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Singlish

[Categories: Singapore, English dialects]


Singlish is the Quick Facts about: English
An Indo-European language belonging to the West Germanic branch; the official language of Britain and the United States and most of the Commonwealth countries
English-based Quick Facts about: creole
A mother tongue that originates from contact between two languages
creole spoken colloquially in Quick Facts about: Singapore
A country in southeastern Asia on the island of Singapore; achieved independence from Malaysia in 1965
Singapore. Singlish formally takes after Quick Facts about: British English
Quick Summary not found for this subject
British English (in terms of spelling and Quick Facts about: abbreviation
A shortened form of a word or phrase
abbreviations), although naming conventions are in a mix of American and British ones. For instance, local media have "sports pages" (sport in British English) and "soccer coverage" (the use of the word "soccer" is not common in British media).


Overview


Singlish began life with the arrival of the British and the establishment of Quick Facts about: English language
An Indo-European language belonging to the West Germanic branch; the official language of Britain and the United States and most of the Commonwealth countries
English language schools in Singapore. Soon, Quick Facts about: English
An Indo-European language belonging to the West Germanic branch; the official language of Britain and the United States and most of the Commonwealth countries
English filtered out of schools and onto the streets, to be learned by non-English-speakers in a Quick Facts about: pidgin
An artificial language used for trade between speakers of different languages
pidgin-like form for communication purposes. After some time, this new form of English, now loaded with substantial influences from Quick Facts about: Indian English
Quick Summary not found for this subject
Indian English, Quick Facts about: Baba
A small cake leavened with yeast
Baba Malay, and the southern varieties of Quick Facts about: Chinese
Any of the Sino-Tibetan languages spoken in China; regarded as dialects of a single language (even though they are mutually unintelligible) because they share an ideographic writing system
Chinese, began to be learned "natively" in its own right. Quick Facts about: Creolization
Quick Summary not found for this subject
Creolization occurred, and Singlish then became a fully-formed, stabilized, and independent English creole.

Singlish is best thought of as a Quick Facts about: continuum
A continuous nonspatial whole or extent or succession in which no part or portion is distinct of distinguishable from adjacent parts
continuum. In Singlish's case, the continuum runs through the following varieties:

Quick Facts about: Acrolect
Quick Summary not found for this subject
Acrolectal
: This is the most "high-class" form of speech, used by the well-educated in formal situations. Acrolectal Singaporean English is basically identical to formal Quick Facts about: British English
Quick Summary not found for this subject
British English, except that a "toned-down" version of Singlish pronunciation is used. For example, speakers of acrolectal Singaporean English attempt to restore the Quick Facts about: phoneme
(linguistics) one of a small set of speech sounds that are distinguished by the speakers of a particular language
phonemes /θ/ and // (as in thin and then).

Mesolectal: This is "middle-class" Singlish, and is used in formal and semi-formal situations. At this level, features not found in other forms of English begin to emerge.

Quick Facts about: Basilect
Quick Summary not found for this subject
Basilectal
: This is "street" Singlish, and is used by everyone, educated or not, in informal settings. Here can be found all of the unique Quick Facts about: phonological
Quick Summary not found for this subject
phonological, lexical, and Quick Facts about: grammatical
Quick Summary not found for this subject
grammatical features of Singlish, which will be the subject of the rest of this article.

Quick Facts about: Pidgin
An artificial language used for trade between speakers of different languages
Pidgin
: This is the "pidgin" level of Singlish, which is probably a good representative of an earlier stage of Singlish, before Quick Facts about: creolization
Quick Summary not found for this subject
creolization took place and solidified Singlish as a fully-formed creole. Like all Quick Facts about: pidgin
An artificial language used for trade between speakers of different languages
pidgins, speakers at the pidgin level speak another language as a first language, and Singlish as a second language. However, since many people today learn Singlish natively, the number of speakers at the "pidgin" level of Singlish is dwindling. (By definition, a pidgin is not learned natively.)

When Singaporeans speak to each other, mixing of Singlish with other languages, such as Quick Facts about: Chinese
Any of the Sino-Tibetan languages spoken in China; regarded as dialects of a single language (even though they are mutually unintelligible) because they share an ideographic writing system
Chinese dialects, Quick Facts about: Malay
A member of a people inhabiting the northern Malay Peninsula and Malaysia and parts of the western Malay Archipelago
Malay, or Indian languages such as Quick Facts about: Tamil
The Dravidian language spoken since prehistoric times by the Tamil people in southern India and Sri Lanka
Tamil occurs very frequently. In fact, a sentence can begin in Singlish, switch languages several times along the way, and end up as another language. However, this can only occur if all participants of the conversation can already speak both Singlish and the language(s) into which they are switching. This article will therefore talk only about "pure" Singlish—the kind that may go on in a conversation between a Chinese, a Malay, and an Indian. Such speech will still contain Asian words, but those will be considered Quick Facts about: loanword
A word borrowed from another language; e.g. `blitz' is a German word borrowed into modern English
loanwords fully incorporated into Singlish, because everyone can understand them, regardless of what other Asian languages they may speak.

