Hokkien influence on Singaporean Mandarin

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Singaporean Hokkien is the largest non-Mandarin Chinese dialect spoken in Singapore. As such, it exerts the greatest influence on Colloquial Singaporean Mandarin, resulting in a Hokkien-style Singaporean Mandarin widely spoken in Singapore. The colloquial Hokkien-style Singaporean Mandarin can differ from Mandarin in terms of vocabulary, phonology and grammar.

Influences on phonology[edit]

Some Hokkien Singaporeans are unable to accurately pronounce the sounds of Standard Mandarin due to influences from their Hokkien mother tongue. These include consonants such as f, z, zh, s, r. They also pronounce some vowels and rhymes such as i, e, en, eng differently. In terms of tone, they often bring the checked tone (入声) of Hokkien into Mandarin.[citation needed]

Hokkien-derived vocabulary[edit]

The use of Hokkien vocabulary in Singaporean Mandarin can be categorized as such:

  1. Use of Hokkien words in lieu of standard Mandarin words
  2. Use of Hokkien monosyllabic words in lieu of standard disyllabic Mandarin words
  3. Replacing of Mandarin morphemes with Hokkien morphemes
  4. Use of Hokkien word order (in vocabulary) in lieu of standard Mandarin word order
  5. Modifying the meaning of Mandarin word using Hokkien words

Hokkien borrowings[edit]

Some Hokkien words with the same meaning are used to replace standard Mandarin words.

Singaporean Mandarin (Hokkien loan words) Standard Mandarin Definition
面盆 miàn pén 脸盆 liǎn pén Washbasin
龙沟 lóng gōu 水沟 shuǐ gōu Ditch
烧水 shāo shuǐ 热水 rè shuǐ Hot water
风胎 fēng tāi 车胎 chē tāi Tire
煮饭 zhǔ fàn 烧饭 shāo fàn or 做饭 zuò fàn Cooking
一路来 yī lù lái 向来 xiàng lái or 一直 yī zhí All along

Monosyllabic borrowings[edit]

Some Hokkien mono-syllabic words are used instead of two-syllable words in Mandarin.

Omission of Mandarin word's suffix[edit]

The suffix of certain Mandarin words might be omitted in colloquial Singaporean Mandarin due to the use of Hokkien mono-syllabic words. For instance, the suffix " zi" is commonly omitted in colloquial Singaporean Mandarin.

Colloquial Singaporean Mandarin (Hokkien mono-syllabic word) Standard Mandarin Definition Example of Usage (Singaporean Mandarin)
鸭子 yā zi Duck 我买了一只 (I bought a duck)
wèi 位子 wèi zi Seat 没有 (No more seats)
qún 裙子 qún zi Skirt 你的太长了 (Your skirt is too long.)
lǐng 领子 lǐng zi Collar 你的很脏 (Your collar is very dirty.)
shí 石头 shí tou Stone 这块很大 (This stone is very big.)

Replacing Mandarin morpheme with Hokkien morpheme[edit]

A morpheme in Mandarin is removed from a two-syllable word, leaving a one-syllable word, which is used in Hokkien.

Colloquial Singaporean Mandarin (Hokkien morpheme) Standard Mandarin Definition Example of Usage (Singaporean Mandarin)
颜色 yán sè Colour 这块布什么 (What colour is this cloth?)
力气 lì qi or 力量 lì liang Strength 我没有 (I have no more strength)
gōng 工作 gōng zuò Work 去找 (go and find a work)
míng 明白 míng bai Understand 你一说我就 (Once you say it, I've understood it)
xiāo 推销 tuī xiāo Sell 他替我了很多本书 (He helps me to sell many books)

Same meaning, different word order[edit]

Some multi-syllable words in Standard Mandarin might be used with a different word order (reversed or changed) in Hokkien, and the latter's word order is adopted into Singaporean Mandarin.

Colloquial Singaporean Mandarin (Hokkien word order) Standard Mandarin Definition
面线 miàn xiàn 线面 xiàn miàn Rice noodle
人客 rén kè 客人 kè rén Guest
饭盒 fàn hé 盒饭 hé fàn Small box of meal

Modifying the meaning of Mandarin using Hokkien words[edit]

Certain words in Standard Mandarin have a different meaning in Hokkien, and this difference is adopted by Singaporean Mandarin.

Some examples of these are listed below.

