Thursday, November 13, 2008

The love affair with the 3-letter word

My previous post on the differences on how the British and Singaporeans express themselves in English invoked some pretty interesting comments. I would like to highlight a couple of them here.

English-language














PuNiao highlighted the popular use of the word 'can' by Singaporeans. For reasons unknown to me, we love this three letter word.

'Could you please get me a copy of this document when you return?'
'Can!'

'Would you be able to make it for dinner tonight?'
'Can!'

In fact, a fellow Singaporean residing in London recounted her embarressment when she let slip a 'can' in reply to a task handed to her by an English manager. Just before she slinked out of the room, she caught a puzzled expression on his face, which haunts her till this day.

Perhaps we hope to give the assurance that we're confident in accomplishing the task but I suspect it didn't come across as that. Our love affair with short words doesn't end here. Eaststopper went on to point out that

"Singaporeans also like to use the words 'Never', 'Must', 'Have to' which considered absolutes and very strong words by non-Singaporeans. A korean colleague, when he first arrived in Singapore had a taxi-driver telling him that he must go to Sentosa. He found it a tad complusive, almost like an order."

That's an irony really. The taxi-drivers in Singapore consider themselves the 'ambassadors' of Singapore. Other than the customs officers, they are the literally the first people that tourists meet upon leaving Changi Airport. Well, so much for presenting a good first impression.

Apparently, Singaporeans aren't the only ones facing this issue on the use of the English language. Dutchie commented that

"The dutch has the tendency to use long expressions as well. Asked abt the age of the dog, my neighbour would reply :"he's a year or 15 now" instead of a short "15 yrs old". Worse r the repetition of ur entire question b4u get an answer. That always drives me nuts !"

I'm sure there are more examples around. Care to share some with us?

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English for Britons and Singaporeans


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14 comments:

Deb said...

We have the most 'Singaporeanised' American couple in our church. Lived in Singapore for 15 years already. I automatically switch to 'proper English' when I talk to them and u know what? They dont get me sometimes. And they use Singlish on me, in their American accent, of course. Hmm. :)

Deb said...

oops BTW the way I wont be dropping by your blog or commenting the next 2 weeks. Going on a long trip. Cheers!

SheR. said...

Lucky thing I don't always use "Can" when I talk. But the first few weeks in London was horrendous. I had a hard time switching to a more neutral accent so the English could understand me. Oh Blimey.

One of my teacher has a really strong London accent (not cockney). But she uses words like "Wonky", "Lovely Jovely (not sure about spelling), "Iffy".. the list goes on. That's how I picked up some nice English words from there.

Another teacher from Midlands swears with the funniest words.. Plum, Trolley...??

Drink more English tea and appreciate the lovely culture!

C K said...

@deb,
That's a bit wierd isn't it? Singlish with American accent. I would have thought that the Singaporean accent is part and parcel of Singlish, no?

But you have to give them some credit for their effort in trying to assimilate into the local culture.

Saw that you're all packed for your trip to Eygpt. So will it be work or play this time round?


@sher.,
I still can't get that neutral accent no matter how hard I try. But then again, wouldn't it be weird once you return to S'pore for visits? Do you find it hard to revert?

Regarding the use of local slang, I have no idea what they are referring to. It's really a huge anti-climax when I gave them the blank stare. Haha, I felt like we're using a totally different language altogether.

English tea? You can't believe how much tea I've drunk here. I literally bath in them. lol

Bas - Istanbul Expat said...

Actually, in Dutch there's multiple ways of expressing it. You can say:

"Fifteen"
"Fifteen years old"
"About 15 years"
"My dog's somewhere around (een jaar of) 15 years old now"

People do have the tendency to pick the longer version though, but it's false to say that Dutch is an over-elaborate language. (Which you didn't do, by the way)

Nice post! Keep 'em coming ;-)

SheR. said...

Trust me CK. After 3 years, you will have no problem switching your accents. Works like wonders!