Politics

Due to its origins, Singlish shares many similarities with Quick Facts about: pidgin
An artificial language used for trade between speakers of different languages
pidgin varieties of English, and can easily give off the impression of "broken English" or "bad English" to a speaker of some other, less divergent variety of English. In addition, the profusion of Singlish features, especially Quick Facts about: loanword
A word borrowed from another language; e.g. `blitz' is a German word borrowed into modern English
loanwords from Asian languages, Quick Facts about: mood
Verb inflections that express how the action or state is conceived by the speaker
mood Quick Facts about: particles
A body having finite mass and internal structure but negligible dimensions
particles, and Quick Facts about: topic-prominent
Quick Summary not found for this subject
topic-prominent structure, can easily make Singlish downright incomprehensible to a Brit or American. As a result, the Singaporean government considers Singlish a handicap, and in the interest of promoting equality and better communication with the rest of the world has launched the Quick Facts about: Speak Good English Movement
Quick Summary not found for this subject
Speak Good English Movement to eradicate it, at least from formal usage. In recent years, the use of Singlish on television or radio is proliferating as localised Singlish is more popular among the general public.

Most Singaporeans, on the other hand, think "bladi Gahmen si peh kaypoh one,
why always so bedek kacang horh". This sentence can be approximately broken down into:

"bladi Gahmen" - bloody Government
"si peh" - very (from Hokkien Chinese)
"kaypoh" - busybody (from Hokkien)
"one" - emphatic particle
"why always so" - indication of harbored displeasure
"bedek kacang" - lit. 'aiming at peanuts' (Malay); in this sentence, can probably be taken to mean 'meddlesome' or 'annoying'
"horh?" - Chinese prompt for affirmation, somewhat like n'est-ce pas? of French.

Phonology

Singlish Quick Facts about: pronunciation
The manner in which someone utters a word
pronunciation, while built on a base of Quick Facts about: British English
Quick Summary not found for this subject
British English, is also heavily influenced by Chinese and Malay.

The phonology of Singlish:

Consonants

































































  bilabial labiodental alveolar postalveolar palatal velar glottal
Quick Facts about: stops
A gambling card game in which chips are placed on the ace and king and queen and jack of separate suits (taken from a separate deck); a player plays the lowest card of a suit in his hand and successively higher cards are played until the sequence stops; t
stops
p b   t d     k g  
affricates       tʃ dʒ      
fricatives   f (v) s (z) ʃ (ʒ)     h
Quick Facts about: nasals
An elongated rectangular bone that forms the bridge of the nose
nasals
m   n     ŋ  
Quick Facts about: laterals
A pass to a receiver upfield from the passer
laterals
    l        
approximants w   r   j    

(See Quick Facts about: International Phonetic Alphabet
Quick Summary not found for this subject
International Phonetic Alphabet for an in-depth guide to the symbols.)

In general:

The Quick Facts about: unvoiced
Quick Summary not found for this subject
unvoiced Quick Facts about: stop
A brief stay in the course of a journey
stops and affricate—/p/, /t/, /k/, /tʃ/ chin—are sometimes unaspirated, especially at the basilectal level. (Quick Facts about: Aspiration
A will to succeed
Aspiration refers to a puff of air.) In other varieties of English, these Quick Facts about: phoneme
(linguistics) one of a small set of speech sounds that are distinguished by the speakers of a particular language
phonemes are usually aspirated, especially at the beginning of a word. The general effect of this is that, the Singlish pronunciation of pat, tin and come may sometimes seem closer to bat, din, and gum than other varieties of English.

The Quick Facts about: voiced
Quick Summary not found for this subject
voiced fricatives—/v/, /z/, /ʒ/ vision—are unstable at the basilectal level, and may be substituted with other Quick Facts about: phoneme
(linguistics) one of a small set of speech sounds that are distinguished by the speakers of a particular language
phonemes, e.g. bery for very, gero for zero. (This is much rarer outside the basilectal level.) In syllable-final positions they merge with their Quick Facts about: unvoiced
Quick Summary not found for this subject
unvoiced counterparts—see point 6 below.

The dental fricatives—/θ/ thin and // then—merge into /t/ and /d/, but the distinction is restored in acrolectal speech.

The distinction between /l/ and /r/ is not stable at the basilectal level, as evinced by TV personality Phua Chu Kang's oft-repeated refrain to "Use your blain!".

/l/ is lost after /ɔ/, /o/, /u/, and for some basilectal speakers, /ə/. Hence pall = paw, roll = row, tool = two, and for some, pearl = per.

[ʔ], the Quick Facts about: glottal stop
A stop consonant articulated by releasing pressure at the glottis; as in the sudden onset of a vowel
glottal stop, is inserted at the beginning of all words starting with a vowel. (compare with Quick Facts about: German
A person of German nationality
German) As a result, final consonants do not run onto the next word. For example, "run out of energy" would be "run-nout-tof-venergy" in most dialects of English, but "run 'out 'of 'energy" in Singlish.