Colloquial Singaporean Mandarin (Hokkien loan word) Standard Mandarin Definition Usage Notes
féi pàng Fat 你最近好多了 (You've been fatter recently) The Mandarin word "肥" is not originally used for a person. Instead, Standard Mandarin uses the word "胖" esp. when referring to a fat person.
shuǎng 痛快 tòng kuai Happy/Joyful 玩得很 (play joyfully) The Mandarin word "爽" originally means "cool". Here it has been modified to mean "happy".
huì néng Able to 过吗? (Is the car able to cross?) The word "会" in Standard Mandarin does not mean an action that can probably be realized. "能", which indicates a possibility, is usually used instead.
本事 běn shì 有本事 yǒu běn shì Capable 他很本事 (He is capable) The word "本事" in Standard Mandarin is a 'noun'.

Influences on grammar[edit]

Singaporean Hokkien has influenced Singaporean Mandarin Grammar in 5 main areas.

Word order[edit]

The word order refers to the order or sequence of how words are arranged in combination. Because of influence from Singaporean Hokkien, the word order in certain phrases are replaced by that of Singaporean Hokkien, or are simultaneously used with that of Singaporean Mandarin.

"Verb/object + complement" structure[edit]

In Standard Mandarin, certain object in predicate structure are put after a complement. However, the "verb/object + complement" structure is used in Singaporean Mandarin.

Examples are shown in the table below:

Colloquial Singaporean Mandarin Standard Mandarin Translation Grammar Notes
你上课完再去吧! nǐ shàng kè wán zài qù ba 你上完课再去吧! nǐ shàng wán kè zài qù ba You go only after you've finished lessons! The object "课" is put before the complement "完", instead of after.
试完你再来! kǎo shì wán nǐ zài lái 完试你再来! kǎo wán shì nǐ zài lái Come only after you've finished the exam! The object "试" is put before the complement "完", instead of after.
你吃饭了再写好吗? nǐ chī fàn le zài xiě hǎo ma 你吃了饭再写好吗? nǐ chī liǎo fàn zài xiě hǎo ma Can you write after you've finished your meal? The object "饭" is put before the complement "了", instead of after.

Changes in overlapping word order[edit]

Overlapping word order in Singaporean Mandarin sometimes differ from that of Standard Mandarin.

Examples are shown in the table below:

Singaporean Mandarin (overlapping words) Standard Mandarin (overlapping words) Translation
西 xiǎng dōng xiǎng xī 西 dōng xiǎng xī xiǎng Anyhow think
gǎo qī gǎo bā qī gǎo bā gǎo Anyhow mess around

Overlapping of words[edit]

Certain mono-syllabic adjectives and verbs or two-syllable adjectives and verbs in Singaporean Hokkien have entered into Singaporean Mandarin. These are used together with their counterparts in Standard Mandarin.

Examples are shown in the table below:

Singaporean Mandarin Standard Mandarin Translation
红红很好看。 huā hóng hóng hěn hǎo kàn 红红的很好看。 huā hóng hóng de hěn hǎo kàn The flower is reddish and looks great.
试看看 nǐ shì kàn kan 试试看 nǐ shì shì kàn Just try it.
吃看看啦。 chī kàn kàn la 吃吃看啦。 chī chī kàn la Just try eating it.
把功课做完。 bǎ gōng kè zuò wán 把功课做完。 bǎ gōng kè dōu zuò wán Finish all of the homework.
这些你吃吃掉好吗? zhè xie nǐ chī chī diào hǎo ma 这些你都吃掉好吗? zhè xie nǐ dōu chī diào hǎo ma Can you finish eating all these?
大家都坐好好 dà jiā dōu zuò hǎo hǎo 大家都坐得好好的 dà jiā dōu zuò hǎo hǎo de Everyone is sitting properly.
跑快快来拿东西。 tā pǎo kuài kuài lái ná dōng xi 很快地跑来拿东西。 tā hěn kuài de pǎo lái ná dōng xi He run here quickly to take the thing.
硬硬要去。 tā yìng yìng yào qù 硬(是)要去。 tā yìng (shì) yào qù He insists on going.
不要乱乱写。 bù yào luàn luàn xiě 不要写。 bù yào luàn xiě Don't anyhow write.
久久才来一次。 nǐ jiǔ jiǔ cái lái yī cì 很久才来一次。。 nǐ hěn jiǔ cái lái yī cì He came only once after a long time.
吃饱饭出去散步散步 chī bǎo fàn chū qù sàn bù sàn bù 吃饱饭出去散散步 chī bǎo fàn chū qù sàn sàn bù Go for a stroll after you've finished your meal.
大家见面见面一下也好。 dà jiā jiàn miàn jiàn miàn yī xià yě hǎo 大家见见面也好。 dà jiā jiàn jiàn miàn yě hǎo or 大家见一下面也好。dà jiā jiàn yī xià miàn yě hǎo It's good everyone of us meet for a while

Omission[edit]

Certain components of a sentence that are used in Standard Mandarin are omitted in colloquial Singaporean Mandarin, due to Hokkien influence on the latter.

