Many a times new foreign visitors to this sunny little island are caught baffled at how English is spoken in Singapore. Somehow, Singaporeans are born with this innate ability in speaking a portmanteau of the island’s ethnically diverse languages merged together within the English lexicon – Singlish amongst Singaporeans and reverting to Standard English when interacting with foreign friends. How Singlish came about is debatable but I would like to proffer that it was borne out of a need for speed, efficiency and brevity – denominators that drive the pace of this hectic metropolis.

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Here is an example of how concise and efficient Singlish can convey its intended meaning despite being frugal on the number of words spoken,

Example 1

Singlish: “Queue *hen long, leh (interjection)!”

Standard English: “The queue (for something) is very *long!”

*Similar meaning in English language.


Example 2

Singlish: “You eat already?”

Standard English: “Have you eaten yet?”


It is worth noting that the brevity and informality of such Singlish sentences albeit, at the expense of syntactic rules of the English language, are a reflection of how ‘plebes’ here live their daily lives. The frantic speed this city-State carries itself necessitates the need to communicate pratically to one another by directing the intended meaning without being gratuitously frivolous. The rigours of a fast-paced life – where everything demands convenience and speed in all we do here has borne a culture of keeping all things as efficient as possible – in its literal and figurative sense.


In addition, the multi-faceted identity of Singapore’s population has contributed to the diverse nature of spoken Singlish – generally made up of Chinese, Malay, Tamil, and other dialects, which thus form a unique colloquial English vernacular. Singlish is the spawn of a new wave of “interlanguages” borne through increasing global convergence as English – the world’s lingua franca, having mingled with other native tongues and pronunciations. In other global cities, for example, speakers of Spanish in the United States are known to speak a colloquial branch of English known as Spanglish. With increasing transnational migration in this globalising world where cultures are interspersed has quintessentially prove that such variants of spoken English are here to stay, transformed by its various local intricacies.


By Solyh Ahmad, ASEAN Correspondent from Singapore