Singaporean Hokkien

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Singapore Hokkien
(Sin-ka-pho Hok-kiàn ōe)
Native to Singapore
Native speakers
1.2 million (2017)[1]
Latin (pe̍h-ōe-jī)
Han characters (traditional or simplified)
Official status
Official language in
None, Lingua franca of Chinese community in Singapore before 1979.
Regulated by None
Language codes
ISO 639-3
Glottolog None
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters. For an introductory guide on IPA symbols, see Help:IPA.
Singaporean Hokkien
Traditional Chinese 新加坡福建話
Hokkien POJ Sin-ka-pho Hok-kiàn-ōe
Traditional Chinese 新加坡閩南語
Hokkien POJ Sin-ka-pho bân-lâm-gu / Sin-ka-pho bân-lâm-gí
Traditional Chinese 新加坡閩南話
Hokkien POJ Sin-ka-pho bân-lâm-ōe
Nuvola Singaporean flag.svg
Life in Singapore

Singaporean Hokkien (Chinese: 新加坡福建话; Pe̍h-ōe-jī: Sin-ka-pho Hok-kiàn-ōe;Tâi-lô: Sin-ka-pho Hok-kiàn-uē) is a local variant of the Hokkien language spoken in Singapore. In Chinese academic circles, this dialect is known as Singaporean Ban-Lam Gu "新加坡闽南語"(Sin-ka-pho bân-lâm-gu). It is closely related to the Southern Malaysian Hokkien (南马福建话) spoken in Southern Malaysia as well as Riau Hokkien (廖内福建话) spoken in the Indonesian province of Riau. It also bears close resemblance with Amoy (厦门话) spoken in Amoy of China and Taiwanese Hokkien (台灣閩南語/台語/台灣話) spoken in Taiwan.

Hokkien, is the Min Nan pronunciation for Fujian (province of China) and is generally the term used by the Chinese in South-East Asia to refer to the Banlam dialect (闽南语). Singaporean Hokkien generally holds Amoy as its own standard, and its accent is predominantly based on a mixture of Quanzhou (泉州话) and Zhangzhou speech (漳州话), but with a greater inclination towards the former.

Like many spoken languages in Singapore, Singaporean Hokkien is also subjected to influence from other languages or dialects spoken in Singapore. For instance, Singaporean Hokkien is influenced to a certain degree by Teochew, and is sometimes regarded as a combined Hokkien-Teochew speech (福潮话). In addition, it has also borrowed many loanwords from Malay and English.

Nevertheless, the grammar and tones of Singaporean Hokkien are still largely based on Minnan. When compared to Taiwanese's prestige accent (台语优势腔) spoken in Tainan (台南) and Kaohsiung (高雄), Singaporean Hokkien has a greater inclination towards the Quanzhou accent (泉州腔) and is also closer to the pronunciation of Taipei and Amoy, and less close to that of Tainan which has a greater inclination towards the Zhangzhou accent (漳州腔).

A Singaporean would likely not have trouble conversing with Taiwanese speakers in Singaporean Hokkien, with the exception of some Japanese loanwords. Similarly, Singaporean Hokkien is understood by Taiwanese speakers, with the exception of some Malay and English loanwords.


From the 19th until the early half of the 20th century, there was a large influx of Chinese migrants from southern China into Singapore. This led to Chinese constituting almost 75% of Singapore's population. Out of these Chinese, many originated from the regions of Quanzhou and Zhangzhou in Fujian province. They brought Min Nan to Singapore, which was then propagated around the region of Singapore and Malaysia. As there was no formal Chinese name for Min Nan in the early 20th century, these migrants began to use their place of origin as the name of their speech, and thus called the dialect "Hokkien 福建" (which means "Fujian" province).

During the 19th century, many old-style private Chinese schools in Singapore (known as "su-sio̍k-á 私塾仔") generally used Hokkien to teach Chinese classics and Classical Chinese. But by the early 20th century, Mandarin began to replace Hokkien as the medium of instructions in Chinese schools after the founding of many Mandarin-medium schools.

The large influx of Hokkien speakers from southern Fujian province in the first half of 20th century led to the widespread use of Hokkien in Singapore. During the 1950s and 1960s, many political speeches in Singapore had to be done entirely in Hokkien in order to reach out to the Chinese community in Singapore. There was also a thriving Hokkien cultural scene such as Hokkien story-telling, Hokkien opera and media in Singapore. Nevertheless, Hokkien has never become widespread among other Chinese dialect groups in Singapore, unlike how Cantonese in Malaysia has great influence among Chinese Malaysians.

