For the next few days, I’m in Singapore to host a language lab to train people to speak their target language on day one, and to sign copies of my book. I’m also using this visit to a country that speaks English as an official language, to investigate its other unique linguistic opportunities.
In this visit, I’m going to practise some Mandarin, but I started my trip by investigating Singlish.
When most people think of learning a new language, they tend to imagine official languages of countries. There are of course many languages (like Quechua) that get often neglected by governments, artificial languages and a whole spectrum of many other possibilities.
As well as these well defined separate “languages”, I’m also very much interested in dialects, creoles and pidgins. You can almost never sit an exam in them, finding materials to learn them can be quite hard, and their use is even frowned upon in many cases, but when you speak to people in the same way they themselves speak to their friends and family, it breaks down barriers and allows you to make local friends so much easier.
I noticed this was the case with “Singlish” – a very unique English creole – when I visited Singapore a few years ago. I invited Jade Hu, a local who reads my blog, to give us her thoughts on the subject. You can watch our chat in the video below.
For further information about Singlish, definitely check out:
- A great answer on Quora to the Singlish vs “proper English” debate
- The Wikipedia article on Singlish
- TEDx talk on Singlish
- Best of Singlish words/phrases
Examples of Singlish
For someone with some experience in Chinese, you will notice especially how Singlish has a unique sentence structure, influenced in part by the Chinese dialect Hokkien (and Cantonese).
Blog reader Marcus gave me the following examples, with Chinese comparisons, and even threw in his introduction written in Singlish:
So last time from very young, I already like to learn many things about many languages. Like you know hor, my father is Teochew and mother Foochow, but at the same time they know a lot of other dialects like Hokkien, Cantonese and a bit of Hakka, Henghua. Ah I tell you orh, we all like to say things like,
“why you so liddat??” (为什么这么这样）
“faster leh!” （快点！）
“don’t anyhow say people lah!” (不要乱讲别人啦)
“how can one?!” （哪里可以的)
“he say he you can end early meh??” （他说他能早放工吗？）
“you say people, say yourself!” (讲别人，不如讲自己）
“never die before” (equivalent to 没有死过)
“why come out so much pattern” or “so much pattern like badminton” (tactics used in a (possibly) scheming or irritating way to get what one wants are too many)
and occasionally add in some dialectal or non-English words like,
“why always bojio (Hokkien for not asking someone along or inviting someone) one?!”
“also bo bian what, he dunno how shiok the event was, just anyhow say cannot make it..”
Everyone else, let me know your thoughts on learning local dialects/creoles/pidgins or your experience with Singlish specifically, in the comments below!