Travelling in Singapore, one can instantly picked up the locals speaking a slightly different version of English – Singlish. This is a language that resulted from the multilingual background of Singapore. It is akin to a hybrid English mixed with influence from the other official languages of Singapore – Mandarin, Malay and Tamil.

Its vocabulary is filled with words that are linguistically similar to the ones used by various ethnic group in Singapore including Malay, Tamil, Mandarin, Hokkien and Cantonese. The word “lah” is one example. It is adapted from the Mandarin language where Chinese often ends their sentence with “lah”. Thus, “lah” could be used at the end of a remark for emphasis. For example, “Faster eat, lah!” as a remark urging someone to eat his food more urgently. Other words similar to “lah” include “lor”, “leh” and “meh”.

Another example is the word “lepak” which is adapted from the Malay language. It means to relax or loiter aimlessly.

Singlish could come across as a bit truncated as the sentence structure is efficiently stripped to its bare minimum. Often, the grammar is thrown out of the window and only the necessary words are used to convey the meaning that the speaker wishes to express. For example, “Can help?” replaces the question “Can you help me?” Another example is “What happen last week?” conveys the meaning “What has happened last week?”

Also, the word “can” is often used to change the remark to a question. For example, “Go to toilet, can?” as a question to ask for permission to go to the toilet.

Singlish reached its worldwide acclamation when 19 new “Singapore English” words are added to both online and printed versions of the Oxford English Dictionary. Some words include “Ang mo” which mean Caucasian.

Foreigners looking to assimilate into the Singapore culture could look to pick up some Singlish words. These would enable him to causally connect to the locals that he is speaking with.

We highlight some of the Singlish words below:

  • Alamak: An expression to display dismay
  • Arrow: to appoint someone to do certain work
  • Blur: confused
  • Bo jio: An expression to indicate that one is not invited
  • Buay tahan: Unable to endure
  • Chope: to reserve a seat
  • Chim: difficult
  • Die die: absolutely, by hook or by crook
  • Habis: finished, impending doom
  • Jialat: To describe a terrible situation
  • Kaypoh: Nosy
  • Kiasu: Afraid of losing out
  • Kiam: stingy person
  • Lepak: to relax or loiter aimlessly.
  • Makan: to eat
  • Paiseh: embarrassing
  • Sabo: sabotage
  • Shiok: Cool or great
  • Sian: boring
  • Siao: crazy
  • Spoil: to be damaged
  • Tabao: takeaway
  • Teh tarik: Sweet tea with milk