21 June 2009

The Origins of Cewek...


I almost became a linguist once. I even started taking courses in it as part of my first undergraduate degree. But, then life took a slightly different course and my university studies followed suit.

Cewek is a colloquial term for a woman. It is mostly used with younger women and girls. It is most prevalent in the Betawi culture / language. The Betawi people are mix of most of Indonesia's many ethnic cultures that migrated to Jakarta and made Jakarta their home. Over the centuries there are definite Chinese, Arab, and even Dutch bloodlines in the Betawi.

However, it is the Hokkien dialect that seems most likely to be responsible for the word cewek. In the Hokkien dialect there exists the word ciwe, which is the word for the female genitals, and it is suspected that over time this came to be the basis of the word cewek. (There is probably a post to be made here about the inherent racist nature of the word bule and how it has evolved over time...nah)

If this is linguistically correct I wonder how many women are comfortable being called female genitals, such as in the phrase, "Hey cewek!"

24 comments:

lawling said...

If that's true then what about "cowok"??

I dare not ask??

Rob Baiton said...

Lawling...

Then, I dare not answer!

It is actually pretty tame for cowok.

johnorford said...

wow that's interesting! i've always been fascinated by etymology...

Harry Nizam H. said...

It's the first time that I read an explanation about the origin of Cewek. Thank you.

Rob Baiton said...

John...

I found it interesting too. That is why I posted it. I also posted it just in case there are people who read this humble little blog that might be able to provide other insights.

Harry...

Always looking for something a little different to post. I had heard something about this possibility in the past, as someone I once met was doing their PhD on the Indonesian language and this was mentioned along with some other interesting tid bits.

A Feminist Blog said...

Hmmm ...
Agree with John, it is interesting to know this. :D

lawsugg said...

check the word for girl in Sundanese - is it a candidate as well??

Rob Baiton said...

AFB...

Thanks for dropping by and commenting. As I said, I found it interesting too and hence the post.

Lawsugg...

Rather than be quite so challenging, particularly for those of us that might not yet have the same degree of fluency in Sundanese, tell us what the Sundanese is for girl (I only know the Sundanese word for pretty).

lawch said...

I think the commentary boxes should be a bit of a challenge; nevertheless on authority of my office lads the words are: yang halus - Neng gelis; yang kasar Awewe(k). The latter could be related to Cewek??

Rob Baiton said...

Lawch...

Yes, the comment boxes can be a bit of a challenge. I would have figured though that the challenge was whether there was any relationship between the words than to go out and find the Sundanese.

Funnily enough, if I had thought about it a little bit I would have worked out the Awek2. I guess I know more Sundanese than I thought.

"Neng geulis" I know as well. It is always a good phrase to know when traveling in places like Bandung.

Have you done a search for awek2 (let's say on google)? What sort of results are you getting?

I will have to do a little research now, but I would think that one might be able to construct an argument for awek2 rather than neng geulis.

Now, all I need is a little motivation to do that research. Alternatively, you could do it and then enlighten us :D

lawhot said...

sorry right now Im off to eat Mie aceh

Rob Baiton said...

Lawhot...

Sounds good! Where?

lawmunch said...

Ben hIll - Seulawah - ended up with shark curry at 20k.

My Sundanese is limited to animals, plants, and food dishes - dont get me wrong. I just dont go for the Chinese etymology

Rob Baiton said...

Lawmunch...

I am hoping some of the Acehnese that live in and around Sydney have decided to open up a little shopfront warung serving Mie Aceh so that I can get my Mie Aceh fix a little more regularly than once a year (if I get back to Jakarta that often).

Why not on the Chinese etymology? The Chinese have been resident in Indonesia for a very long time and there are plenty of examples of borrowing, particularly in the trading sector. So, it is not beyond the realm of possibility, is it?

lawety said...

true ,,,, what about M#m#k?? Chinese also??

Rob Baiton said...

Lawety...

I see that you cannot bring yourself to write the word in all of its glory! :D

I have not done the research, yet, so I cannot honestly say. While I am being honest and truth be told, I had not even thought about it.

tikno said...

The word "cewek" also well known in Bali and East Kalimantan, the place I ever live for a long time.

Rob Baiton said...

Tikno...

I am guessing this is part of the point of the post, the idea of seeing what people think about the etymology.

That said, there are a lot of Indonesian-Chinese in Kalimantan, right? Is Hokkien a dialect spoken there?

Bali, I wonder whether this is something that has transferred through contact or can we trace the origins of cewek to something from the Balinese past?

tikno said...

There are Hokkien, but there are more Cantonese and Hakka in East Kalimantan.

Maybe you right. The word "cewek" become popular through social contact, such as the other slank phrase "lo" (mean "anda").

I think the use of slank words from the dialog in some "sinetron" for young people also play a role.

Rob Baiton said...

Tikno...

Thanks for pointing out the ethnic breakdown. That is information that I would have to go and search for if you had not told me.

The post is not really about slang, although I guess it could be, but rather trying to identify whether cewek could have derived from the Hokkien...

Kris said...

OK, I asked some experts on Malay etymology and they said it's rather unlikely it's a loan from Hokkien, as this word is spread out all over the (Malay-and-Javanese-speaking) region, even in some remote regions in Sumatra where it couldn't have been borrowed from Hokkien....

Cowok is a frequent sound change in Javanese, as evidenced by many Javanese names ending in -o (usually from -a, but the I think there are cases with different vowels as well).

Rob Baiton said...

Kris...

Thanks for dropping by and leaving a comment.

The arguments for "cowok" I have heard before. As I have said, I am not a specialist etymologist here so I cannot (and do not purport to) speak with authority on this one.

The Hokkien angle was an interesting one. They are spread out all over the place as well. But, your points are taken and I will defer to your colleagues (or friends) who are a lot more skilled than I in this field.

Once again, thanks for commenting. I do appreciate comments.

Kris said...

Rob,

yeah if you want, I can give you the credentials and affiliation of the person I asked by PM.

Publicly I would like to restrict myself to stating that it was a specialist in Malay-Indonesian etymology...

Rob Baiton said...

Kris...

Not necessary on the credentials or affiliations.

I believe you. The whole point of the post was to see what responses there would be, if any, and maybe I would learn a thing or two into the bargain.

Which I seem to have accomplished :D