Here you are revealed the top 9 English language words which in Singapore island assume a new form and a new meaning

English words, Singapore, Singlish, meaning, morphology, change meaning

A part from the continuous and increasingly exorbitant irruption of new words and expressions borrowed from all foregn languages and dialects present in Singapore Island, Singlish lexicon is affected by an additional, but equally faschinating, linguistic phenomenon: namely the one concerning some English Language words, which, once landed in Singapore, have progressively changed their original form and meaning. Some of them even come to get amazing connotations!

In order to better understand the extenth of this sociolinguistic phenomenon, we can make reference to some specific cases which can be observed by examining the behaviour of some ordinary English Language words in Singapore.

Here you are the top 4 English Language words that changed their meaning in Singapore

The strange case of the verb “to take”

In Singapore Colloquial English (Singlish) it is often used in the place of the classical English Language verb “to eat” (mangiare) in some ordinary expressions as: «Do you take curry?», instead of: Do you eat curry? (Mangi il curry?)1;

The curious case of the verb “to follow”

In Singapore it is often used in replacement of the common English Language expression “come along!” (vieni!) or the verb “to accompany” (accompagnare) especially in some questions occurring in informal situations and communication contexts such as: «Can I follow?» («Posso venire?» o «Posso accompagnarti/vi?»)2;

The bizzarre case of the substantive “hero”

This word, in Singapore Colloquial English (Singlish), is often used instead of the more appropriate adjective “foolhardy” (avventato), especially when someone provides his advices to a person with whom he has a confidential relationship and he wants to deter his friend from taking balatantly reckless actions. It can be easily demonstrable by taking into consideration some frequent expression just like: «It’s too dangerous! Don’t try to be hero.» («È troppo pericoloso! Non essere avventato.»)3;

The Amazing case of English endearment “aunty”

In Singapore Colloquial English (Singlish), especially when it is used with reference to Young women, this word runs the risk of turning into an annoying modal adverb having a strong derogatory connotation.  In fact this substantive turned into adverb is often used in an informal context for describing those girls who do not take care of their appearance or who do not dress trendy, as it can be easily inferred from the typical Singaporean exclamation: «Eh, today you dress very Aunty leh!», wich in Standard English might be rendered with: «Ehy, today you dress very unfashionably! Don’t you?» («Ehy, oggi vesti proprio fuori moda!»).

It is somewhat surprising the way in which this endearment noun has totally turned into an adverb of manner assuming a new meaning and even replacing the most appropriate and traditional English Language adverb “unfashionably”4.

Here you are the top 3 English Language words that changed their morphological structure

This further linguistic phenomenon, which with the passing of decades has progressively involved a multitude of traditional english words in Singapore island, not only interests the sphere of semantic connotations but also the morphological structure of the words in question.

In fact, turn out to be anything but rare the cases in which one can read some very strange words such as:

orredy instead of the English Language adverb “already” (già);

abourit as an alternative to the English expression about it (di ciò, circa ciò), in particular in certain Singlish exclamations as: «Don worry abourit!», which in Standard English would be: «Don’t worry about it!» («Non preoccuparti di ciò!»);

argly instead of the English Language traditional qualifying adjective ugly (brutta) in such expressions as: «Wah lan5, check out Ah beng’s shirt. It’s damn argly.» («Per bacco, controlla la maglietta di quel tipaccio. È dannatamente brutta.»)6.

Blending words

The incredible case of the blending words “correct” and “right” and the out come of the Singlish expression “corright”

Probably derived from the union of the two English words correct (corretto) and right (giusto, retto)7, this new word is frequently used in informal communication when one wants to give a more emphatic tone to his approval with regard to someone’s opinion with whom the speaker totally agree. 

This linguistic blending words phenomenon often occurs in Singlish ordinary exclamations like: «Dondontan is corright!» («Dondontan ha ragione!»)8.

Further Readings and Recommended Books

1Altehenger-Smith Sherida, Language change via language planning: some theoretical and empirical aspects with a focus on Singapore, Papers in textlinguistics, Volume 65, Helmut Buske Verlag Hamburg, Università degli Studi di Macerata, Facoltà di Lettere e Filosofia, Dipartimento di Filosofia e Scienze Umane, Macerata, Universität Bielefeld, Facultät für Linguistik und Literaturwissenshaft, Postfach, Bielefeld, Dissertation Universität Bielefeld, 1989, Helmut Buske Verlag Hamburg, 1990, Gesamtherstellung: WS Druckerei Werner Shaubruch, Meinz, 1990.

Dr. Biagio Faraci, traduttore tecnico, interprete di trattativa ed international web business consultant

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