Tiger mothering aside, what is "Chua"?
I’m sure we’ve all read the article and engaged in lots of discussion over the supposed superiority of Chinese mothers. Amy Chua says she’s Chinese, but “Chua” is certainly not pinyin. Of course there are lots of different kinds of ways to romanize Chinese but “chua” doesn’t seem to want to map onto any mandarin syllable.
I asked a fellow sinoblogger, and he cracked “maybe it’s short for Chihuahua”. She does kind of look like one:
And did in her younger days:
This could go on forever, but we’re supposed to be talking about language here; maybe in the style of “Bush or Chimp?” someone could start a website called “Chua or Chihuahua?” (If you watch her videos, you’ll be even more convinced.)
So where did her name come from? I thought it was going to take a bit of sleuthing, but found the answer very quickly. My plan was to type “Amy Chua” into the Hong Kong Google site so most of the results would be in Chinese. That way I’d have a good chance of seeing what the character for Chua is. But Wikipedia was one of the first results, and the answer was right there: 蔡 (cài). Later in the article it mentions that her family’s native “dialect” is Hokkien. Since Hokkien is spoken here in Xiamen, I went down to the little store in my neighborhood and asked the shop owner how you say 蔡 (cài) in Minnan (Hokkien is a subdivision of Minnan). He replied:
Here’s another take, from my next-door-neighbor:
The only way I could think of romanizing that would of course be “chua”.
[It was my intention to just include one example from each person, but notice the difference in quality of the /a/ in the two female voice examples. She didn’t say them so close together originally; they were a few seconds apart, but I cut out the space in the middle from the recording.]