Two Ly Juuuuu.

Singlish, Singapore

One of Singapore's really endearing sides is the locals' version of English, Singlish.

You can't get around hearing it and it makes for quite the learning experience first time around. It's also pretty funny and I am a huge fan.

Ok. Real story.

5 January 2009, an authentic and completely local food court in Tai Seng, near the military airport. Juice and coffee vendor. Me in a semi-suit, Chinese vendor lady.

Me: Good morning. I would like to to have two glasses of lime juice, please.

Chinese vendor lady (scratchy voice): Ahh?

Me (clearing my throat): Ahem. May I have two glasses of lime juice, please?

Chinese vendor lady (turns to colleague and shouts) : Ahh. Ly ju, lah. Two ly juuuuuuuu!

Next day:

Me: Hello. Two ly ju.

Chinese vendor lady: Ahh?

Me: Two ly ju!

Chinese vendor lady: No unnerstan.

So you want to 'unnerstan' Singlish? Maybe even speak it? Forget about it - cannot, lah.

What Is It Anyway?

Take English words. Use Chinese sentence structure. Add some Malay Hindi, Tamil and Chinese dialect words. Mix in some accents.

Repeat a few times for those foreigners who 'dun unnerstan' and there you go: Singlish.

There is a whole body of research on this fascinating creole - interesting stuff about fricatives, tonalities, phonemes and glottal stops.

One thing, though: it is fun to hear, very eloquent in its own way and gives you some idea on how these speakers see the world.

Who Uses It?

Singlish, Singapore

Everybody does.

Even though the government and educators frown upon it, most everybody uses it.

Admittedly, though, only in pretty informal settings, like the infamous hawker vendor, or in a cab ride, or the guy who comes to fix your sink.

I have heard well-educated colleagues go to lunch and talk it the whole time, too.

What To Expect.

Just like Chinese dialects, expect a lot of one or two syllable words that mean just about everything.

Can, lah? = Is it possible?

MRT where? = Where is the MRT station, please?

So how? = What's going down tonight?

Cannot before. = We didn't used to be able to do it.

Accuse me - toylert? = Pardon me, where is the restroom, please?

You so blur, lah. = Man, are you ever confused.

Osso can. = Yes, we can do that, too.

You get the idea. It makes for real efficient communications. And it really trips up your Singaporean colleagues when you use their lingo.

I once went to the water cooler where a few of my female colleagues were standing.

Hey chio bu, ok, lah? = Hi beautiful girls, all right there?

They about choked on their water....


Have a look at the intricacies down to the last phonetic detail at Wikipedia's Singlish entry which reads like someone's PhD on the topic. Nevertheless, very interesting to read.

Osso, ahem, also pick up the book called An Essential Guide to Singlish at most bookstores.

Well worth the read on the bus and full of funny real life examples at use.

Talking Cock has an immense vocabulary list of the language - you'll find almost any phrase there, plus satirical columns, comics and articles about Singapore.

So, now Singlish osso can, lah?

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