[ʔ] also replaces final consonants of Quick Facts about: syllable
A unit of spoken language larger than a phoneme
syllables in regular-speed speech, especially Quick Facts about: stops
A gambling card game in which chips are placed on the ace and king and queen and jack of separate suits (taken from a separate deck); a player plays the lowest card of a suit in his hand and successively higher cards are played until the sequence stops; t
stops: Goodwood Park becomes Gu'-wu' Pa' . The plural -s in particular is almost always omitted, since Chinese does not distinguish between single and plural nouns.

Plosives are "geminate" (or double-length) if occurring in the middle of a word. Hence better /bɛt:ə/, enter /ɛnt:ə/.

In slower speech, final consonants are pronounced fully (though Quick Facts about: stop
A brief stay in the course of a journey
stops are not released, like Quick Facts about: American English
The English language as used in the United States
American English -t and -d). However, Quick Facts about: voicing
The act of adjusting an organ pipe (or wind instrument) so that it conforms to the standards of tone and pitch and color
voicing distinction—i.e. /p/ & /b/, /t/ & /d/, etc.—are usually not kept in final consonants. This affects fricatives more than Quick Facts about: stop
A brief stay in the course of a journey
stops. As a result, peace = peas, let = led, and so forth.

Final consonant clusters simplify, especially fast speech. In general, Quick Facts about: stop
A brief stay in the course of a journey
stops, especially /t/ and /d/, are lost if they come after another consonant : bent = Ben, act = ack, nest = Ness.

Vowels

Quick Facts about: Monophthong
Quick Summary not found for this subject
Monophthongs

























  Quick Facts about: front
The side that is seen or that goes first
front
Quick Facts about: central
A workplace that serves as a telecommunications facility where lines from telephones can be connected together to permit communication
central
Quick Facts about: back
The position of a player on a football team who is stationed behind the line of scrimmage
back
Quick Facts about: close
The concluding part of any performance
close
Quick Facts about: i
The 9th letter of the Roman alphabet
i
  Quick Facts about: u
The 21st letter of the Roman alphabet
u
Quick Facts about: close-mid
Quick Summary not found for this subject
close-mid
Quick Facts about: e
The 5th letter of the Roman alphabet
e
ə Quick Facts about: o
The 15th letter of the Roman alphabet
o
Quick Facts about: open-mid
Quick Summary not found for this subject
open-mid
Quick Facts about: ɛ
Quick Summary not found for this subject
ɛ
Quick Facts about: ɔ
Quick Summary not found for this subject
ɔ
Quick Facts about: open
Information that has become public
open
  Quick Facts about: ɑ
Quick Summary not found for this subject
ɑ


Diphthongs







ai au ɔi


The vowel system of Singlish can be directly derived by merging vowel Quick Facts about: phoneme
(linguistics) one of a small set of speech sounds that are distinguished by the speakers of a particular language
phonemes in the British Quick Facts about: Received Pronunciation
Quick Summary not found for this subject
Received Pronunciation vowel system. The following describes a typical system. Some speakers may further merge /e/ and /ɛ/; other speakers make a distinction between /i/ and /ɪ/, /ɛ/ and /ɛə/, or /ɑ/ and /ʌ/.

At the acrolectal level, there is some effort to "un-merge" the merged vowel Quick Facts about: phoneme
(linguistics) one of a small set of speech sounds that are distinguished by the speakers of a particular language
phonemes, and to introduce elements from Quick Facts about: American English
The English language as used in the United States
American English, such as Quick Facts about: rhotic
Quick Summary not found for this subject
rhotic vowels (pronouncing the "r" in bird, port, etc.)































































































Singlish Quick Facts about: phoneme
(linguistics) one of a small set of speech sounds that are distinguished by the speakers of a particular language
phoneme
matches Quick Facts about: RP
Quick Summary not found for this subject
RP Quick Facts about: phoneme
(linguistics) one of a small set of speech sounds that are distinguished by the speakers of a particular language
phoneme(s)
as in
/i/ /i/ meet
/ɪ/ pit
/e/ /eɪ/ day
/ɛ/ /ɛ/ set
// map
/ɛə/ hair
/ɑ/ /ɑ/ car
pass
father
/ʌ/ bus
/ɔ/ /ɒ/ mock
/ɔ/ thought
court
/o/ /əʊ/ low
/u/ /u/ room
/ʊ/ put
/ə/ - see below /ɜ/ bird
/ə/ idea
better
/ai/ /ai/ my
/au/ /au/ mouth
/ɔi/ /ɔi/ boy
/iə/ /iə/ here
/uə/ /uə/ tour
/ai jə/ /aiə/ fire
/au wə/ /auə/ power


Two words with idiosyncratic pronunciations:

flour /flɑ/ (expected: /flɑ wə/ = flower)

their /djɑ/ (expected: /dɛ/ = there)

Flour/flower and their/there are therefore not homophones in Singlish.

