Geography And Brief History


Singapore Information from the Translation Site


"Singapore is an island nation in South-east Asia. Singapore's main territory is a diamond-shaped island, although her territory includes surrounding smaller islands. Singapore is slightly more than 3.5 times the size of Washington DC. Of Singapore's dozens of smaller islands, Jurong Island, Pulau Tekong, Pulau Ubin and Sentosa are the larger ones" (from


Early in its history it was influenced by other nations because of its location in various trade routes and was populated by many different peoples. Some of these were Chinese, Malasian, Indian and Thai. Because of this diversity in cultures, it became quite common for everyone born in Singapore to speak many different languages. When it became customary for most children to go to school, English became more widely spoken in the city, and Singlish developed from the meltingpot of languages.


"Since nearly everyone in Singapore speaks more than one language, with many people speaking three or four, most children grow up bilingual from infancy and learn more languages as they grow up. Naturally the presence of other languages (especially various varieties of Malay and of Chinese) has influenced the English of Singapore. The influence is especially apparent in the kind of English that is used informally, which is popularly called Singlish, but which is called Singapore Colloquial English or Colloquial Singapore English in most academic writing. This slang dialect is usually informally used by every class in Singapore" (


The following is a link that contains much information about Singapore. It goes into greater depth about the geography and climate and also about the government and currency of Singapore.



Features of Pronunciation


Singlish is best thought of as a continuum. In Singlish's case, the continuum runs through the following varieties:



"This is the most "high-class" form of speech, used by the well-educated in formal situations. Acrolectal Singaporean English is basically identical to formal British English, except that a "toned-down" version of Singlish pronunciation is used. For example, speakers of acrolectal Singaporean English attempt to restore the phonemes /θ/ and /ð/ (as in thin and then)" ( from



"This is "middle-class" Singlish, and is used in formal and semi-formal situations. At this level, features not found in other forms of English begin to emerge" (



"This is "street" Singlish, and is used by everyone, educated or not, in informal settings. Here can be found all of the unique phonological, lexical, and grammatical features of Singlish, which will be the subject of the rest of this article" (from



"This is the "pidgin" level of Singlish, which is probably a good representative of an earlier stage of Singlish, before creolization took place and solidified Singlish as a fully-formed creole. Like all pidgins, speakers at the pidgin level speak another language as a first language, and Singlish as a second language. However, since many people today learn Singlish natively, the number of speakers at the "pidgin" level of Singlish is dwindling. (By definition, a pidgin is not learned natively.)" (from


"When Singaporeans speak to each other, mixing of Singlish with other languages, such as Chinese dialects, Malay, or Indian languages such as Tamil occurs very frequently. In fact, a sentence can begin in Singlish, switch languages several times along the way, and end up as another language. However, this can only occur if all participants of the conversation can already speak both Singlish and the language(s) into which they are switching. This article will therefore talk only about "pure" Singlish—the kind that may go on in a conversation between a Chinese, a Malay, and an Indian. Such speech will still contain Asian words, but those will be considered loanwords fully incorporated into Singlish, because everyone can understand them, regardless of what other Asian languages they may speak" (from



Lexical and or grammatical features that distinguish this dialect



"Singapore English does not distinguish between voiced and unvoiced fricatives in the final position: RICE and RISE sound the same. The /t/ is a glottal stop and so is /d/, for example BATH becomes BAT and THEN is DEN. The /r/ is sounded only when followed by a vowel, but in recent years the young people use the /r/ in words like HEART and PORT. Words that end in consonant clusters, the last letter is often dropped. ACT becomes AC, CAST is CAS, STOPPED is STOP. It makes it hard to tell when the person is using past tense" (Gupta).



In Singapore English vowels are all short; GOAT is GOT, for example.(Paraphrased from Gupta)


Stress and Intonation

"Singlish has a distinctive 'machine gun' style rhythm. There is less distinction between stressed and unstressed syllables than in reference varieties. Each variety has its own tune of speech" (Gupta).