However, after 1979, the Singapore government began to push for the use of Mandarin in Singapore, spearheaded by the Speak Mandarin Campaign. Following this, the Singapore government also began to employ a more stringent censorship or ban of Hokkien media in the Singaporean Chinese media. Consequently, all Hokkien-language media in Singapore had to be dubbed in Mandarin before being allowed to stream on national TV. In addition, the 1980s also saw the replacement of Chinese-medium education with that of English, causing English to emerge as the most widely used language in Singapore. The emergence of the English language, coupled with heavy promotion of Mandarin, generally led Hokkien to decline in Singapore after 1979.

Current status[edit]

Today, the lingua franca of the Chinese Community in Singapore is Mandarin. Although Hokkien is still spoken in Singapore today (particularly by the elderly Chinese population), it is not as widespread as before. The most common places to hear or speak Hokkien in Singapore are the Hawker centre or Kopi tiam.

There is also variation in the speech abilities amongst the different age groups of the Hokkien Singaporeans. The elderly generation of Hokkien Singaporeans are generally able to communicate effectively in Hokkien. On the other hand, the middle and younger generations of Hokkien Singaporeans have generally lost the ability to communicate as fluently. With the "Mandarin campaign" from the government, the Hokkien speaking population has declined greatly.

Revival through Social Media[edit]

There is, however, a minority group of Hokkien Singaporeans and Taiwanese living in Singapore working to help preserve, spread and revive the use of Hokkien Chinese in Singapore.

The ease of access to online Hokkien entertainment media and pop music from Taiwan helps to connect to the language and culture. Many Singaporeans are increasingly using online and social media platforms such as Facebook and Meetup groups to learn, discuss, meet and interact with each other in Hokkien.

Some of the groups include:

Facebook Singapore Hokkien Language and Culture Society - Discussion forum on all aspects of Hokkien Chinese, with also a primary focus on the Singaporean Hokkien dialect and its variations from other variants of Hokkien.

Facebook Singapore Hokkien Meetup- Group that organizes regular meetups for language practice. It also organizes free language courses and sharing sessions for all who are interested.

Singapore Hokkien Language Meetup Group - Same as Facebook group, but organized over Meetup.


The following list shows the colloquial readings of the numerals used to count objects.

Pronunciation (Pe̍h-ōe-jī) Normal Value Notes
lêng 0 〇 is an informal way to represent zero
also 空 [khòng]
chi̍t 1 also [it]
also 么(T) or 幺(S) [io] when used in phone numbers etc.
nn̄g 2
also [lī]/[jī] (二)
saⁿ 3  
la̍k 6  
chhit 7  
poeh 8  
káu 9  
cha̍p 10  

Most ordinal numbers are formed by adding 第 [tē] in front of a cardinal number. In some cases, the literary reading of the number must then be used. For example, 第一 = tē-it, 第二 = tē-jī. See: Literary and colloquial readings of Chinese characters.

Differences from Standard Hokkien (Amoy/Taiwanese)[edit]

There are minor differences between Singaporean Hokkien and Amoy or Taiwanese in terms of vocabulary, pronunciation and grammar. Amoy and Taiwanese bear close resemblance, and are usually considered the standard in Hokkien, differing only in terms of lexicon.

Unique vocabulary[edit]

Although Singaporean Hokkien is basically similar to Amoy or Taiwanese, there exist certain uniquely Singaporean Hokkien words, which are different from the Amoy or Taiwanese.

Singaporean Hokkien (Hanji) POJ Definition Compare Amoy
死景 sí-kéng Museum 博物館 (phok-bu̍t-kóan)
活景 o̍ah-kéng Zoo 動物園 (tōng-bu̍t-hn̂g)
掠無球 lia̍h-bô-kiû Completely do not understand (literally "catch no balls") 毋捌 (m̄-bat)
假勥 kê-khiàng Act "smart" (overdo it) 假𠢕 (ké-gâu)(假勥 especially for women)
俏母 chhiò bú Pretty girl 水查某 (súi cha-bó͘)
督公 tok-kong superb, originated from Na Tok Kong (chàn)

Same meaning, different words[edit]

Singaporean Hokkien Definition Compare Amoy / Taiwanese Notes
(ai) Want (beh) 爱(ài) in Amoy means "love" or "must". "欲" in Singaporean Hokkien can be classified as an auxiliary verb denoting volition of the following verb.

