Explorer language encapsulated in Hokkien

When I was a toddler, my Penang side grandparents will sometime get worry when I was exploring around their village and they like to say

"囡仔囝毋通一四界走 / 一四界趖!" - gín‑á‑kiánn m̄‑thang tsit‑sì‑kè tsáu / tsit‑sì‑kè‑sô

Idiomatic English:

Hey kid, don't run around everywhere or "crawl" around!

toddler running around. not me!

unsplash-logoGuillaume de Germain

and when I was in Singapore, my Singapore side grandmother will tell me to eat properly and not to mess up the dining table.

"莫食甲一四界!" - mài tsiah kah tsit‑sì‑kè

Idiomatic English:

Don't eat until your food(rice) dropped everywhere!

eat until rice droppings everywhere

unsplash-logoDragne Marius

Later on I found out that this phrase

一四界 tsit‑sì‑kè

means to go from one to four corners(markings) of the world. A short form of 一四世界.

Or in literal form, this phrase encapsulated the meaning of "starting from one place and go to North-北, South-南, East-東, West-西."

After reaching the first(一) destination, what to do next? Go everywhere, 規四界 kui‑sì‑kuè to fill up the ship's cargo hold till full, 滿四界 muá‑sì‑kuè.

Being a coastal province of China, it is natural for the inhabitants of Hokkien(Fujian) province to explore beyond the shores of China and over time some of these phrases had become a verb in Hokkien language. For example,

那行那食(看) ná kiânn ná tsiah (khuànn)

Idiomatic English:

Keep going and keep earning or some version - keep going and keep looking


eat potato soup in foreign land instead of rice

unsplash-logoRiccardo Bergamini


Idiomatic English:

Only worry when the time arrives or when we reach our destination, if there's no rice to eat, we eat potato soup.

This phrase means that once set sail, don't worry so much about the next destination, when we arrive in foreign countries and ran out of rice to eat, we eat "foreign roots"(potato) soup. Basically, it means try to adapt to the local food.

Back in those days, sea faring traders use different types of money. However, rice is commonly accepted as an exchangeable commodity for money.

If one runs out of rice and money, then depend on the sea for living.

一日討海,三日曝網 tsi̍t ji̍t thó‑hái, sann ji̍t pha̍k bāng

Idiomatic English:

Spend one day fishing, spend three days drying the net under the sun.

Exploration record of the Hokkien people.

From the ancient written records of Ryukyu Kingdom's 歷代寶案li̍k tāi pó àn (Japanese : rekidai hoan, Simplied Chinese: 历代宝案)

a page 歷代寶案li̍k tāi pó àn, rekidai hoan, 历代宝案

It was written that many Hokkien seafarers explored and settled in parts of Asia outside China. Including the 36 families from Hokkien(Fujian) instructed by the Ming Emperor to relocate to the Ryukyu Kingdom(present day Okinawa) in 1392. I guess one has to read the 歷代寶案(li̍k tāi pó àn,rekidai hoan) through the lens of Hokkien language or to be more precise... with the Okinawan: 琉球國 Ruuchuu-kuku language instead of Mandarin to truly understand the meaning.

Till today, the Hokkien people still 一四界走 tsit‑sì‑kè tsáu, migrating here and there.

Hokkien people still 一四界走 tsit‑sì‑kè tsáu


As a language evolves, overtime ... just like in many languages around the world. A phrase will slowly become a verb - such as in present day English, Google = search on internet

Just like in Mandarin how 賣買東西 = to buy-sell-east-west or Buy from East and Sell to West originated from the Silk Road has become a verb for trading.

Maybe one day One Belt One Road 一帶一路 will become a verb for a new meaning.

If the Hokkien language dies off, the encapsulated knowledge repository such as 一四界走 will be gone as well. Let's hope it will not be the case.

Globe image credit:

unsplash-logoKyle Glenn


For most people, the following mean the same.

  1. 一四界 tsit‑sì‑kuè

  2. 规四界 kui‑sì‑kuè

  3. 满四界 muá‑sì‑kuè

However, according to the proper usage.

  1. 一四界 = before, planning to or going to.

  2. 规四界 = spread or been to everywhere.

  3. 满四界 = already happened everywhere.

  See also : Interpreting Hokkien, Jawi(Malay) and Tamil stone inscriptions found in Bukit Cina, Melaka

By Adam Ng(黃武俊)

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