A lot of grammatical endings required in Standard English are optional. Plural and past tenses are a matter of choice, or may be omitted. Ex. What happen yesterday? Got so many car! (Paraphrased from Gupta)


Verb TO BE

The forms and its changes used in English are optional. Ex. She so pretty. That one like us. (Paraphrased from Gupta)



"Singlish has 11 particles, mostly borrowed from other languages.Speakers of Singlish will ususally end his sentence with a distinctive exclamation, which work like YOU KNOW and YOU SEE. The most common are AH (agreement), LAH (strong assertion), and WHAT (usually corrects something)" (Paraphrased from Gupta).


Examples include:



1. ah, lah - Example: OK lah, bye bye. I'm not at home lah. Thats's why ah.


2. ley - It is very troublesome ley.


3. what - No parking lots here, what.



More of these interesting words (mainly a mix of Malay and Hokkien) can be found at:



Can is used extensively as both a question particle and an answer particle. The negative is cannot.


Gimme lah, can? Give it to me, OK?

Can! Sure!

Cannot. No way.

Can can be repeated for greater emphasis or to express enthusiasm:


Boss: "Can you send me the report by this afternoon?" Employee: "Can Can!" (No problem!)


The phrase like that is commonly appended to the end of the sentence to emphasize descriptions by adding vividness and continuousness. Due to its frequency of use, it is often pronounced lidat (lye-dat):


He so stupid lidat. - He's pretty stupid, you know.

He acting like a little kid lidat. - He's really acting like a little kid, you know.

Like that can also be used as in other Englishes:


Why he acting lidat?

If lidat, how am I going to answer to the gong shi teng? - If that's the case, how am I going to answer to the board of directors?


Other Features

"Questions usually do not change the order of subject and verb. Ex. Why you so stupid?

You can 'miss out' the subject more freely in Singlish. EX. Don't want. Finish already" (Gupta).


Singlish formally takes after British English (in terms of spelling and abbreviations), although naming conventions are in a mix of American and British ones (with American ones on the rise). For instance, local media have "sports pages" (sport in British English) and "soccer coverage" (the use of the word "soccer" is not common in British media). Singlish also uses many words borrowed from Hokkien, the Chinese dialect native to more than 75% of the Chinese in Singapore, and from Malay. In many cases, English words take on the meaning of their Chinese counterparts, resulting in a shift in meaning. This is most obvious in such cases as "borrow"/"lend", which are functionally equivalent in Singlish and mapped to the same Mandarin word, "借" (jiè), which can mean to lend or to borrow. ("Oy, can lend me your calculator?")


Examples of Singlish:


* habis - finished


* makan - to eat


* chope - to reserve something


* cheem - difficult, complicated


* Aiyah - signify exasperation.

* Angmo - Hokkien for "red-haired". Used to refer to Caucasians.

* Bo cheng hu - Hokkien for "no government". Used to describe a state of lawlessness where anything goes.

* Cheena - Term used to refer to off-beat taste.


* Chiak chua - Hokkien for "eat snake". Loafing on the job.


* Choy - Cantonese phrase to ward off bad luck.


* Hah - Used as short form for "I beg your pardon".


* Hiau - Hokkien for "vain"


* Jia lat - Hokkien for "very troublesome".

* Kiasu - Hokkien for "afraid to lose".

* Koyak - Malay for "spoilt", "broken down".


* Koyok - Malay for "quack medicine". Used to describe lousy goods.

* Lah, lor, meh - For punctuating sentences.

* Mm chai si - Hokkien for "not scared of death".


* Sala - Malay for "wrong".

* Shiok - Something that gives a kick.

* Tau tia - Hokkien for "headache". Used to describe great difficulty.

From the talkingcock site at


Singaporean Jokes



Drive You Mad


"One day, Mr. Choe Seng Lee walked into a bank and asked for the loan officer. He said he was going to Batam on Business for two days and needed to borrow $5000. The loan officer said the bank would need some security for the loan.