In general, Singlish vowels are tenser and "purer"—there are no lax vowels (which RP has in pit, put, and so forth), and even the diphthongs are pronounced with less "glide" than the Quick Facts about: diphthong
A vowel sound that starts near the articulatory position for one vowel and moves toward the position for another
diphthongs in RP. Note that the vowels of day and low are pronounced as Quick Facts about: monophthong
Quick Summary not found for this subject
monophthongs—i.e. vowels with no glide.

In addition, where other varieties of English have an unstressed /ə/, reduced from another vowel, such as in accept, example, and so on, Singlish tends to restore the full vowel. This is because Singlish de-emphasizes the role of stress (see section on Quick Facts about: prosody
The patterns of stress and intonation in a language
prosody below).

In loanwords from Hokkien that contain Quick Facts about: nasal
An elongated rectangular bone that forms the bridge of the nose
nasalized vowels, the nasalization is often kept - one prominent example being the Quick Facts about: mood
Verb inflections that express how the action or state is conceived by the speaker
mood Quick Facts about: particle
A body having finite mass and internal structure but negligible dimensions
particle hor, pronounced as /hɔ~/—somewhat (but not quite) like the vowel in French dent.

Quick Facts about: Prosody
The patterns of stress and intonation in a language
Prosody

One of the most prominent and noticeable features of Singlish is its unique intonation pattern, which is quite unlike Quick Facts about: British
The people of Great Britain
British or Quick Facts about: American English
The English language as used in the United States
American English. For example:

Singlish is Quick Facts about: syllable-timed
Quick Summary not found for this subject
syllable-timed compared to other varieties of English (which are mostly stress-timed). This in turn gives Singlish a very rhythmic and Quick Facts about: staccato
Quick Summary not found for this subject
staccato feel.

Pitch contours are more well-defined and distinct in Singlish than in other varieties of English. This makes Singlish sound somewhat like Chinese, a tonal language.

I'm going to comment this part out because I haven't been able to confirm it (not entirely, anyway) in any authoritative source. -- User:Ran|ran User talk:Ran|(talk)

The tone pattern of a given Singlish sentence may be approximated with a series of steps. Taking the following sentences as an example:

(mesolectal)
SENTENCE: How come you so kia- su one ar? Must live life a bit more re- lac lah.


(acrolectal)
SENTENCE: If you ask me to des- cribe my rea- so- ning then I can't pro- vide fur- ther ex- pla- na- tions.


1. There are some words with fixed tones that can be predicted from the outset.

1.1. All loanwords from Quick Facts about: Chinese
Any of the Sino-Tibetan languages spoken in China; regarded as dialects of a single language (even though they are mutually unintelligible) because they share an ideographic writing system
Chinese dialects are given their original tones:
Kiasu, or "afraid to lose", must be pronounced with a mid-level tone on the first syllable and a high-level tone on the second.
Siao, or "crazy", must be pronounced with a falling tone.
Pai-seh, or "embarrassed", must be pronounced with a rising tone on the first syllable and a low-level tone on the second.

1.2. All Quick Facts about: grammatical particle
Quick Summary not found for this subject
grammatical particles have one or more fixed tone patterns. These can be found further below in the section "Particles".

(mesolectal)
SENTENCE: How come you so kia- su one ar? Must live life a bit more re- lac lah.
TONE: 33 55 24 11


(acrolectal)
SENTENCE: If you ask me to des- cribe my rea- so- ning then I can't pro- vide fur- ther ex- pla- na- tions.
TONE:  


2. For the rest of the sentence, some syllables can also be marked reliably with a high, a middle, or a low tone.

2.1. Put a high tone on the last Quick Facts about: syllable
A unit of spoken language larger than a phoneme
syllable of all of the following words:
All Quick Facts about: noun
A word that can be used to refer to a person or place or thing
nouns (e.g. Quick Facts about: durian
Tree of southeastern Asia having edible oval fruit with a hard spiny rind
durian, economy, Singapore)
All Quick Facts about: verb
A word that serves as the predicate of a sentence
verbs, inflected or not (e.g. complain, complaining), unless it is followed by a pronoun
All Quick Facts about: adjective
A word that expresses an attribute of something
adjectives, inflected or not (e.g. happy, happiest)
All Quick Facts about: adverb
A word that modifies something other than a noun
adverbs (e.g. happily, also, away, often)
Object Quick Facts about: pronoun
A function word that is used in place of a noun or noun phrase
pronouns (e.g. me, him, them)
Most other Quick Facts about: pronoun
A function word that is used in place of a noun or noun phrase
pronouns (e.g. mine, this, somebody, no one)
All Quick Facts about: preposition
(linguistics) the placing of one linguistic element before another (as placing a modifier before the word it modifies in a sentence or placing an affix before the base to which it is attached)
prepositions and Quick Facts about: conjunction
The grammatical relation between linguistic units (words or phrases or clauses) that are connected by a conjunction
conjunctions of more than one syllable (e.g. below, around, therefore, because, furthermore) and the word "then"
The last syllable of every sentence
WH-question words (e.g. who?, what?, how much?, how come?)

