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Hey everyone! This is Benny from Fluent in 3 months!
And I am talking to you today from Singapore!
I've invited Jade to tell me a little bit about Singlish.
So, what is Singlish?
I would say Singlish is something like a pidgin language.
That mixes a lot of the local languages,
like some Chinese dialect: Cantonese, Teochew, Hokkien,
As well as Malay, and a little bit of Tamil and Hindi, and whatever you have here.
And of course Singlish is short for Singapore English.
It has its basis in English.
And how is it viewed by locals?
I know that in some situations, people may frown upon using it even though its a genuine language in its own right.
So what's the reception it gets from different kinds of people?
I would say that Singlish is not exactly a formalised language.
It's not the kind of language that you'll want to use in a business setting, or a professional situation.
It's something that we use when we're speaking with friends,
like an informal situation where we're buying something in the market.
That's the kind of language that we'd use to avoid sounding really posh or
like what we say, "atas", which means kind of elitist.
Like if you speak perfect English in some situation that doesn't warrant or require it, you'd seem pretentious.
So Singlish is a way to get down to the local level,
getting down to earth and relate and bond with the locals.
Yea OK.
And if someone like myself were moving to Singapore, would it be strange for me to try to speak Singlish?
Or would people just adjust to my benefit or would it be more respectful for me to try to use the slang?
I would say that Singaporeans would find it amusing when foreigners try to speak Singlish,
they wouldn't take offence unless you make fun of it.
But we don't really need that, because most Singaporeans, or I would say all Singaporeans,
we are formally educated in English.
So we would have no problems, unless you have a heavy accent.
Some of us do have problems with the Australian accent, or some of the more obscure British accents, like Sherlock Holmes(?)
So unless you have a really heavy accent, most Singaporeans would understand English pretty well, so you don't really have to adjust.
Except maybe for the older generations, or some of those who are slightly less educated,
you might have to go a little slow.
Some people might taken offence if you go very Singlish on them on purpose.
Like "You mean I can't speak real English now?"
It really depends, just go normal English, like the standard English first,
and just adjust accordingly if you have to, but there's really no need for that.
Alright, and in terms of the language itself, I was reading up a little about it,
I found it very interesting that what you said,
the influences from Malay, Hokkien and other languages.
From what I've learnt from Mandarin, I know that Mandarin didn't directly influence any part of it,
because other Chinese dialects have influences.
There's a little bit of familiarity that I'm starting to see, like word formations.
Maybe you can help elaborate on it,
For instance if you wanted to ask a Yes or No question, how does that work?
For me, being born and bred in Singapore, it comes really natural to me.
I don't think about it the way you do, the way you analyse it word for word.
For me it just comes like that.
I think you use very much of Chinese influenced grammar structure,
and you add English words and other words in to make it work.
Let me give an example...
Like you'd add "meh", when asking a question.
You give a positive sentence, and add a "meh", it becomes a question.
And that would be similar to the Mandarin word "Ma"
Actually for "Meh", the exact sound comes from Cantonese.
So if you came from Hong Kong or some place that speaks Cantonese,
If you want to ask someone, "Can you really do that?"
"You can do that meh!?"
So you add to "You can do that", which is a positive statement, then "Meh" at the end,
You'd also express a little bit of disbelief.
There's this nuance that you get just by adding the "Meh"
Because when you say "You can do that?" "Do you think you can do that?" or "Are you sure you can do that?"
But with the "Meh", you can even add the idea of uncertainty.
The idea of "Are you sure you can do that?"
but you'd just say "You can do that meh?" with that look on your face.
You'd just get that somebody thinks you can't do it.
It's actually a very colourful and vibrant language in the sense that it's very economised,
It's very short, yet just with the tones and nuances you can get a lot of emotions.
Are there any loanwords which you keep the tones in them?
I would say that Singlish is a rather monotonous language.
It doesn't respect the English intonations.
Because you bring in so many different languages, you'd just go with it.
I wouldn't necessarily call it monotonous, its just different emphasis.
English is a stress emphasized language.
When I'm speaking in English, I emphasize certain parts of the sentence.
From what I've seen, Singlish is a syllable emphasizing language,
so you actually will pronounce each syllable clearly.
