Sunday, October 05, 2008


Just as I was entering into Singapore, I turned on the radio, and immediately I could listen to the deejay speaking in English. This is the standard Singapore's English, which is not the usual Singlish which is more commonly heard on the streets, but the more proper English, mainly used for business and work.

I would have a grin, as I tune into it, as though our standard Malaysian English comes closest to it, but however, there still is a bit of difference. I won't say one is better than the other, but just somewhat different... and noticing the difference can be quite amusing in a way.

The Singapore's English tend to be a lil more sharp, stressing more on the diction. Whereas in Malaysia, the words are usually dragged a lil bit longer. This I believe comes more from the influence from Bahasa Malaysia, and dragging the words actually could be conceived at being a lil more 'humble', if used at proper times.

And my encounters is also that while in Malaysia, the usage of lah is much acceptable even in the business English. The standard Singapore English however hardly uses any lahs or even the more often heard lei/ lehs (unless in a joking manner, which in business meetings, these are often a big no).

Daily Conversations

But when the conversations goes off business, then the more relaxed Singlish language that is closer to home is used.

But even then, the Singlish words are quite different with the Manglish words... like though there is the usage of lahs in Singapore, but more often than not, there is the more prominent lei/ lehs.

A simple example:
Manglish: Eh no-lah, I've not yet eaten. (There is also a tendency to drag the lah here).
Singlish: Eh no-lei, I've not yet eaten.

Another unique word I found in the Singlish - the lor, which got me to adjust especially when I first came over. Example:
Singlish: Ya lor, I ate already.
Manglish: Ya lah, I ate already.

However, I now hear more usage of the lor in our Manglish as well.

There are many other differences in the both 'languages' - some finding them as major, others seeing it as minor (personally, I thought that though it wasn't a substantial difference, but there was a noticeable difference nevertheless).

Manglish Singlish... English

I still remember a friend mentioning that my daily conversational English is not a clear cut (neither 100% Singlish nor 100% Manglish), but more like a mix of Malaysia's & Singapore's business English + Manglish... with the occasional Singlish in between (which I use mainly to joke around with Singaporean friends).

But when it comes to business, the 'language' used usually depends on the country I deal in - using the standard business English. Though I must admit, at times, I do like to throw in the 'lahs' to just relax the conversation a lil (eg. Can lah... rite?)

There is much more to the business English, Singlish & Manglish like the different phrases, but for now, I guess that's a good enough introduction & observation lah... (good enough intro & observation lor).

How about you... how do you speak your English? :)

*Also read: my Singlish encounters.


  1. quachee,
    It depends on who I'm speaking to. If speak to friends, I'll speak in Singlish or Manglish or Rojak English. If I speak to "angmor", I'll speak more proper English. :)

  2. Fun to read! :) I've always been interested in the Singlish-Manglish contexts after having some Malaysian friends myself. :D

  3. One thing I noticed about Malaysians/Singaporean is that we have a knack for speaking "English" in different accents too, for instance when are speaking to an American, we will speak in American English, when speaking to a British person we can easily switch to British English, same goes for Australian English etc etc. It's actually quite amusing....especially when u have all these cousins coming home from England, Australia, US, first few days they meet up hampalang mia accent all come out, wakakaka

  4. Really meh? We Malaysians really likdat ar? I thing you correct lei Quachee. LOL =)

  5. i pretty much when i speak in malay, malay all the way and the same goes when i speak in english lol

    i find it hard to mix both haha
    but i'm getting used to it now ngee~

  6. came to ur link via urbanwire. cool stuff here. :)

  7. Hi

    Thanks for commenting on my blog. :) When I wrote that I shudder whenever people say we speak "Malaysian" in Malaysia, it does send a shiver down my spine because I minored in linguistics at uni.

    Now, on to your Manglish vs. Singlish. I had an assignment on that.

    According to linguistic books and so forth, Singlish is considered a language and Manglish is not because Singlish has set spelling but Manglish doesn't.

    The lah vs leh thing does not pan out, because it depends which part of the country you are from and typically what Chinese dialect you speak. For example, in my own Sabah you can sometimes hear people go "Ya bah" or "Ya loh" or whatever they prefer.

