Do you know some of the Singlish terms have been added to Oxford English Dictionary? Find out more about the history of Singlish and how to apply it in your daily conversation!

What is Singlish?

The term “Singlish” is a representation of languages used by Singaporeans and some parts of South East Asia. This family of localized language or tone uniquely blended with certain theatrics or styles used in Singapore’s daily conversations. While it is commonly used during informal situations, it is not considered any gaffe or blunders in local context when spoken formally.

The variety of Lah, Lor, Leh and Meh. (C) The Straits Times

The language has a wide variety of vocabulary originating from English, Malay, and Tamil as well as Hokkien, Teochew, Cantonese dialects. Marrying these elements with common English and communicating with local slang has transcended in Singapore’s heartlands including television series and films.

A language that unifies Singaporean for who we are and what we are

Use Singlish like a Professional

There have been recent surges in interest in Singlish usage. In 2016, Oxford English Dictionary (OED) announced that it has added 19 new items such as “ang moh”, “shiok” and “sabo” in both its online and printed versions. Not only did Singapore grew from a 3rd world country to the most expensive city in the world, but Singlish is also making its wave up the language podium.

For a quick start, here are the few common Singlish language voted by Timeout

SinglishMeaning:Example:
Paiseh (piesay)A Hokkien way of saying something is embarrassing. Alternatively, it’s to express a sense of shame or that you are simply shy.“I’m paiseh to ask Chris Hemsworth for a selfie.”
Alamak (ah-lah-mak)An expression to display dismay, shock or alarm as one would with “Oh, no!”.“Alamak! I forgot to feed the cat!
Atas (ah-tahs)Malay for “up”, but is usually used as an adjective to describe something as luxe, upper class or “high SES”.“He is too atas to be caught dead eating at a hawker centre.”
CanSure, this means “able to”, “permitted to” or to request something, but this can also be used variously with a Singlish modifier. “Can you do this for me?” “Can lah, no worries.” “Can meh?” “Sure can.”
Lah, Lor, Leh, MehThese are all discourse particles that are mentioned at the end of sentences. Each one serves different purposes, and it all depends on tone, syntax, and context.
 “Just do it like that lah” (Here, “lah” has a sense of exasperation, but can also be used as a finality.)
“I’ve got no choice, So I just did it lor.” (Here, “lor” is used to express acceptance or resignation.)
“I didn’t know you have to do it like that leh.” (Here, “leh” is used to show uncertainty, a little more doubtful compared to “lah”.)
“Really, meh? You have to do it like that?” (Here, “meh” is used with a rhetorical question to serve disbelief without actually being shocked or surprised.)

Afterthoughts

Languages are often used as a tool not just to communicate but also to represent a nation’s culture uniquely to its citizens. Likewise, for Singlish, it shapes Singapore’s stance on a harmonious racial culture that was built up since gaining independence from Malaysia since 1965.

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