singlish lah

Nearly everyone in Singapore speaks more than one language. Many speak three or four. The “official national” language is Malay, but there are three other “official” languages: Chinese, English and Tamil.

The Straits Times (the local English daily) of late has published a series of articles about the bilingual education system – specifically, the teaching of English and Chinese. From what I gather, the two languages are taught concurrently from the very beginning of a child’s schooling, and some recent proposals are recommending a new system wherein children would establish a firm foundation in one language before learning the other(s).

Singapore has its own brand of English. It’s commonly called Singlish. The first characteristic of Singlish that I noticed here is the tendency to follow phrases with “lah” or “ah”, as a kind of emphasis or expectation of agreement (the same way we might end a phrase with with “eh” or “you know?”). In Singlish, plurals and past tenses are optional (“top-up card sell out already lah”), and questions are often phrased as sentences followed by “is it?” (“sold out, is it?”). Pronunciations in general are shorter and sharper than they are in American, Australian or “proper” UK English, with little differentiation between long and short vowels.

I really enjoy the way Singlish sounds actually, and my goal is to be able to speak like a local before I leave this island.

4 Replies to “singlish lah

  1. An admirable goal! I take it you’re familiar with the Coxford Singlish Dictionary already? If not, have a look for it in the bookshops, it’s an invaluable and fairly comprehensive resource.

  2. Hello there. Came to your blog via

    I like to joke that Singaporeans can speak many languages, but we speak them all badly.

  3. My definition of Singaporean pronunciation is actually that it flattens the consonants a lot more than, say, the poms. Don’t forget that you must learn some choice Malay, Tamil, and Hokkien phrases to truly speak Singlish!

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