    I suspect that the dominance of Hokkien in Singapore would result in a slightly different end tag (the loh/lah/whatever) to say Cantonese speakers in KL or elsewhere.

    I hope that wasn't too jargon-y. :)

  8. plain old English for me ;). But I can speak Manglish with the best of them. Good post.

  9. Hi Quachee,
    I can hear sometime in JB too....because many ppl from JB working in SG and most of them also PR in S'pore. So when they back to JB, the Singlish will follow them to JB too! Haha!

  10. QC, interesting that you noted about this too, This I believe comes more from the influence from Bahasa Malaysia, and dragging the words actually could be conceived at being a lil more 'humble', if used at proper times.

    As what Angie said, the dominance of Hokkien in Sgp does have an influence on the end-tag while in Malaysia, it's BM or in the case of KL, Cantonese. Mah is a popular end-tag in Cantonese.

    I find there is a difference between using the lah and the leh. The lah oftentimes denotes the end of the answer whereas the leh would imply there is still something else that needs to be said or added on, e.g.,

    I have not eaten, lah. It's a complete answer to a question, whereas
    I have not eaten, leh can still be continued because the one who answers this way would still want to justify why he has not eaten. Am I making sense? To me, lah is normally spoken in a less confrontational tone. Lor, however, is a better alternative to leh. I speak both Hokkien and Cantonese which accounts for this ramble. Just my two cents.

    Great post, QC.

  11. I kinda like Singlish. But among Malaysian friends, I speak Manglish. Among Chinese friends, I tend to say Ya lor, but with Malay and Indian friends, I say Ya lah. But actually, both have slightly different meanings. Language is interesting, and this is an interesting post!

  12. Hmm, I've always thought that these endings have specific nuances, but I guess I could be wrong.


    Ok lah (The person is agreeing, but is not really enthusiastic about it)

    Ok lor (The person is agreeing, but is kinda upset about it)

    Ok leh (The person was told that something is not working, but found that it is working fine when he tested it)

    Ok mah (similar to "leh")

    Ok meh (The person was told that the thing is working, but he's not convinced.)

    This is how I perceive it. And agreed, languages are interesting.

  13. I think anonymous explained it quite well : )

  14. @kok & kopisoh
    heya that's what we always seem to do heh :) (it seems that we are quite flexible people huh). but just to share, at times, if the ang moh is in singapore or malaysia, i may tend to speak a lil bit of lahs haha.

    yr blog is quite malaysianised in a way lah haha :)

    its quite unique hor our language :)

    the other day, i attended an event which many malays attended. but im pleasantly surprised the language used was english (plus a bit of bahasa malaysia - but very lil). its quite nice to see & be in the crowd... the jokes & humour as well :)

    thanks for dropping by :)

    thanks for giving a diff perspective. i didnt know singlish is a language, but manglish is not? still dont quite get that part.. can elaborate a bit more? :)

    oh ya, that's one thing i realise about jb-ians - including the chinese language.. even for many who dont work here, as influenced by the singapore tv haha :)

    like yr take on this subject. however, i realise that the lei is not really similarly used in singapore as in malaysia. what uve pointed is more like the usage in malaysia... i maybe wrong, but thats how i feel the lei is used here in singapore :)

    @foongpc & annonymous
    thanks for the take. agree on the mah, meh... but somehow as i mentioned to happysurfer, the usage seems a lil different here in singapore.

    even the lah in malaysia, can be enthusiastic - or for that matter a diff between angry and happy... all depending on the tone. at times they are enthusiastic, but because of not wanting to sound arrogant, the lah is used (this i feel especially happens in malaysia).

    and that is another take i would like to share sometime later - about having confidence in malaysia.

    but again, thanks for your shares :)

  15. Any true blue Singaporean would be able to speak Singlish effortlessly. Then there are those who are able to switch between proper English and Singlish depending on the given circumstances.

    Just don't expect those ah beng gangster school dropouts to speak proper English lah.

  16. Singlish is considered more of a proper language or dialect (ie more proper) than Manglish (probably more of a pidgin or creole - ie less proper) because there is a set way of spelling.

    I know, it sounds crazy doesn't it? But that's one of the major factors I recall proper researchers of this subject saying.


Oh hey, thank you for commenting! :)