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Thursday, 5 April, 2001, 18:23 GMT 19:23 UK
Singapore attack on 'Singlish'
Singapore business dealers
The government argues English is the language of business
The Singapore Government is making fresh efforts to get people to speak standard English instead of the local version known as Singlish.

Launching the "Speak Good English" campaign, Deputy Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said English was the global language of commerce, business and technology and had been further strengthened by the Internet.

"Because our language habits are in transition, we must make a special effort to get people to speak standard English," he said.

Singlish is unique to the multi-ethnic city state, and uses terms from Chinese dialects, as well as from Malay and Tamil.

The government argues that it is virtually incomprehensible to outsiders.


There are four official languages in Singapore - English, Malay, Mandarin and Tamil.

Speaking Singlish
Don't be so kayu!
Don't be so stupid!

That noodle soup was shiok!
That noodle soup was fantastic!

The lecture was very chim
The lecture was very profound
English - the old colonial language - still predominates in business

However, Singlish has been rising in popularity and is seen by many Singaporeans as integral to their identity.

Many Singaporeans can speak good English - but often prefer Singlish to chat to each other.

If you want to suggest someone is not too bright, you might say: "Why you so blur?"

Another common phrase is "Aiyah, he always catch no ball one."

It means: "He doesn't understand what I'm saying."

One of the principal features of Singlish is the liberal scattering of the Malay term 'lah' - used as a kind of verbal exclamation mark.

For example: "OK lah!" or "Go home lah!"

Deputy premier Lee said Singaporeans should not give up their mother tongues to learn Singlish as that would make the country worse off.

Instead, he argued, people should concentrate on learning standard English.

Changing habits

The "Speak Good English Campaign" is the second such effort to change linguistic habits, and is aimed largely at the younger generation.

The campaign will include a play called "The Singlish Patient" - a comedy based on linguistic misunderstandings.

A similar campaign began in 1999 - but it is not clear how successful it was.

The authorities in Singapore are renowned for their attempts to create a carefully-ordered society.

In the past, there have been government-led initiatives designed to encourage Singaporeans to have more babies, be more courteous to each other, stop smoking, flush the toilet and, according to one newspaper headline a few years ago, to "have more spontaneous fun."

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See also:

30 Aug 99 | Asia-Pacific
Singapore declares war on Singlish
25 Aug 98 | Asia-Pacific
Singapore's super-loos
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