Omission of directional verbs[edit]

Certain directional verbs are omitted or dropped in Singaporean Mandarin.

Examples are shown in the table below:

Singaporean Mandarin (Hokkien-style omission) Standard Mandarin Translation Notes
车子太大,不能 chē zǐ tài dà, bù néng jìn 车子太大,不能进去 chē zǐ tài dà, bù néng jìn qù The car is too big, it cannot get in. The directional verb "去" has been omitted.
考试成绩还没 kǎo shì chéng jī hái méi chū 考试成绩还没出来 kǎo shì chéng jī hái méi chū lai The exam results haven't come out. The directional verb "来" has been omitted.

Omission of the word "得"[edit]

The word "得" used in the sentence structure between a verb and a complement has been omitted in colloquial Singaporean Mandarin

Examples are shown in the table below:

Singaporean Mandarin (omission of the word "得") Standard Mandarin Translation
吃很慢 nǐ chī hěn màn 吃得很慢 nǐ chī de hěn màn You eat very slowly.
这种事我见太多了 zhè zhǒng shì wǒ jiàn tài duō le 这种事我见得太多了 zhè zhǒng shì wǒ jiàn dé tài duō le I've seen this thing too many times.

Omission of certain numbers[edit]

Certain numbers, which are expressed in Standard Mandarin, are omitted in colloquial Singaporean Mandarin.

Examples are shown in the table below:

Singaporean Mandarin (omission of certain numbers) Standard Mandarin Translation Notes
块半。 kuài bàn 块五毛。 yī kuài wǔ máo One dollar and fifty cents (money) The number "一" (one) has been omitted
尺二。 chǐ èr 尺二。 yī chǐ èr 1.2 feet (length) The number "一" (one) has been omitted
百三。 bǎi sān 一百三十。 yī bǎi sān shí One hundred and thirty The number "一" (one) has been omitted
两万五元。 liǎng wàn wǔ yuán 两万五千元。 liǎng wàn wǔ qiān yuán Twenty five thousand dollars The number "千" (thousand) has been omitted

Word groupings and arrangements[edit]

Certain word groupings and arrangements in colloquial Singaporean Mandarin sentences are greatly influenced by Hokkien.

Use of the words "有" and "无"[edit]

In Mandarin, the words "有" and "无" generally do not act as complementary verbs. But due to influence from Hokkien, colloquial Singaporean Mandarin uses them as complementary verbs.

Examples are shown in the table below:

Singaporean Mandarin (Hokkien influenced) Standard Mandarin Translation
你听吗?我听 nǐ tīng yǒu ma? wǒ tīng yǒu. 你听(得)懂吗?我听(得)懂。 nǐ tīng dé dǒng ma? wǒ tīng dé dǒng Do you understand me?
他看,我看没有 tā kàn yǒu wǒ kàn méi yǒu 他看得见,我看不见。 tā kàn dé jiàn, wǒ kàn bú jiàn He could see, I cannot see.
这本书我找了。 zhè běn shū wǒ zhǎo yǒu le 这本书我找到了。 zhè běn shū wǒ zhǎo dào le I found this book

Use of the word "到" in lieu of "得"[edit]

In a "verb+complement" sentence structure, standard Mandarin uses the word 得 to link the verb and complement. Singapore Mandarin, due to influence from Hokkien, uses the word 到 instead.

Examples are shown in the table below:

Singaporean Mandarin (Hokkien influenced) Standard Mandarin Translation
我气半死。 wǒ qì dào bàn sǐ 我气半死。 wǒ qì dé bàn sǐ I am so angry half-dead.
我白忙一场。 hài dào wǒ bái máng yī cháng 我白忙一场。 hài dé wǒ bái máng yī cháng It wastes all my effort.
我被他弄很不好意思。 wǒ bèi tā nòng dào hěn bù hǎo yì si 我被他弄很不好意思。 wǒ bèi tā nòng dé hěn bù hǎo yì si He makes me feel embarrassed.

Use of the word "去"[edit]

Certain Singapore Mandarin sentence structures use the word 去 as the resultative complement, where another character (such as 掉) might be used in Standard Mandarin.

Examples are shown in the table below:

Singaporean Mandarin (Hokkien influenced) Standard Mandarin Translation
杯子破了。 bēi zi pò qù le 杯子破掉了。 bēi zi pò diào le The cup has broken.
钱用了。 qián yòng qù le 钱用掉了。 qián yòng diào le or 钱用完了。 qián yòng wán le The money is used up.
椅子已经坏 yǐ zi yǐ jīng huài qù 椅子已经坏掉。 yǐ zi yǐ jīng huài diào The chair has been broken

Use of Hokkien classifiers[edit]

A classifier (measure words) which is used with a certain noun in Hokkien might also be used similarly in Singapore Mandarin with the same noun, whereas another classifier might be used for that same word in Standard Mandarin.