(beh) is sometimes written alternatively as (beh) or (beh)

(lí/lɯ2/lér/lú) You (lí) "你 (lí)" (used in Amoy/Taiwanese) is also used in Singaporean Hokkien, originating from Amoy speech. The pronunciation of lɯ2 汝 originated from Tâng-oann accent 同安音, while lú 汝 came from Ho-san accent (suburbs in Amoy Island) 禾山腔(厦门岛郊区腔). As for "lér 汝", it came from Teochew pronunciation, pronounced like "ler" in lerk in Britain English.
恁侬 or 恁人 (lín lâng) You-all (lín) The use of "侬/人 lâng" in Singaporean Hokkien pronoun (I, you, we) originated from Teochew grammar.
我侬 or 我人 (góa lâng) We (gún / guán ) or (lán) "阮侬 or 阮人 gún lâng" and "咱/咱侬 lán/lán lâng" are also used in Singaporean Hokkien. Quanzhou and Zhangzhou uses (gún) whereas Amoy uses (gún / guán ) similar to Taiwanese.
伊侬 (i lâng) They (亻因 /怹) (in) The addition of 侬 lâng originates from Teochew.
chhò Wrong 毋着 m̄-tio̍h The Malay word "salah" is actually more commonly used to mean 'wrong' in Singaporean Hokkien. "毋着" (m̀-tio̍h) is also used in Singaporean Hokkien
食饱未? chia̍h-páh bē Have you eaten? 汝好! lí-hó "食饱未? chia̍h-páh bē" is also used in Taiwan, but generally means "have you eaten already?".
旧早 kū-chá In the past 顶摆 (téng-mái) or 以前 í-chêng All variants are used in Amoy / Taiwanese
斗跤手 tàu-kha-chhiú Help 斗相共 tàu-saⁿ-kāng All variants are used in Amoy / Taiwanese
即兜 chit-tâu This place 即爿 chit-pêng or chiâ 即爿 chit-pêng is also commonly used in Singapore, chiâ less so.

chit is sometimes written alternatively as or

按呢款 án-ne-khóan In this way, so 按呢 án-ne/án-ni khóan is not generally appended in Amoy / Taiwanese
几镭 (kui-lui) or 几箍 kui khoo How much? 偌济钱 jōa-chōe chîⁿ All variants are used in Amoy. Both "lui 镭" and "chîⁿ 钱" are used in Minnan region today to mean "money". In Singapore however, "lui 镭" is more commonly used to mean "money".

The word "lui 镭" was previously thought to have originated from Malay. However, research indicated that the word "lui 镭" is in fact a unique Hokkien word, originating from the unit of currency known as "铜镭 tâng-lui" during the early Chinese Republican period. It actually means "bronze money". "铜镭 tâng-lui" was commonly used in Minnan region and Chaoshan region during that time, and the term spread to Singapore then and remains in common use till today.

"lui 镭" used to be used in Taiwan, but due to Japanese colonial rule, "lui 镭" fell out of use. It was replaced by " chîⁿ" which is the normal term for "money" in Taiwan today.