2.2. Put a medium tone wherever British or American English has (or would have) a prosodic Quick Facts about: stress
The relative prominence of a syllable or musical note (especially with regard to stress or pitch)
stress, including primary stresses (explanation) and secondary stresses (explanation). Don't put the medium tone if there is already a high tone there.

2.3. Put a low tone on all of the following monosyllabic words. Don't put the tone if there's already a medium tone there.
Quick Facts about: Grammatical article
Quick Summary not found for this subject
Grammatical articles (a, an, the)
Monosyllabic Quick Facts about: preposition
(linguistics) the placing of one linguistic element before another (as placing a modifier before the word it modifies in a sentence or placing an affix before the base to which it is attached)
prepositions (e.g. in, on, to, at, from)
Monosyllabic Quick Facts about: conjunction
The grammatical relation between linguistic units (words or phrases or clauses) that are connected by a conjunction
conjunctions (e.g. and, but, if) — but not "then"
Subject Quick Facts about: pronoun
A function word that is used in place of a noun or noun phrase
pronouns (e.g. I, he, they)
Possessive Quick Facts about: adjective
A word that expresses an attribute of something
adjectives (e.g. my, his, their)
Relative Quick Facts about: pronoun
A function word that is used in place of a noun or noun phrase
pronouns (e.g. which..., that...)
Forms of "to be", "to have", "can", "must", "will", "shall"
"got" in the sense of "to exist", "to possess"

(mesolectal)
SENTENCE: How come you so kia- su one ar? Must live life a bit more re- lac lah.
TONE: H H L H 33 55 H 24 L H H H H H 11


(acrolectal)
SENTENCE: If you ask me to des- cribe my rea- so- ning then I can't pro- vide fur- ther ex- pla- na- tions.
TONE: L L M H L H L M H H L M H M H M M H


3. Fill in the rest of the tones.

3.1. Starting from the first medium tone in each word, propagate low tones backwards until a word boundary is reached.

3.2. Starting from the first medium tone in each word, propagate medium tones forwards until a high tone is reached.

3.3. Some disyllabic tones have no medium tones. In this case, put a low tone on the first syllable.

3.4. For each medium tone that was passed over by Rule 7 above, put a high tone on the syllable just before.

(mesolectal)
SENTENCE: How come you so kia- su one ar? Must live life a bit more re- lac lah.
TONE: H H L H 33 55 H 24 L H H L H H L H 11


(acrolectal)
SENTENCE: If you ask me to des- cribe my rea- so- ning then I can't pro- vide fur- ther ex- pla- na- tions.
TONE: L L M H L L H L M M H H L M L H M H M H M H


4. Finally, the high, medium, and low tones are converted into actual tone values. For the following, numbers refer to tone height with 5 being the highest. "Entering" means a syllable ending on a plosive.

4.1. For syllables anywhere but at the end of a sentence, use the following actual tone values.
High tones become:
51 if the syllable is entering
55 otherwise
Low tones become 11.
Medium tones become:
42 if the syllable is entering
44 if the syllable is just before a high tone
33 otherwise

4.2. Syllables at the end of a sentence (except Quick Facts about: grammatical particle
Quick Summary not found for this subject
grammatical particles), which are high tone by default, use the following tone values.
In a normal declarative sentence:
43 for non-entering tone (He's walking along the river.)
41 for entering (He's walking along the street.)
In an emphatic declarative sentence:
342 for non-entering (He's walking along the river!)
551 for entering (He's walking along the street!)
In a WH-question:
45 for non-entering (Why is he walking along the river?)
53 for entering (Why is he walking along the street?)
In a yes/no-question:
45 for non-entering (Is he walking along the river?)
55 for entering (Is he walking along the street?)

(mesolectal)
SENTENCE: How come you so kia- su one ar? Must live life a bit more re- lac lah.
TONE: 55 55 11 55 33 55 55 24 11 55 55 11 51 55 11 51 11


(acrolectal)
SENTENCE: If you ask me to des- cribe my rea- so- ning then I can't pro- vide fur- ther ex- pla- na- tions.
TONE: 11 11 44 55 11 11 51 11 33 44 55 55 11 33 11 51 44 55 33 55 44 43


Vocabulary

Singlish formally takes after Quick Facts about: British English
Quick Summary not found for this subject
British English (in terms of spelling and Quick Facts about: abbreviation
A shortened form of a word or phrase
abbreviations), although naming conventions are in a mix of American and British ones (with American ones on the rise). For instance, local media have "sports pages" (sport in British English) and "soccer coverage" (the use of the word "soccer" is not common in British media). Singlish also uses many words borrowed from Quick Facts about: Hokkien
Quick Summary not found for this subject
Hokkien, the dialect of more than 50% of the Chinese population in Singapore, and from Quick Facts about: Malay
A member of a people inhabiting the northern Malay Peninsula and Malaysia and parts of the western Malay Archipelago
Malay. In many cases, English words take on the meaning of their Chinese counterparts, resulting in a shift in meaning. This is most obvious in such cases as "borrow"/"lend", which are functionally equivalent in Singlish and mapped to the same Mandarin word, "借" (ji), which can mean to lend or to borrow. ("Oi, siao-eh, borrow me your calculator, can?")

