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Singlish by Michelle Lee

A few years ago, partly thanks to Phua Chu Kang, the use of Singlish became a popular topic of public debate. This Singaporean-altered English, or ¡°affectionately¡± named Singlish was a concern to the government as it was widely used by the population of Singaporeans.

Many argue that is just an accent, just like the Japanese singsong way of speaking English. The government cannot expect Singaporeans to speak exactly like the British or Americans, whose English (in my opinion) is considered one of the most proper ¡°versions¡± of English around the world.

Standard English is the common language of Singapore's multi-ethnical population, one of four official languages that also include Malay, Mandarin Chinese and Tamil. Singlish combines elements of all these. This local concoction mixes English with common phrases in the Chinese dialects (mostly Hokkien) and some Malay with the addition of ¡°lah¡±, ¡°hor¡±, ¡°lor¡±, ¡°har¡± and ¡°meh¡± at the end of sentences. For example, Singaporeans do not use ¡°pardon me¡± when they need someone to repeat what they said. They just say rudely ¡°Har? What you say arh? Can repeat or not?¡± As you can see, it sounds so uncultured and may just put of most foreigners.

Singlish can also be defined as the improper usage of English and the improper pronunciation of certain words. One such example would be the most recent case was the debate over how we Singaporeans should pronounce ¡°esplanade¡±; the name of the newly- built live theatre of performing arts. ¡°The Durian¡±, as it is nicknamed by critiques, local cabbies, and the illiterates because of its spiky shell, was a subject of argument as to how it should be pronounced: ¡°espla-NAID¡± or ¡°espla-NARD¡±.

Besides this there are also the problem with the pronunciation of words in their common speech by many Singaporeans. People just don¡¯t understand how important it is for them to pronounce every word they speak correctly, especially the consonants, if not, they will sound like this: "I one too wee door some money." Can you guess what this person is saying?

I think that it all boils down to what you define as good oral English. In my opinion, creativity in language is perfectly fine and should be encouraged. However, once modification gets completely out of hand and evolves into a whole new language altogether, then measures should be taken to stop it.

True, Singlish may be what unites Singaporeans; it makes us unique. As mentioned in the recent box office hit ¡°I Not Stupid¡± by our homegrown funnyman Jack Neo, creativity should be encouraged, and Singlish is just a harmless form of English, which is close to the Singaporean hearts, just like the tongue-twisting Chinese Shanghainese in China speak.

We may use Singlish as a form of casual talk or making jokes for entertainment but not in our daily lives. Singlish can still live on and not forgotten by Singaporeans as one of their ¡°cultures¡±, but we must make it a must not to stray away from the proper English that our forefathers used when Singapore was a under the British rule.

I know that we are all tired of the numerous campaigns launched by the government to correct the Singlish-speaking problem. But losing touch with the real English language will be such a shame. After all, what is language for? It is for communication, for people to able to understand each other. Since English is an international language, it is meant for almost anyone from any corner of the earth to be able communicate with someone else from the other end of the globe. If in the future, English, or rather Singlish, becomes so undecipherable in our society, would we be able to communicate as well as we did before with foreign lands and continue to prosper? Try thinking about it this way. Maybe too you would agree with me.

*Note- If you want to discover the extent of our Singlish vocabulary is, you can visit these websites:

The Ultimate Singlish Guide! at

Singapore Humor at