Singapore is a microcosm of Asia, populated by Chinese, Malays, Indians, and a large group of workers and expatriates from all across the globe. Singapore has a partly deserved reputation for sterile predictability that has earned it descriptions like William Gibson’s “Disneyland with the death penalty” or the “world’s only shopping mall with a seat in the United Nations”. Nevertheless, the Switzerland of Asia is for many a welcome respite from the poverty, chaos, and crime of much of the Asian mainland, and if you scratch below the squeaky clean surface and get away from the tourist trail you’ll soon find more than meets the eye.


Malay may be enshrined in the Constitution as the ‘national’ language, but in practice the most common language is English, spoken by almost every Singaporean under the age of 50 with varying degrees of fluency. In addition, all official signs and documents are written in English, usually using British spelling. However, the distinctive local patois Singlish may be hard to understand at times, as it incorporates slang words and phrases from other languages, including various Chinese dialects, Malay and Tamil as well as English words whose pronunciation or meaning have been corrupted, and has an odd way of structuring sentences, due to the original speakers being mostly Chinese. Complex consonant clusters are simplified, articles and plurals disappear, verb tenses are replaced by adverbs, questions are altered to fit the Chinese syntax and semi random particles (especially the infamous “lah”) appear:

Singlish: You wan beer or not? — Dunwan lah, dring five botol oreddi.

English: Do you want a beer? — No, thanks; I’ve already had five bottles.

Thanks to nationwide language education campaigns, most younger Singaporeans are, however, capable of speaking what the government calls “good English” when necessary. To avoid unintentional offense, it’s best to start off with standard English and shift to simplified pidgin only if it becomes evident that the other person cannot follow you. Try to resist the temptation to sprinkle your speech with unnecessary Singlishisms: you’ll get a laugh if you do it right, but it sounds patronizing if you do it wrong. The Coxford Singlish Dictionary, also available online, is a great resource for decoding Singlish. Wikipedia’s Singlish article goes into obsessive and occasionally impenetrable grammatical detail, but the sections on vocabulary and abbreviations are handy. (source: Wikitravel)


  1. sha
    March 23, 2011 at 7:05 am

    hello der…
    well this is my first time expressin myself bout my problem of hyperhidrosis.. i never had the courage to express myself bout i feared being embarrassed or being named.. im already named as the sweaty palm alien in my family.. but wat they all dont no is how hard it is to actually have this.. my hands and feet sweat excessively.. to such an extent tht the sweat will drip down my hands and my feet will leave foot prints when i walk.. my condition is terrible.. i always wanted to hold ppl by their hand but never never get to do tht.. i also play the guitar… i can only play the guitar comfortably when im sittin in front of the fan or in an air conditioned room.. when i have to audition for something.. my hands will sweat excessively due to nervousness… my exams papers will have wet prints on them and will cause my ink to smudge.. i always never liked holdin my boyfriends hand as i feared he will not like it. there are so many problems i go through everday.. some time ppl hold my hand and tellme tht its disgusting.. but wat can i do bout it.. its not my fault im born this way..
    i hope i can find a cure to this.. i relly relly want this to go away so tht i can stop shyin away from ppl.. i would love to hold hand with my loved ones..
    hope to hear from anyone soon… thank u for ur time..

  2. March 23, 2011 at 1:54 pm

    too bad.. just like a mutant huh.. i felt the same way sha, we are on the same boat. but this is life. we have to accept it in a certain degree, and we have to motivate ourselves. i am sure a lot of people without HH will understand us..

    there are a lot of remedies but the effects varies to individuals, and sometimes, it is also disappointing. the best thing is to have a positive outlook whatever your situation is right now.

    we look forward you can meet and relate with somebody right here. let us cross our fingers that somebody from your place (Singapore) will write to you. I am sure that will be great for both of you to get to know, share to each other and communicate to strengthen both of you.

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