「ST」は紙名を新たに「Alpha」として2018年6月29日より新創刊しました。 Alpha以降の英文記事はこちら
「ST」は紙名を新たに「Alpha」として2018年6月29日より新創刊しました。 Alpha以降の英文記事はこちら


Of course can lah!

By Tan Ying Zhen


As a Singaporean writing an English column for an overseas publication, Singlish ― an English vernacular featuring a mixture of English, Malay and Chinese words and with a unique syntax, seems like an obvious topic.

Too obvious, perhaps. So I’ve steered clear of it.

Until now, because the hallowed Oxford English Dictionary featured a Singlish word, kiasu, as a word of the day last month. According to the OED, this word is used to refer to a person “governed by self-interest, typically manifesting as a selfish, grasping attitude arising from a fear of missing out on something.”

For example, you could say, “She is so kiasu she started queuing for 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. The latter refers to a traditional Chinese physician or herbalist 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 the usage of this particle is far more complicated than that. It is used to convey 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 sense of reproach, but it would be weird 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 the other party is skeptical whereas we want to emphasize that it really is okay.

Unless one is used to Singlish, the rules may seem obscure and 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, Singlish is close to our hearts and it reminds us of home. In a city-state that has been independent for only 50 years, and whose citizens originally hailed from 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

The Japan Times ST 読者アンケート




2018年6月29日号    試読・購読   デジタル版