Visit Singapore, and one of the things you will be struck by – apart from the skyscrapers – is the way the locals speak. It sounds like English, but wait… is it?
Singlish – Singapore’s English (but not just English)
Singlish was born as a result of the melting pot of cultures that was (and is) the make-up of Singaporean society. As English grew in importance as the lingua franca of Singapore, various aspects (eg. vocabulary, syntax) of different languages such as Malay, Chinese (various dialects) and Tamil were thrown into the mix to create a unique colloquial language.
Apart from the colloquialisms itself, there is also the Singlish accent, which has been the cause of much hilarity for locals and foreigners alike, as demonstrated by the following video:
The Speak Good English Movement
The Singapore government has often attempted to stamp out the use of Singlish by the launching of ‘Speak Good English’ campaigns, encouraging Singaporeans to use “proper” English instead of Singlish in everyday conversation. Singlish was also disallowed on local mainstream television.
However, these efforts have generally made very little impact on Singaporean society, with most people preferring to use Singlish in their everyday lives and among their friends. After the latest launching of The Speak Good English Movement, the Speak Good Singlish Movement sprung up on Facebook, gaining much popularity.
Common Singlish words and phrases
You siao ah? = Are you crazy?
eg. “Eh, tomorrow have to start work at 6am, now you want go clubbing? You siao ah?”
Go and die lah! = A more Singlish (and slightly tamer) version of “go f**k yourself”.
eg. “Oi, you go holiday then leave all this work for me ah? Go and die lah!”
Aberden? = A response to someone who is stating the obvious, something like “duh” or “what do you think?”
eg. A: “Do we have to go to work on Monday?” B: “Aberden?”
Sian = Bored. Also can be used as if it’s a sigh or exclamation of frustration.
eg. “Wah lau, this movie is so long, damn sian leh!” or “Sian ah, tomorrow must work overtime!”
Bo bian = No choice.
eg. “Eh, if cannot finish the work then bo bian must stay back.”