Examples:

ah - eh? huh?
Ah Beng - uneducated Chinese man, butt of jokes
aiyah! (Hokkien) or ayoh! - (Malay oh, no!)
alamak! - surprise/shock (Malay)
ang moh - white person, Caucasian (from ang moh kau meaning "red haired monkey", Hokkien)
bodoh - ignorant (from the Malay word, meaning "stupid")
boleh - can (Malay)
COE (Certificate of Entitlement) - (very expensive) permit for car ownership
CPF (Central Provident Fund) - government savings scheme
chop - rubber stamp (from Malay cap) - "Immigration will chop your passport."
chope - reserve - "Don't take this seat, I choped it already."
gostan - go backward (Malay) (this actually originates from the nautical phrase "go astern")
HDB (Housing Development Board) - public housing
hawker centre - outdoor food court
ISA - Internal Security Act
kiah su - somebody who fears losing out (Hokkien)
kana (kena) - be afflicted with
Kopi - coffee (Hokkien)
makan - eat (from Malay)
mata - police (Malay)
mati - die, be doomed (Malay)
Mindef - Ministry of Defence
MRT (Quick Facts about: Mass Rapid Transit
An urban public transit system using underground or elevated trains
Mass Rapid Transit) Often pronounced as "M, MA, T" - metro system (another popular pronunciation is "mert")
NS - National Service
PAP - Quick Facts about: Peoples Action Party
Quick Summary not found for this subject
People's Action Party
- Governing party since 1959.
SAF - Singapore Armed Forces
skali (pronounced SCAR-ly) - lest, what if "Skali no way to go out, then how?" (from Malay, sekali)
shiok - cool! (Hokkien)
sotong - lit. squid (Malay), fig. stupid (see also "blur")
suaku - uninformed or backward (lit. Hokkien "mountain tortoise")
ulu - rural, remote (Malay)
wah! - wow! (Hokkien)
yang gui zhi - foreign devil, an endearing term for "ang moh" (see above) (Mandarin - uncommon)

English words with different meanings in Singlish

arrow - pinpoint/pick on "Why he arrow me to do this?"
blur - stupid
choose - browse - "Choose, choose, choose, but never buy, is it?"
cock - rubbish, nonsense - "Don't talk cock, lah!"
follow - to come along - Can I follow?
heartlander - person from working class HDB estate
having here - "to eat inside the restaurant meaning the opposite of take-away"
help, lah - please, do lend me a hand by desisting from whatever it is you are doing - "Help lah, stop hitting on my sister"
keep - put away - "Please keep your notes"
send - to take somebody to somewhere - "I'll send you to the airport."
solid - excellent - "Solid sia, that movie."
sabo - short for "sabotage", also meaning to betray or cause failure - "Because he sabo me, now boss mad at me!"
spoil - to be damaged "This one, spoil."
stay - to live (in a place) - "She's staying in Ang Mo Kio."
shy (don't shy!) - come on!
upgrade - to improve - "The service has been upgraded."
what? - eh? huh? - "You never give me, what?"
throw - to throw away "I throw it already"
on, off - to turn on/off "I on the TV"

Other idioms include:

ice water - water with ice
plain water - water (as oppposed to soft drinks, etc.)
return back - give back
toast bread - toast'

Grammar

The grammar of Singlish has been heavily influenced by other languages and dialects in the region, such as Quick Facts about: Chinese
Any of the Sino-Tibetan languages spoken in China; regarded as dialects of a single language (even though they are mutually unintelligible) because they share an ideographic writing system
Chinese and Malay. As a result, Singlish has acquired some unique features, especially at the basilectal level. Note that all of the features described below disappear at the acrolectal level, as people in formal situations tend to adjust their speech towards accepted norms found in other varieties of English.

Topic prominent

Singlish is Quick Facts about: topic-prominent
Quick Summary not found for this subject
topic-prominent, like Quick Facts about: Chinese
Any of the Sino-Tibetan languages spoken in China; regarded as dialects of a single language (even though they are mutually unintelligible) because they share an ideographic writing system
Chinese. This means that Singlish sentences are usually constructed by first putting down a topic (or a known reference of the conversation), followed by a comment (or new information). The semantic relationship between topic and comment is not important:

This country weather very hot, one. (In this country, the weather is very hot.)
That person there cannot trust. (That person there cannot be trusted.)
Play soccer he very good also. (He's very good in playing soccer too.)
Tomorrow no need bring camera. (You don't need to bring a camera tomorrow.)

