As a Singaporean writing an English column for an, Singlish ― an English a mixture of English, Malay and Chinese words and with a unique , seems like an obvious topic.
Too obvious, perhaps. So I’it.
Until now, because theOxford English Dictionary a Singlish word, kiasu, as a word of the day last month. According to the OED, this word is used to a person “ , typically a selfish, arising from a fear of something.”
For example, you could say, “She is so kiasu she startedfor the clearance sale at 6 a.m.!”
Kiasu isn’t the first Singlish word to make it into the OED. In March 2000, the first online version of the OED contained the words lah and sinseh. Therefers to a traditional Chinese or in Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore.
The word lah is harder to explain. Many foreigners seem to think that simply attaching lah to the end of a sentence makes it Singlish. But theof this is far more complicated than that. It is used to the speaker’s mood or attitude, but there are no hard and fast rules and much depends on the context. For example, you could say, “Don’t be so lazy lah!” to emphasize a , but it would be to say, “I am so lazy lah!”
The usage of lah is further complicated by seemingly similar particles such as lor and leh. We say “OK lor” to convey the sense that we don’t really want to say yes. When we say “OK leh,” it could be because theis whereas we want to emphasize that it really is okay.
Unless one is used to Singlish, the rules may seemand difficult to understand. Perhaps this is why the Singapore government has targeted Singlish in its “Speak Good English Movement,” which was launched in 2000. The authorities fear that we will not be able to communicate effectively with other people if we use only Singlish.
But for many Singaporeans, Singlishand it us home. In a that has been independent for only 50 years, and whose originally a dozen different places, few things connect us emotionally. Singlish is one of them.
I suppose the key is code-switching. We simply have to know when to use Singlish and when to use “standard” English. Can Singaporeans do this? As we would say in Singlish, “Of course can lah!”
The Japan Times ST: March 13, 2015