespeare, great fan of his tragedies. ‘Hamlet’ is my favourite. Which do you like the most?

        • Yes, I have.

          Thank you for the kind wishes!

          Macbeth. It was the very first Shakespearean play I came across, having had to learn it in Literature class in secondary school, but I loved it so it stayed with me, and still is my favourite. I haven’t read many of his plays by the way, and have yet to read Hamlet.

  2. So lovely that you’re learning a new language! The problem that I have with learning languages is that I’m too afraid to speak them so it’s very difficult to learn. I seem to have some avoidance issues in that I don’t like to be wrong, so if I don’t try it then I won’t have to worry about messing up and obliterating someone else’s beautiful language. It’s kind of silly, I know. I admire you for carrying on. Even though you may think that your attempts are clumsy, you’ll get there with practice. And you’re probably better at it than you think. :)

    • Thanks, Buffy!

      Oh you shouldn’t be afraid to be wrong when it comes to practising to speak and write the new language. I think it is inevitable we would make some or even a lot of mistakes as we go along, and that’s just part of the journey. And I don’t think the (reasonable) native speaker would ever mind. If anything, they would be charmed and flattered you are putting in the effort to learn their language even though it would take up a lot of your time and effort. I read your avoidance issues as you simply not wanting to disrespect the language by getting it wrong, which is admirable and definitely not silly. But don’t let that get in the way, if anything, you learning the new language shows how fond you are of that language and the people and culture its from. So that’s always a compliment for them.

      Thanks so much for the encouragement, it’s much appreciated! Cheers.

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