It would be rather choppy,
it sounds choppy to an English speaker.
So it can sound rather monotonous.
But if you come from our angle, I would say it's really natural.
Yeah of course.
It's really colourful, when you hear it.
Some people would ask me, "Are you speaking some language from India?"
And I'm like, "No!"
But it does sound like its really animated and exotic.
It's impossible to summarise the language in 5 minutes.
But if you glance online there are so many words that are used differently.
Like "Action" ?
Ah, "Don't be so action leh!" -Okay
If you're someone who likes to show-off, for the sake of it.
There's no meaning for it, you're being "action"
Someone who overacts.
And another one I saw was "Arrow"?
Ah. Let's say in a professional situation...
In a social situation, when someone is required to do an unpleasant task.
Nobody wants to do it.
So usually you would get "arrowed" to do it, someone would volunteer your services. We would say that.
It kind of means that you got shot by an arrow.
Exactly. That's the thing.
To get accustomed to the language, you'd have to see how all of these different words are used in a unique way.
Like you said, it's really colourful, it gives this unique quality.
It is a pity that it's frowned upon. Institutions have this policy of "Speak proper English"?
Yes.
How do people feel about that?
It's their language, and it's how they're comfortable with speaking it.
What's the reaction to someone saying you're not speaking properly.
Like I see this as two different entities.
You can code-switch between speaking standard English for work purposes,
and speaking Singlish with your friends.
How do people look at that?
I like the way you brought up this term, code-switching.
It's very important in Singapore's context.
In official situations it's definitely frowned upon.
You wouldn't want to speak Singlish unless you can't help it.
Some people really can't help it.
It's very important in official situations to be able to speak good English.
But I would say with friends and families, in casual situations, we definitely speak Singlish.
In fact most of us would go Singlish.
It's just the going back part, back to professional, good English that may be an issue for some people.
Because not everyone is so flexbile in that sense.
Some people tend to think that Singlish is good English.
Sometimes the line is really fine.
There's really like, gangster's Singlish.
And then there's that slight Singlish.
It's a spectrum, not like a Singlish-English.
Singlish is here and then you have English there.
Some people are kind of in the middle, and it's very difficult for you to code switch when you are right in the middle.
You'd tend to bring in some words and it just flows over, and you don't come back to the right English.
That can become a problem because some people find that you don't...
Some people feel that you don't sound educated when you go Singlish all the time.
That said, a lot of educated people speak Singlish - Yea of course.
It has nothing to do with social stature or where you come from.
It's very much in our hearts.
It's very important to know when to use Singlish and when to use English.
It's not actually correct to say "good" English, because that way you imply that Singlish is bad English.
Which is totally not true.
We had this thing called the "Speak Good English Campaign"
it kind of implied that some people here are speaking bad English,
but there's a difference between bad English, like if you don't know your grammar and expressions, and speaking Singlish.
So that dichotomy really needs to be well explained,
and someone, hopefully Singaporean, needs to stand out and say that we should give Singlish the respect it deserves.
And then do something about people who don't speak the right kind of English.
Yes I'm here for several days, and I'm actually looking forward to hearing more Singlish.
Because I was here a few years ago, and just hearing it, it's this very interesting collection.
Like Singapore in itself, a mixture cultures, and of languages.
All of the notices you see are in 4 languages.
So I feel like what you said, Singlish is the heart of Singaporeans.
I do highly recommend people to show a little bit of interest in place that they're visiting.
I mean you would always been understood if you were to speak standard English.
But it's very different.
I really appreciate when people come to Ireland, and they start using Irish English.
It's a different situation, because we're talking about a dialect versus a pidgin language or a creole language.
But it shows me that English is not just for communicating, but they are actually trying to learn the langauge to connect with people.
If I were to stay here longer, I would definitely be diving so much more into it,
I would try to show respect, I wouldn't doing that to make fun.
I would be doing it to show people that I actually care about having them speak naturally to me.
That's what langauges is all about at the end of the day.
Yes.
Alright thank you very much for the very interesting discussion, really appreciate it Jade!
Thank you Benny.
Take care everybody!
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Singlish: The Singaporean English creole - interview

5085 Folder Collection
Peter Yang published on June 13, 2015
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