Understanding Singlish

So this is the first time you come to Singapore. You're hungry. You look for an eating place. You find a foodcourt. You come to one of the sellers. She greets you: "Hi, hello! What you want arh?"

You left speechless.

Don't let this happen to you! As the wise men said, if you go to a doghouse you have to bark, if you go to a stable you have to neigh (or something like that); then when you come to a country, you have to learn their language. So if you're planning to come to Singapore... let me teach you Singlish!

Singlish is Singaporean English. It is basically English that is modified with the grammar of Malay or Mandarin and added with various words from Hokkien (a Chinese dialect), Malay, Mandarin, and new-found words (usually merger of two English words).

Few characteristics of Singlish are like the following:

  • The past, the present, and the future are all the same.
    Example: "Got time or not?" (Do you have); "This shop didn't have." (actually do not have).

  • Consist of words of it's own.
    Examples: "She kena scold." (has been, being); "This rice is shiok." (delicious);

  • Special endings.
    Examples: "What timeah?"; "Don't be like that ler."; "That way lor."; "Over there lah!"

  • It's short. Very short
    Examples: "Why, liddat one?" (Why are you/is he/she like that?); "Scuse!" (Excuse me); "Siam!" (get lost).

  • But I think Wikipedia explains the phonology and grammar of the "language" better than I do.

    Few phrases of Singlish that you HAVE TO know:
    Auntie = Use loosely to refer to an old lady
    He sui mah? = Do you want to drink?
    Last time = Before or previously
    Oledy/Oredy = Already
    Shiok = Good/delicious
    Tapao or packet = Take away (food)
    Teh peng = Ice milk tea
    Uncle = Use loosely to refer to an old guy

    Here is a list of Singlish words and a (sort of) complete dictionary of Singlish.

    Tips: There are actually Android and iPhone apps for Singlish. If you really want to learn the "language" or even just curious. find and download the apps!

    Comprehensive video on Singlish: