Singlish - Singaporean Colloquial English


'Welcome to Singapore - ah!' hope you have nice stay la!'

Yes, the 'ah' and 'la' are suffixes that are a fundamental part of spoken English in Singapore, these suffixes are the ones that make Singaporean English unique and impart a distinct character to it. Singaporeans speak English in their own way - they speak 'Singlish'. The influence of Malay and Chinese on Singaporean English is undeniable and has molded the common parlance of Singapore in a distinct way that has been adopted fondly by the locals' island wide. The punctuation of nearly each and every sentence by 'ah', 'lah','leh''mah'oready, orredy, 'alleady' (already), can or cannot constitutes the very essence of Singlish.

The use of these words is what defines the very identity of Singaporean English and makes it different from the way English is spoken anywhere else in the world. And Singaporeans are definitely not willing to let go of their very own 'ah' and 'lah' for generations to come! This means that visitors and tourists must familiarize themselves with Singlish to make their stay on the island more enjoyable. This of course is very simple, and all one needs to do is listen to the lingo as it is spoken from the Merlion's mouth!

Singlish makes use of about ten or eleven 'atoms' from Hokkien or Cantonese to show 'attitude' or emotion in what is being conveyed verbally. They function like the phrases used in English; 'you know' or 'you see'. The most frequently used phrases in Singlish are of course 'Ah'. 'Lah', Can and its partner 'Cannot'. The suffix of 'Ah' to a sentence is for eliciting agreement or concurrence with the person or people one is speaking to. An example would be 'Otherwise how she can work in Singapore ah?'

'La' indicates assertion. The use of this suffix is when one wishes to assert his or her opinion or state something strongly to another person. Example, ' I cannot go Malaysia next month la'.

Can and cannot are also very much an inseparable part of everyday Singlish and the visitor or tourist needs to use these two words a lot especially when shopping and bargaining! The average Singaporean uses 'Can' when he or she would be able to complete a job or fulfill any task given. In other words 'can' means 'yes' in Singlish. When the visitor or tourist hears 'cannot' it means 'No' or negative.So when the price tag of the Merlion souvenir states 20 Singapore dollars and the foreign tourist wants it for 15, all he or she needs to tell or rather ask the vendor smilingly is 'Merlion 15 dollar can?' chances are the shop keeper would agree, so it helps to know the local lingo when out shopping on the streets of Singapore.Another interesting trait about Singlish's 'can' and 'cannot' is the way the words are spoken with a drawl. So when foreign tourists, especially from an English speaking region such as the United States of America or England hears the unmistakable drawl in the way the words 'can' or 'cannot' are stretched by the Singaporeans; they cannot help but smile.Indeed it is very entertaining to over hear conversations that Singaporeans have among themselves, and the foreign tourist is in for an audio treat!

Another very commonly used word in Singlish is 'already' which is altered to 'alleady' or 'orready'. Yes, alleady / orready is singlish for already. So when an Expatriate working in Singapore asks his or her native Singaporean colleague who may be either Malay or Chinese, whether a task has been done, the reply, if affirmative is (in 99% of the cases) punctuated with the phrase' Done Alleady! Or 'Finish Orready!' So the visitor to Singapore will chance upon Singlish phrases 'alleady', 'come alleady', 'given alleady', 'served alleady', 'gone alleady' arrive alleady etc. so he or she shouldn't be caught unawares, instead be 'ready' to hear the omnipresent 'orreddy'!
Sometimes 'alleady' or orready is spoken first, that is, before the relevant word, though this is rare and it is mostly used as a suffix as explained in the examples above.

It may be fair enough to say that in Singapore, English is spoken in a style, which does not adhere strictly to the rules of English Grammar and Syntax. Singaporeans have their own idiosyncratic way of speaking the English language and this is what makes it Singaporean English or Singlish. It is both a delight and an amusing inconvenience for the visitor to this vibrant Island, indeed something would be amiss from Singapore had it not been for the omnipresent Singaporean cockney called Singlish!

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