I’ve previously mentioned the amazing linguistic hodgepodge of English, Malay, Hokkien, and whatever the cat brought in that serves as the lingua franca of Singapore (despite government disapproval) and is known as Singlish (excellent Wikipedia entry here—thanks, John!), but I wanted to pass along the Coxford Singlish Dictionary, which should help explicate any passages you may run into online or off. Sample entry:

KING (Contributed by Adrian Eng)
Someone who’s an extremely good example of something. Often used together with other adjectives to describe a person who’s superlative at something, usually unsavoury.
1. “Eh, you want to contest Tanjong Pagar in the General Election, ah? Damn king, ah, you!”
2. “Wah piang, that guy is sotong king man… small thing also can cock up!”
3. “That bobo king… target so big also he cannot kena!”
4. “Every PE lesson only, he got MC. Damn keng king!”

(Via MonkeyFilter.)


  1. It’s fun to imagine a nationalist movement arising and producing a standard Singlish language.

  2. clockzero says:

    I don’t want to seem like a latent prescriptivist–or worse, linguistically provincial–but that is some ugly English they speak in Singapore.

  3. clockzero says:

    And, you know, very interesting also.

  4. I’d love to find some audio recordings on the web of native Singlish speakers. Google turned up nothing, unfortunately. Also, though I narrowed it afterwards, searching “singlish” and “audio” (not in quotation marks together) brings up lots of hits about an ESL product called Singlish.
    The Coxford Dictionary resource is great, but I’ve absolutely no idea how it sounds. Is it like a stereotypical East Asian accent, or one from the Indian subcontinent? Or something different altogether?
    Whenever I read about Singlish I am always very intrigued. Maybe someone reading has the answer!

  5. small thing also can cock up!”
    Story of my life right there.
    BTW, Alnedra on Monkeyfilter (first commenter in the thread) speaks Singlish like a native, because she is one.

  6. (funny, I got here from mefi through a self link, only to find a post on Singlish)
    Singlish may be incomprehensible to a nonnative and sound really crude, but it does add colour to conversations.
    Nathaniel: This may not be very much, but here’s a link to a trailer for a Singaporean movie. Most of it is in Chinese, but there is some Hokkien and Singlish in it. Around the middle there’s a part where a character says in Singlish, “Ang moh’s idea is always very special…”

  7. What does it sound like? A campur of English, Chinese and Malay.

  8. More Granny.

  9. Uh… Marco, how do you know I speak Singlish like a native? Aside from the fact that I am a native, of course.
    /stupid question

  10. john, she’s even more cute in action. exactly like one of those anime characters. even her eyes get that big.

  11. (I presume Wena is referring to Granny, but the conjunction with Alnedra’s comment is pretty amusing!)

  12. o_O

  13. xiaolongnu says:

    One of the interesting things about Singlish (I lived with a Singaporean for three years) is that it often takes the form of English (and, secondarily, Hokkien and Malay) vocabulary arranged in a primarily Chinese syntax. The first time I heard it I didn’t understand a word, but I quickly found that knowing Chinese helped a lot, for this exact reason. Hence, my roommate would walk out of the kitchen and say “Eh, we got garlic or not?” which meant “Have we got any garlic” but is a direct word-for-word rendition of the Chinese “Ei, women you suantou mei you?”
    On the other hand, my personal favorite part of Singlish was not the syntax but particular words, including colorful expressions like “I blur like sotong” (I’m as exhausted as a cuttlefish, and if you’ve ever seen them on ice in the market, they’re pretty limp). There are also a few words for phenomena that are not well addressed in English. My favorite of these is “kiah su” which is Hokkien for “afraid to lose (out)” (Mandarin pa shu). Someone who is kiah su will go to great lengths to, for example, buy something they don’t really want, because it’s a good buy and a prestigious find. We need a word for this in standard English, though I’ve just started using kiah su.

  14. A fine word indeed — I’ll have to try to remember to use it.

  15. Teaching English to Chinese I foten find them discarding the parts of English that don’t seem useful. There are also quite a few English interjections which can be used like Chinese, such as OK, eh?, huh?, huh!, ya (= ja), hm, mm, etc. I’ve heard “OK, bye-bye!” at the end of ten minutes of intense Chinese dialogue.
    OT, but my brother says that “OK, bye-bye, see you later” wasn’t just a single word “Okaibaibaisiyulaiter”.

  16. Singlish reminds me of something I read a while back about urban youth languages/argots in Africa, such as “Ndoubil in Kinshasa (based on Lingala, later replaced by Lingala ya bayankee)”–“Ndoubil” < “Hindu Bill” on the pattern of “Buffalo Bill” IIRC. I wonder if the -yankee on the end of ya bayankee is the familiar international term.

  17. languagehat : on the reverse of singlish or even manglish (malaysian mangled english), it’s not uncommon in kuching, sarawak to find old, balding chinese men wearing a singlet and shorts with one knee up on the chair speaking very good English!

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