The Importance of Singlish?!

The Importance of Singlish?!

“I’m also very Singaporean lah,” said my American friend who has been staying in Singapore for the last two years.
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I shook my head and held a finger up. “No Adam, just ‘cause you said Lah doesn’t make you sound like a Singaporean.”
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“I also know how to say ‘don’t play, play’ ah.”
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I cringed. Listening to Adam try to blend in with the locals was painfully beautiful. I made a mental note to give him an ‘A’ for effort.
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“Makan already?” Adam pressed on. “Istimewa!”
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“You can’t just throw a couple of Malay words around and claim you’re speaking Singlish,” I said. “It doesn’t work that way.”
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“Ok, you show me how it’s done lah.”
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That got me thinking: What is it about Singlish that makes it uniquely Singaporean? Why is it that my expat friends take delight in picking up the local vernacular but many of my countrymen shun it like a plate of smelly tofu?
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To appreciate Singlish, one must study its origins. Here’s a quick lesson in history: A long, long time ago, in the early 19th century, the British colonized our island and opened its ports to traders. Chinese, Malay and Indians immigrants came to our shores hoping to make their name and fortune. In order to trade, they had to interact; in order to interact, they had to pick up a common language, quickly. The syntax, however, wasn’t as important as the content of the message. Imagine trying to bargain in Chatuchak Market. Yeah, that was how it started, I imagine.
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Grammar Nazis collectively place their palms over their faces with a resounding smack.
The influence of our mother tongue is evident in the way we pronounce some words. We tend to drop the th for just a t or a d, making words like That sound like Dat. If you remember Siva Choy and the band, Kopy Kat Klan, you might remember their hit single, Why You So Like Dat? The entire song is a good lesson for anyone requiring a crash course in Singlish. Or, you could check out this YouTube video made by Singapore’s quintessential Singlish guru, Mr Brown. And Singlish is a patois that is spoken in a notoriously fast manner that makes two words sound like a single word. Take Add Pearl or Like That for instance. They end up sounding like Apple or Liddat to the untrained ear.
Perhaps the most important reason for using Singlish is in creating a bond between the speaker and the listener. Among ordinary Singaporeans, Singlish is used only in informal situations amongst friends or acquaintances you’re familiar with, like the shopkeeper or your neighbours. Standard or proper English, on the other hand, is used for formal situations.
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A Singaporean who can effectively switch between the Singlish and English is perceived to be more affable compared to a Singaporean who prefers to only speak in proper English. Perhaps it is for this reason that the Ang Mos (Singlish for Caucasians) pick up the lahs and the lors. As horrible as they sound, I think it might actually win them some brownie points in a social setting amongst the locals.
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So how? Agree not? If you have other tings to say, don’t shy hor, you can just leave us a comment below and share your tots with us. We double confirm respond to you within three working days.
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Written by Eugene Tay, founder of Brain & Butter and Monsters Under the Bed.

When Eugene was a young boy, he wanted to be an astronaut. When that didn't take off, he decided that he was going to be like Indiana Jones and explore the world as an archaeologist. Eventually, he figured out how he can do both. That's when he became a writer.

Co-Written by Grace Chai, mother of a newborn baby boy. 

Grace is a new mom and currently undergoing intensive On-The-Job Training for her new role. Between pumping milk, changing diapers and taking selfies with her baby, Grace manages stress by writing about her motherhood experience for ParentTown.

The Team @ Owl Readers Club

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