Monday, April 04, 2005

Speak Good Singlish

Updates below.

* * *

Some of us lose control of our bodily funtions when we hear an ungrammatical sentence.

Like the other day when I heard someone ask,

"Don't want lah?"


The annoying can't-speak-grammatical-Singlish-but-thinks-he-can ang moh really should have asked, "don't want meh?"

Some of these ang mohs have absolutely no respect for our culture, deriding us with their mocking and condescending attempts at producing phrases with Singlish particles, without any appreciation for the intricate nuances of Singlish or its grammar, as if peppering a "lah" here or a "loh" there would magically turn them into speakers of good Singlish.

I don't blame them entirely. We Singapore folk have not stood up against their cultural and linguistic tyranny. How many books are there on proper Singlish? How many courses can one attend to learn good Singlish? Even our great gahmen treats Singlish like some bastard stepdaughter who keeps asking for pocket money.

Granted that not all ang mohs are evil - some are genuinely interested in Singlish, and make an effort to learn it. But how many of us are equipped to teach or explain it?

I don't pretend to be a Singlish expert, much less a qualified Singlish teacher. But that won't stop me from attempting to show the economic elegance of Singlish with its use of particles like "lah", "loh", "meh", and others in the lesson below.

* * *

Note: In linguistics, a "particle" is

1. An uninflected item that has grammatical function but does not clearly belong to one of the major parts of speech, such as up in He looked up the word or to in English infinitives.
2. In some systems of grammatical analysis, any of various short function words, including articles, prepositions, and conjunctions.

* * *

The phrase we'll be modifying today is:

"Don't want [blank]"

where [blank] is a particle followed by a punctuation mark.

I'll also start the phrase with a personal pronoun (I, you, him, etc.) for clarity, although it is sometimes redundant, like in English.

* * *

Note on pronunciation:

"Don't" is often pronounced like the "done" in "condone" or rhyming with "own", and "want" often sounds just like "one". Sometimes, "don't want" is further contracted into "dowan" (pronounced like "dough"-"one").

* * *

Now let's get on with the the lesson proper.

lah -

I don't want lah.

In English:
Well, I guess I have to say don't really want it.

Used to soften the assertion.


leh -

I don't want leh!

In English:
I don't want it, so sue me!

Used with an air of defiance.


loh -

He don't want loh.

In English:
He doesn't want it, and that's it.

Used to imply resignation.


hor -

You don't want hor?

In English:
You don't want it right?

Used as a confirmation.


mah -

I don't want mah.

In English:
It's because I don't want it.

Used to express a reason (because).


meh -

You don't want meh?

In English:
Are you sure you don't want it?

Used to express doubt; can only be used in questions.


sia -

He don't want sia!

In English:
I'm surprised that he actually doesn't want it!

Used to express an element of surprise, possibly mock surprise.

* * *

Putting this down has proven to be more difficult than I realised. No wonder the ang mohs can never get it right!

Since, as I've mentioned earlier, I'm no Singlish nor linguistic expert, there are probably errors in this lesson. I'd be happy if you could point them out.

Whatever it is, let's join our hands together and Speak Good Singlish!

* * *


katongking actually had a very similar post which I only just discovered.

mr brown also joins in the scholarly discourse on Singlish. He also quotes a sociolinguist's article on Singlish, which I'll remember to read during those nights of insomnia.

This so cool loh.

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