Mr. Choe then handed over the keys to his Mercedes that was parked on the street in front of the bank. Everything checked out and the loan officer accepted the car as collateral for the loan.


An employee then drove the Mercedes into the bank's carpark and parked it there. Two days later Mr. Choe returned and repaid the $5,000 and the interest which came to $13.07.


The loan officer said, "We do appreciate your business and this transaction has worked out very nicely. But we are a bit puzzled. While you were away, we checked and found that you are a very rich contractor. Why would you need to borrow $5,000?"


Mr. Choe replied, "Aiyah, where else in Singapore can I park my car for 2 days for 13 dollars and with security officers to guard somemore?"


Can Die (Contributed by Setzer)


There was this case in a hospital's intensive care ward where patients always died in the same bed and always on Friday mornings, regardless of their medical conditions.


This puzzled the doctors and some even thought that it had to do with the supernatural. So the doctors decided to go down to that particular ward to investigate the cause.


Come Friday morning, everyone at the hospital ward nervously waited for the terrible phenomenon to occur again. Some held wooden crosses, prayer books and other holy objects to ward off evil....


As the time approached, their hearts began beating anxiously, and with every beat of the clock, everyone held their breath........ .... Then Ah Soh, the part-time Friday cleaner, came into the room and unplugged the life support system so that she could use the vacuum cleaner" (Talkingcock).





Social function


Singlish is a badge of identity for many Singaporeans, and, as you can see from the satirical website, Talkingcock, there are some websites that are written in it. Many Singaporeans move smoothly between Singapore Colloquial English and Standard English. As most Singaporeans use a lot of Singapore Colloquial English to their children, children tend to speak Singapore Colloquial English before they speak Standard English. It is still the case in Singapore that the younger you are and the richer your family is, the more likely you are to have English (and that usually means Singapore Colloquial English) as your native language. But Standard English is used in formal contexts, as it is all over the English-using world. Take a look at Singapore's leading English newspaper, The Straits Times.


The government in Singapore has discouraged the use of Singlish, though pretty much everybody uses it, and enforces the use of Standard English. An article in the Time Asia reports that a movie that excessively used Singlish was rated NC-17, meaning no one under 17 could watch it, simply because of "bad grammar". The government has begun an actual movement to curb the use of Singlish, however some popular media still supports the language, and quite a few movies have been made about it. Some of these are "I Not Stupid" and "Singapore Dreaming".





The Good English Movement


The Fight Against The Good English Movement





Singaporean Literature


The genres of Singaporean Literature are: poetry, drama, fiction and nonfiction. A great example of the fiction literature is Catherine Lim's "Little Ironies: Stories of Singapore" (1978). The list below includes other short stories from The Straits Chinese Magazine, published from 1897 to 1907, and constitute the earliest Singapore writing in English.



"Her One Redeeming Feature" by Chia Cheng Sit

"Lost and Found" by Lew See Fah

"The Travels of Chang Ching Chong"

"Rodney's Salvation"

"The President's Ball" by T. B. G.

"Is Revenge Sweet?" by Wee Tong Poh

"Ways and Means" by Datoh

"A Daughter's Portion" by Bertie Armstrong

"Ada Wing's Marriage" by Kelwin Baxter

"The Old Story" by Homo

"From My Father's Diary" by Chia Cheng S


A Poem in Singlish


"Struggling with the Old Self

Gwee Li Sui


can you run again

when Diocletian has caught up with you

can you run again

this time can you can you leap again

a frog from his welled view


this is no man's rain

you are no Elijah and this voodoo

chants old ghost again

from old wells from old rains of an old strain

can you run can you"


Published in Focus'94 (1994)


There are also dictionaries in book form and on the web that translate Singlish.


Singlish Dictionaries


Singlish Dictionary


Satirical Dictionary




Applied Language Solutions Maps of the World Nov. 25, 2006.


Gupta, Anthea Fraser. Singapore Colloquial English (Singlish) Nov. 23,2006.








Created by:

Sabrina, Sandra, Lisa and Holly