However, my teacher did comment that my accent is a exotic mix of Australian, English and Singaporean. ;)

Have you ever spoken to a Brummie? Er.. You will give him more than a blank stare!!!

But I'm missing the British sense of humour!! Send some over. I'm missing the Tetley's too!

andrea said...

Brits use 'must' in the same way - "You simply must visit the [whatever] or try the [something or other]"... it's not peculiar to Singapore.

sher, I believe it's somewhere along the lines of 'lovely jubbly', or something like that. Being trolleyed is being drunk, pissed, off yer tits.

I have to contend with West Central Scotland accents and slang, so I think I require the most pity.

C K said...

@bas,
Thanks for the clarification! Just wondering, in the Dutch context, whether speaking in full (or longer) sentences is actually a sign of respect for the other party.


@sher.,
I think it matters also whether you're here alone. I mean, if you come into regular contact with Singaporeans, it'll be much more difficult to get into the hang of things. So I assume that you speak Croatian accented English now. :)

What's a Brummie by the way. You know I'm going to ask you that, don't you? Pray enlighten.

These days, British humour can be easily accessed via BBC Online... that's where I go if I miss out my weekly does of Jonathan Ross. Then again, his show was suspended for a couple of weeks after the recent fisco with Russell Brand. Have you heard of that? Tetley? Is there a real difference to the taste? Are Croatians big on tea as well?


@andrea,
At the end of the day, I think it's the mannerism and voice tone. I think Singaporeans (well, me at least) speaks with a guttering tone, which may be mistaken as curt. In fact, we (me at least) are the friendliest people around. :)

Care to share some Scottish slangs with us?

kyh said...

S'poreans and M'sians do share the same traits in this area, don't we?

I first thought u're going to blog about the oh-so infamous LAH! :P

SheR. said...

All right CK!
I'm officially terrorising your blog with my comments!

Thanks Andrea for pointing out the right spelling of Lovely Jubbly?! Hee...

Oh CK spare me. I cannot stand Jonathan Ross or Russell Brand. He's too metropolitan for my liking. I miss Bo Selecta too! Yeah me heard about the row in BBC. Couldn't be bothered, really.

You know.. I'm missing expressions like "Whoopsie Daisy", "I'm flagging", "I'm absolutely knackered", "Oh you're so Goooorgeous!" All right Love "manky"(correct spelling??) is when you are dirty. Want to "leggit" to the Tube?

Oh and not forgetting to put a Doiley on your saucer before you put your teacup on it!

Brummie (bird) is someone from Birmingham. Really strong nasal accents.

Ai Mei Ling aka Amilia Gani said...

CK, "canlah" on your proposal for a link exchange. please write to my email address directly on your proposal. thanks/amilia

Bas - Istanbul Expat said...

@CK: not necessarily.

I replied to your comment on my blog by the way, where you asked about why they say "magic mushrooms".

Bas - Istanbul Expat said...

@CK: not necessarily.

I replied to your comment on my blog by the way, where you asked about why they say "magic mushrooms".

C K said...

@kyh,
Actually that was the original intention but you'll be surprised, we tend to lose 'lah' more readily than 'can'.

And you're right, Malaysian share the same traits as Singaporeans, which is not surprisingly as the two countries do have strong cultural ties.


@sher.,
Oh, I must say that I'm flattered. :)

I've not heard of Bo Selecta. I'm for crude humour... so I'm stuck with Jonathan for the time being. But for some reason, I can't stand the sight of Russell so good riddance on that. Also, Jeremy Clarkson's Top Gear is up there among my favorites as well.

Now you got me... what's 'leggit' and 'Doiley'?


@ai mei,
Hey, I've just dropped you an email. Anyway, would you prefer to be called Ai Mei or Amilia? Just thought that I'll check with you first. :)


@bas,
Got that, will check it out.

Oh, the reason why I asked is because I understand that the Japanese have got this thing about lengthening certain expression as a sign of respect.