The above constructions can be translated analogously into Quick Facts about: Chinese
Any of the Sino-Tibetan languages spoken in China; regarded as dialects of a single language (even though they are mutually unintelligible) because they share an ideographic writing system
Chinese or Quick Facts about: Japanese
A native or inhabitant of Japan
Japanese, which are topic-prominent languages.

Nouns

Nouns are optionally marked for Quick Facts about: plurality
(in an election with more than 2 options) the number of votes for the candidate or party receiving the greatest number (but less that half of the votes)
plurality. In general, a noun that is used to refer to a general category is not marked for the plural, and does not take any Quick Facts about: article
Nonfictional prose forming an independent part of a publication
articles:

He can play piano.
I like to read storybook.
Your computer got virus one, is it? (Is it that your computer has viruses?)

It is more common to mark the plural in the presence of a Quick Facts about: modifier
A content word that qualifies the meaning of a noun or verb
modifier that implies plurality, such as "several", "both".

To be

The Quick Facts about: copula
An equating verb (such as `be' or `become') that links the subject with the complement of a sentence
copula, which is the verb "to be" in most varieties of English, is treated somewhat differently in Singlish:

When occurring with an adjective, "to be" tends to drop out, and is often replaced by an Quick Facts about: adverb
A word that modifies something other than a noun
adverb, such as "very". This is strongly reminiscent of Quick Facts about: Chinese
Any of the Sino-Tibetan languages spoken in China; regarded as dialects of a single language (even though they are mutually unintelligible) because they share an ideographic writing system
Chinese usage:

This house very nice.
That car not worth the money.

When occurring with "-ing" to form the continuous Quick Facts about: aspect
A distinct feature or element in a problem
aspect, "to be" may similarly drop out, leaving the "-ing" form as the independent continuous form:

How come so late in the night you still playing music, ar?
You looking for trouble, is it?

Slightly less common is the dropping out of "to be" when used as an equative between two nouns, or as a locative:

This boy the class monitor. (=class president)
His house in Ang Mo Kio.

In general, "to be" drops out more behind nouns and pronouns (except "I", "he", and "she"), and much less behind a Quick Facts about: clause
(grammar) an expression including a subject and predicate but not constituting a complete sentence
clause (what I think is...) or a Quick Facts about: demonstrative
A pronoun that points out an intended referent
demonstrative (this is...).

The past tense

Past tense marking is optional in Singlish. Marking of the past tense occurs most consistently in strong verbs (or irregular verbs), as well as verbs ending on -t and -d, such as:

I went to Orchard Road yesterday.
He accepted in the end.

Due to consonant cluster simplification, the past tense is unmarked when it is part of a complex Quick Facts about: consonant
A speech sound that is not a vowel
consonant cluster:

He talk for so long, never stop, not even when I ask him.

The past tense tends to be unmarked if the verb in question goes on for an extended period, rather than as an isolated event (compare Quick Facts about: French
The Romance language spoken in France and in countries colonized by France
French imperfect):

When I was young, ar, I go to school every day.
When he was in school, he always get good marks one.
Last night I mug so much, so sian already. (mug = cram for exam. sian = bored/tired.)

Negation

Negation works in general like English, with not added after "to be", "to have", or Quick Facts about: modal
Quick Summary not found for this subject
modals, and don't before all other verbs. Contractions (can't, shouldn't) are used alongside their uncontracted forms.

However, due to final cluster simplification, the -t drops out from negative forms. This effectively makes -n the negative marker on Quick Facts about: modal
Quick Summary not found for this subject
modals:

I dun want.

An especially unique effect of this is that in the verb "can", its positive and negative forms are distinguished only by Quick Facts about: vowel
A speech sound made with the vocal tract open
vowel:

I can /kɛn/ do this lah.
I can't /kɑn/ do this lah.

Also, never is used as a negative past tense marker, and does not have to carry the English meaning. In this construction, the negated verb is never put into the past-tense form:

How come today you never (=didn't) hand in homework?
How come he never (=didn't) pay?

Repetition of verbs

Another feature strongly reminiscent of Chinese, verbs are often repeated (e.g., TV personality Phua Chu Kang's "don't pray-pray!" pray = play.) In general verbs are repeated to imply vividness, repetition, and a sense of "wandering around":

They talk talk so much, never do work one.
I look and look, also cannot find. (here, look and look is pronounced very fast, in a continuous string.)
So what I do was, I sit down and I think think think, until I get answer lor.

Particles

Quick Facts about: Particles
A body having finite mass and internal structure but negligible dimensions
Particles in Singlish are highly comparable to Quick Facts about: Chinese
Any of the Sino-Tibetan languages spoken in China; regarded as dialects of a single language (even though they are mutually unintelligible) because they share an ideographic writing system
Chinese. They are generally used to express Quick Facts about: grammatical mood
Quick Summary not found for this subject
grammatical mood. For example:

Already

1133 di42/

Used to express a change in state, and is analogous to Chinese 了 (le):
He throw it already - He threw it away (already)
Aiya, I cannot wait any more, must go already.