Examples are shown in the table below:

Singaporean Mandarin (Hokkien measure word) Standard Mandarin Translation Notes
球。 yī lì qiú 球。 yī gè qiú A ball The word "粒" (lì) is a Hokkien measure word
飞机。 yī zhī fēi jī 飞机。 yī jià fēi jī An aeroplane The word "只" (zhī) is a Hokkien measure word
刀。 yī zhī dāo 刀。 yī bǎ dāo A knife The word "支" (zhī) is a Hokkien measure word

Sentences[edit]

Certain sentence structures used in Singapore Mandarin are influenced by Hokkien, and differ from their Standard Mandarin counterparts.

Some cases are listed in the following sub-sections.

Use of the word "有"[edit]

The word "有" (you) is usually added in front of a verb or verb predicate to indicate an existing action or completed status.

Singaporean Mandarin (Hokkien influenced) Standard Mandarin Translation
看见他。 wǒ yǒu kàn jiàn tā 我看见他了。 wǒ kàn jiàn tā le I saw him
在家吗? yǒu zài jiā ma 在家吗? zài jiā ma At home?
我明明给你。 wǒ míng míng yǒu gěi nǐ 我明明给了你。 wǒ míng míng gěi le nǐ I obviously gave you

Use of the word "会"[edit]

The use of word "会" (hui)[literally "can"] is used in colloquial Singaporean Hokkien, and such a use has entered Singapore Mandarin.

Singaporean Mandarin (Hokkien influenced) Standard Mandarin Translation
车子过吗? chē zǐ huì guò ma 车子过吗? chē zǐ néng guò ma Can the car cross?
到宏茂桥远吗? dào hóng mào qiáo huì yuǎn ma 到宏茂桥()远吗? dào hóng mào qiáo hěn yuǎn ma Is it far to travel to Ang Mo Kio?
东西很多,吃饱。 dōng xi hěn duō, chī huì bǎo 东西很多,吃饱(吃饱)。 dōng xi hěn duō, néng chī bǎo (chī dé bǎo) There are many things, you can fill your stomach

Pronunciation of the word "了"[edit]

The word "了" is often pronounced as "liǎo" instead of "le".

Singaporean Mandarin (Hokkien influenced) Standard Mandarin Translation
机器坏 jī qì huài liǎo 机器坏(掉) jī qì huài diào le Machine broke down
人走 rén zǒu liǎo 人走(掉) rén zǒu diào le The person is gone

Use of the Hokkien sentence-final particles "嘛", "啦" or "咧"[edit]

Colloquial Singaporean Mandarin often involves the addition of Hokkien sentence-final particles such as "嘛" (ma), "啦"(la) or "咧"(lēh).

Singaporean Mandarin (Hokkien influenced) Standard Mandarin Definition
下午到我家玩 xià wǔ dào wǒ jiā wán ma 下午到我家玩。 xià wǔ dào wǒ jiā wán Come to my place for fun this afternoon
你快点去 nǐ kuài diǎn qù la 你快点去。 nǐ kuài diǎn qù Quickly go
不是这样 bú shì zhè yàng lêh 不是这样。 bú shì zhè yàng It's not like this.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • 周清海编著, 《新加坡华语词汇与语法》,新加坡玲子传媒私人有限公司出版, 2002年9月, ISBN 981-4127-23-XISBN 978-981-4127-23-3 (Zhou, Qinghai (2002), Vocabulary and Grammar of Singaporean Mandarin, Lingzi Media)
  • 周清海(著),《变动中的语言》,新加坡玲子传媒私人有限公司出版, 2009年, ISBN 981-4243-92-2ISBN 978-981-4243-92-6 (Zhou, Qinghai (2009), The changing languages, Lingzi Media)
  • 周長揖、周清海(著),《新加坡閩南話詞典》 ,中國社會科學出版社, 2002年,ISBN 978-7-5004-3530-3 (Zhou Changyi, Zhou Qinghai (2002), "Singaporean Hokkien Dictionary", China Social Science Pub.)
  • 周長揖(著),《新加坡閩南話概説》 ,廈門大學出版社, 2000年 (Zhou Changyi (2000), "An Overview over Singaporean Hokkien", Xiamen University Pub.)
  • 周長揖(著),《新加坡閩南話俗語歌謠選》 ,廈門大學出版社, 2003年,ISBN 7-5615-2158-8(Zhou Changyi (2003), "Collection of Singaporean Hokkien Folk Adage and Ballad", Xiamen University Pub.)