With the melting pot of different races coming together in Singapore, one of the most unique outcomes found is Singlish. Singlish or Singaporean English, is the ‘street’ language of Singapore and derives from various languages, such as Malay, Hokkien and English. Although Singapore’s national language is considered as English, many Singaporeans used Singlish in informal, casual situations, and it is now considered as a symbol of national identity. If one does not understand Singlish, it can be considered that one is not Singaporean and it may be hard to be form closer bonds with those who use Singlish. According to BBC, various campaigns promoting the proper use of English has been deflected by Singlish, as Singaporeans still prefer to use Singlish in their casual environments over proper English (2015). This illustrates how deeply rooted Singlish is in their identity and heritage.
Image Source: University of Pennsylvania, (n.d.). Singlish. [image] Available at: http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/~bgzimmer/singlish.jpg [Accessed 16 Jan. 2017].
As Singlish is the melting pot of languages and cultures, the combination of words from different languages form a ‘new’, colorful and unique language formed, ranging from the tone and emphasis of the words spoken to the vocabulary and grammar used. It can be said that Singlish illustrates the personality of Singapore; a country full of vibrant and friendly people from various backgrounds. This can be seen through the 1991 rap song, ‘Why you so like dat?’. It is a song illustrating the conversation between two school boys as they bicker about various issues.
It can be seen, that Singlish reflects and supports the intimacy between people, as people who speak Singlish to each other are shown to be closer compared to those who speak formal English. This can be shown by comparing the Singlish lyrics to the formal English counterpart. When Siva Choy sings, “You tell me dat you don’t like girl, I also dunno why, but when you see a pretty girl, your voice go up damn high!” (Ming 2007), it can be seen, that more slangs are used and it is much more intimate as it seems the friends are quite close to one another. The English counterpart can be formal as it can be translated as such, ‘You told me you do not like girls, I do not understand why, but when you see a pretty girl, your voice pitch becomes higher’. Even the usage of Singlish amongst strangers, supports a friendlier and more intimate conversation than using formal English, as Singaporeans tend to act friendlier with those who can speak Singlish. The usage of Singlish indicates a more casual and comedic tone, which allows people to become friendlier to one another.
Another significant and interesting change, as shown in the lyrics, is the use of particles at the end of the sentence such as ‘ah’. ‘Ah’, alongside other particles as ‘lah’ or ‘leh’, can change the tone of the sentence. These particles change the overall attitude of the sentence. Compared to the English counterpart, ‘Why are you like that’, which can sound more formal and assert a more frustrated tone, the Singlish counterpart, ‘Why are you like that ah’, asserts more of a friendlier tone and supports a lighter atmosphere. The vocabulary used in the song is also quite interesting as it shows how words derived from other languages replace English words, can change the overall tone and can also shorten sentences or phrases in some cases. The usage of words such as ‘alamak’, support a closer relationship between people who understand the meaning of the words compare to those who do not. It also supports a lighter and more comedic tone.
Image Source: Pinterest, (n.d.). My English. [image] Available at: https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/564x/db/1a/23/db1a23c4c7853e628e6ecbbf3934b468.jpg [Accessed 16 Jan. 2017].
As shown in the song, Singlish is an important part of living and socializing in Singapore. This is supported by James Wong, a Singaporean who isn’t fluent in Singlish as his parents supported the usage of formal English in everyday context and frowns upon Singlish. Due to this, in social contexts, such as ordering food at food stalls or socializing with others was much more difficult, as they either couldn’t understand him or they considered him ‘posh’ for using English instead of Singlish (BBC 2015).
Choy, S. (1991). Why You So Like Dat?. [Youtube Video] Singapore: Viyo Records. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ra7xt9eLLIk [Accessed 16 Jan. 2017].
Wong, T. (2015). The Rise of Singlish. BBC. [online] Available at: http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-33809914 [Accessed 16 Jan. 2017].