Apr 13, 2005

Speak Better Singlish Tip 1: Mispronounciation is the key

According to katongking,
Singlish is a curious mix of English, Malay, Mandarin Chinese and Hokkien. With an English base, it borrows words liberally from all of these languages, adds in the Chinese (lack of) grammar, all rendered in a lovely Singaporean twang. The beauty of Singlish lies in its brevity. When we would normally say, 'Have you eaten your meal yet?', locals here say, 'Got makan onnot?', resulting in a grand saving of 3 syllables. Or better still, 'Are you sure it is possible?' becomes an elegant 'Can meh?'.
Because Singlish is such a melange of different languages and dialects, excessive fluency in any of those languages, especially English, tends to "upset the balance" and makes you sound, well, like a "katang" (potato, connotes a Westerner). If you pepper your conversation with words of three syllables or more, for example, you might be greeted with a "Wah, your england vely the powderful, ah?" (You are quite proficient in English, aren't you?) in response.

The typical Singaporean may or may not be fluent in proper English, but the general consensus is that to sound really Singaporean, your English pronounciation shouldn't be too perfect.

So in short, bad English is good Singlish.

But how does one sound local? One way is to deliberately mispronounce certain words to sound more Singlish. In that way, no one can accuse you of being a katang because you're not speaking like one.

Examples here are from the following browncast:

[TMBS-050407-PT1 03:31] brown: "They say your muscles (mus-kerls) look like hunk, not punk"
[TMBS-050407-PT1 06:29] brown: "Singapore fashion festival ends with lingerie (leen-ger-ree) show"
[TMBS-050407-PT1 09:23] brown: "For those don't speak Cantonese one ah, I translate (trans-rate) for you"
[TMBS-050407-PT1 10:12] miyagi: "I think MediaCorps (media-corpse) is giving bonus"
[TMBS-050407-PT1 14:03] brown: "Canada (ker-nay-der)? Isn't that north of America (er-meh-dee-ker)?

Though it takes some practising to know which words to mispronounce and when, mastering this essential skill will definitely score you points with the heartlanders. No doubt about it.

So until next time,

Tua Kay Or Singlish....*ting*


aGent X said...

steadly-lah brudder.
hahaha...you could start your brand of podcase too, leh!

calm one said...

i think there's a demand for singlish podcasts, esp those that teach singlish...

ahmad said...

agentx: I try my best to do my part for the beautiful language

calm one: Mmm...now I'm seriously considering getting myself a decent mic

Jonathan said...

I definitely demands for more singlish podcasts from real singaporeans!

mr brown's podcasts are lightening up my days over here.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

When I first heard it , I liked Singlish.
It seemed very cute and funky.
However , as I hear more people go on about it , and I hear the arrogant , flippant way that it is used , I am beginning to dislike it.
All this stuff about it being a melange is garbage , it is a deformity.
It is an insult to Malay , an insult to Hokkien and Mandarin , and above all else , and most seriously , it is an insult to English.
Singlish is a bastardization of English , a mutation.
Brought about by too much business , by laziness , conceit and indifference.
And theses phrases like "ang moh" and that one about Westerners being "potatoes" are particularly offensive.
Singapore is a British colony , Singapore was built by the British , anyone who lives there should show the courtesy of speaking proper English !
And , for that matter , correct Malay , Mandarin and Hokkien when the need arises.