Saturday, 5 November 2011



I have had to interview many people for my book, The Early Malay Doctors (TEMD). I was curious as to whether to conduct interviews in English or Malay. Considering Malaysians speak both Malay and English, I was prepared for both languages. 

Singapore was a totally different experience, quite unexpected. I have only had exposure to 3 Singaporeans and got 3 very contrasting language experiences. The first experience was with my Singapore neighbours - we spoke English to arwah Pakcik Hassan and KL Malay to Makcik Salmah, and English+KL Malay to their daughter, Rahila. From that experience I gathered Singaporeans are ok and language didn't bother me at all. The second exposure was when Ashikin came to my university to demo EBSCO databases at a workshop held in the library. This time I could sense a different form of English and I wondered whether it was just Ashikin or the community she worked in etc. I came out from her workshop dazed by a new form of English, a new sound of English. The third exposure was when I actually talked to a Singapore-born male. It was at this third encounter that I became fully aware that Singaporeans do not speak the international form of English but a different English that reflects Chinese lingo in their talk or speech pattern. I never fully understood what the word Singlish meant till the third exposure. Singlish is a strange form of English - it is fast-paced, with clear diction, English words but the intonation is definitely Chinese! I am amazed that Singlish exists and I never knew!

Singlish is English spoken by Singaporeans, which sounds Chinese but is nevertheless, English. It is a distinct form of English and only Singaporeans speak this form of English, regardless of race. Malaysians cannot speak Singlish however hard they fake it. If you close your eyes and just listen to a local-born Singaporean speak English, that's Singlish - like Phua Chu Kang's spoken English. It is very different from British English, American English, Australian English and Malaysian English. A better name for it is Chinese English. The speaker may not be aware but outsiders can tell if it's English or Singlish. Now, I too can tell the difference.