Liao

/liɑu11/

Is similar to already.
Aiya, I cannot wait any more, must go liao.

Is it

/i11 sit24/ or /i11 zit24/

Used to form yes-no questions, generic like the Quick Facts about: French
The Romance language spoken in France and in countries colonized by France
French n'est-ce pas?, regardless of the actual verb in the sentence. Is it implies that the speaker has inferred (from some other evidence) that the answer is Yes, but needs it confirmed:
They never study, is it? (No wonder they fail!)
You don't like that, is it? (No wonder you had that face!)

Meh

/mɛ55/

Also used to form yes-no questions, but with a decidedly different tone: the speaker implies that he/she had expected the answer to the question to be No, but has been surprised by new evidence that points the other way:
They never study meh? (I thought they do?)
You don't like that meh? (I thought you do?)

Or not

11 nɔt41/

In a construction similar (but not identical) to Chinese, or not is used to form a yes/no question. Unlike is it or meh, or not carries no connotations of either Yes or No. Or not cannot be used with sentences already in the negative:
This book you want or not?
Can or not?

Ar

24/

Inserted between topic and comment (often to give a negative tone), or at the end of a question (for added brusqueness).
This boy ar, always so naughty one!
How come like that one, ar?

One

/wɑn42/ or /wɑn55/

The word one is used to emphasize the Quick Facts about: predicate
(logic) what is predicated of the subject of a proposition; the second term in a proposition is predicated of the first term by means of the copula
predicate of the sentence by implying that it is in a continuous, habitual state. It can be compared to a similar use of de in southern Quick Facts about: Chinese
Any of the Sino-Tibetan languages spoken in China; regarded as dialects of a single language (even though they are mutually unintelligible) because they share an ideographic writing system
Chinese. One used in this way does not correspond to any use of the word "one" in Quick Facts about: British
The people of Great Britain
British or Quick Facts about: American English
The English language as used in the United States
American English:
Walau! So stupid one! - He's so stupid!
I do everything by habit one. - I always do everything by habit.
He never go to school one. - He doesn't go to school (unlike other people).

Liddat (Like that)

/lai11 dɛt41/

Is used to emphasize descriptions by adding vividness and continuousness:
He so stupid liddat. - He's pretty stupid, you know.
He acting like a little kid liddat. - He's really acting like a little kid, see?
Like that can also be used as in Quick Facts about: British
The people of Great Britain
British or Quick Facts about: American English
The English language as used in the United States
American English:
Why he acting liddat?

Lah

/lɑ55/ or /lɑ51/

The ubiquitous word 'lah' is used at the end of a sentence, for emphasis. In Malay it is used to change a verb into a command or to soften its tone, particularly when usage of the verb may seem impolite. To drink is minum, but 'Here, drink!' is minumlah. Hence a Singaporean would say
Drink, lah!
Lah is often used with brusque, short, negative responses:
Dun have, lah! (Brusque response to, "Lend me some money, can?")
You dun know one, lah! (Brusque response to someone fumbling with an explanation.)
Lah is also used for reassurance:
Dun worry, he can one lah. Don't worry, he can [do it].
It's okay lah. It's alright.

This is not to be confused with 'la' (short for 'lad'), which is found in the Quick Facts about: Scouse
A stew of meat and vegetables and hardtack that is eaten by sailors
Scouse dialect spoken in Liverpool, England

What

/wɑt11/

Used to remind or contradict the listener, often in order to explain some other point the speaker has:
But he very good at sports what, that's why can play soccer so well. (In response to How come he can play soccer? or I thought he can't play soccer one?)

Mah

/mɑ55/

Used to assert that something is obvious and final, and is usually used only with statements that are already patently true. This may seem condescending to the listener:
But he very good at sports, that's why can play soccer mah!

Lor

/lɔ55/

A casual, sometimes joking way to assert upon the listener either direct observations or obvious inferences. This may also seem condescending if over-used:
If you don't do the work, then you die-die lor!

Leh

/lɛ55/

Used to assert a command, request, claim or complaint:
Give me leh!
How come you don't give me leh?

Hor

/hɔ~24/

Used to draw the listener's attention and/or consent:
Then hor, another person came out of the house.
This shopping center also very nice hor.

Miscellaneous

"Got" is used to mean "has" or "have":

Got question? Do you have a question?
Yesterday ar, East Coast Park got so many people one!
This bus got air-con or not? Is there air-conditioning on this bus?
Where got!? (Generic response to any accusation.)

"Can" is used extensively as both a question particle and an answer particle. The negative is cannot.

Go home lah, can? Just go home, OK?
(Responding to: Can I have a sweet, too?) Can!
(Responding to: Can you come tomorrow?) Cannot.

The order of the verb and the subject in an indirect question is the same as a direct question.

"Eh, you know where is he?" "Excuse me, do you know where he is?"

External links

Singapore Good English Movement
Ah Beng's Guide to Singlish
Singlish Dictionary @ talkingcock.com

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