Tuesday, 5 January 2016

Singlish Lah

About this time last year I uploaded a post about the things that are still amusing us about Singapore and those that interest or disappoint us. I thought we could follow that up with something else quintessentially Singaporean; Singlish. 

When an English-speaking foreigner first arrives here, one of the first things you note is that most locals have a fairly good grasp of the English language. As time goes by, and you spend time living and interacting with the locals, it soon becomes apparent that English alone is not enough to fully converse on local topics like ordering at hawkers or purchasing veggies at the market.

In Singapore, you will hear all levels of English from BBC-like English (if you tune in to Channel News Asia), Standard Singapore English (SSE) spoken by English-educated Singaporeans (the teachers, real estate agents for example), and the more colloquial variety known as Singlish which is really a dialect. There is a considerable minority in Singapore whose native tongue is this Singlish which is heavily influenced by Malay, Chinese and Indian. These people would speak, think and dream almost exclusively in Singlish, and in their working days it is continually confirmed. You can watch the students (who have been speaking Standard Singapore English all day at school) call in at the shops under the HDB on their way home, and seamlessly code switch into Singlish with the stallholders. Singlish is spoken at the speed of light and complex phrases are avoided in the written form. Verbs and definite articles are left out, plurals are ignored and tense is unnecessary. It should be noted, that I consider Singlish to be a part of the essence of Singapore and it's culture! It would be a shame if it was lost, but they don't pay me to support that sentiment.

Our job involves working with students who bring Singlish to class but generally have a pretty good handle on SSE. We aim to lift them a level higher without embarrassing their teachers who mispronounce so many words and know the grammar rules by heart but not the instances when they don't apply or when synonyms are equally correct. Common written errors look like these below. 
I go always to school by mrt.
Will I off the lights?
They cooked it themself.
My brother has 10 years.
I’ve been here since three months.
I like very much ice cream.
We could of gone there today.
She was better at it then him.
We were boring in the class.
I am suppose to clean the classroom.
I wish I can pass my test.

So some of these are not too difficult to explain and use as teaching points, but try explaining why:

'The very sort of cake I like' is correct but 'He's very sort of funny' isn't.
'John and I sit here.' is correct but 'Give it to John and I to look after.' is not.
Then do you 'lay your jacket on the chair' or 'lie your jacket on the chair' ?
Why is it that the game can be very good,  but not very fun

You don't realise how much you don't actually know about a language that you grew up listening to from birth, until you have to explain why something isn't correct. I know it is incorrect because it sounds incorrect but.....then I have to consult the Parrott's bible of grammar. Signage can be quite amusing here. 

Occasionally in the classrooms but more often in the streets or MRT we hear:
Shiok (Wow)
I go back already. (I'm leaving)
We go holiday next, next week. (holidays in 2 weeks time)
How you know?  (Is that right?)
I also can. (I can do it too.)
Can I lend your correction tape? (Can I borrow it?)
Ah, so smelly one! (That stinks!)
Aiyoh! You surprised me. (Oh No!)
Why he anyhow do things? (Why doesn't he do it properly?)
It was Peter, he just act blur. ( He is just feigning innocence)
Aiyoh! You don' act blur, okay! I know you ali baba my pencil when I went to the toilet! (You took it, don't pretend it wasn't you)
Ang Moh, he botak. (The bald Caucasian man)
No colour, double confirm? (You really want to be grey?)
Abuden? (What else did you expect?)
I chope it orredy. (Don't take this seat, I have reserved it with my tissue packet). 
Go hawker centre better! (I'd rather eat at a hawker centre)
Tonight eat what, ah? (What would you like to choose from the menu?)
Can pass or not? (Can I come through this door?)

So, plenty for us to work on in our classes for one more year. Our biggest problem with the oral form is taking the care not to slip up ourselves, lah! It's very efficient.

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