转厝 tńg-chhū (pron. tn̂g-chhū) Go home 倒去 to—khì 转去 to—khì is used in Singapore as well, but with a more general meaning of "going back", not specifically home.
‘今仔’日 kiaⁿ-ji̍t Today 今仔日 kin-á-ji̍t Singapore ‘今仔’日 kiaⁿ-ji̍t is a concatenation of Amoy 今仔日 kin-á-ji̍t. Also heard in Singapore is 今日 (kin-ji̍t).
当今 tong-kim Nowadays 现此时 hián-chú-sî (pron. hiān-chū-sî) Both Singapore and Amoy /Taiwanese commonly use 这阵 chit-chūn to encompass the meaning of "nowadays". 现此时 hián-chú-sî is commonly used in Taiwanese.
即阵 chit-chūn Now 即摆 chit-mái or 即暂 chit-chām 即阵 chit-chūn is also used in Amoy / Taiwanese
四散 sì-sōaⁿ (pron. sí-sóaⁿ) anyhow/casual/random 乌白 (o͘-pe̍h) E.g. 伊四散讲 i sì-sōaⁿ kóng - He speaks casually (or nonsense). 四散 (sì-sōaⁿ) is sometimes also used in Amoy.
定着 tiāⁿ-tio̍h surely 一定 it-tīng or 绝对 cho̍at-tùi (pron. chòat-tùi) 定着 tiāⁿ-tio̍h is sometimes also used in Taiwan. 一定 it-tīng is a loan from Mandarin.
惊输 kiaⁿ-su Fear of losing out/failure - kiasu 惊失败 (kiaⁿ sit-pāi)
公私 kong-si Share pun or 公家 kong-ke
chiā Very chin
siong Very tough or difficult 艰难/困難 kan-lân/khùn-lân " siong" literally means "injurious", but has become slang in Singapore for "tough" or "difficult"
heng Luckily, fortunately 好佳在 hó-kai-chài
食风 chia̍h-hong To go on holiday, or more generally to live in luxury 𨑨迌 tshit-thô In Amoy / Taiwanese, "食风 (chia̍h-hong)" is also used but means "facing the wind". In Singapore, 𨑨迌 tshit-thô means simply "to play" (as in children playing).

Same word, different pronunciation[edit]

There are some words used in Singaporean Hokkien, which are the same in Taiwanese Hokkien, but are pronounced differently.

Hokkien Words Definition Singaporean Hokkien Taiwanese Hokkien Notes
咖啡 Coffee ko-pi ka-pi ko-pi is a loan word from Malay word "kopi" which in turn is taken from the English word "coffee." The Mandarin word "Ka-fei" and the Taiwanese Hokkien "Ka-pi" are derived from the European continental version "Café" (French / Spanish / Portuguese) or "Kaffee" (German). As Hokkien does not have an f-sound, this turned into a p-sound. Filipino-Chinese Hokkien which is very close to the Taiwanese variety pronounces the word for "coffee" as "ka-peh" which derives from the Filipino pronunciation of the Spanish word "café" which is "kape."
按怎 How án-chóaⁿ án-nuá "án-chóaⁿ" is also commonly used in Taiwan. The pronunciation of "án-nuá" originates from Zhangzhou.
啥物 / 甚物 What si-mih/sim-mih siáⁿ-mi̍h "si-mih/sim-mih" is based on the word 甚物 (used in Amoy/Zhangzhou), whereas "siáⁿ-mi̍h" is based on the word 啥物 (used in Quanzhou). Taiwan typically uses "啥物 siáⁿ-mi̍h" more often, although "甚物 sim-mih" is also used. Singapore also uses "啥物 siáⁿ-mi̍h", though less often.

Influences from other local languages[edit]

Because Singapore is a multilingual country, Singaporean Hokkien has also been subjected to influence from many other languages spoken in Singapore. As a result, there are many non-Hokkien words that have been infused into Singaporean Hokkien, such as those from Malay, Teochew, Cantonese and English.

Loanwords from other Chinese varieties[edit]

There are some words used in Singaporean Hokkien that originated from some other Chinese varieties spoken in Singapore.

Singaporean Hokkien Definition Amoy Notes
(phiⁿ) Cheap (sio̍k) (phiⁿ) originates from Teochew. (sio̍k) also used in Amoy/Quanzhou/Zhangzhou
死父(sî-bēh) Very (chin) or (chiok) Originated from Teochew word 死父 (si2-bê6). Interchangeably used in Singaporean Hokkien, which can coincide with the Hokkien pronunciation of 死爸(sí-pēh). The word 死爸(sí-pēh) in original Hokkien is a vulgar word that means "to the extent that your/my father dies".
山龟 (soāⁿ-ku) Country-bumpkin 土包仔 (thó͘-pau-á) Originated from Teochew, lit. "mountain tortoise"
无便 (bô-piàn) There is no way (nothing can be done) 无法度 (bô-hoat-tō) Originated from Teochew
做儛 (chò-bú), together 做伙 (chòe-he), 做阵(chòe-tīn) or 斗阵 (tàu-tīn) Originated from Teochew
紧张 (gan tʂiong) Nervous 紧张 (kín-tiuⁿ) Originated from Cantonese

Malay loanwords[edit]

The following are the common Malay loanwords used in Singaporean Hokkien. Most of them are also used in Amoy.

Malay loanwords in Singaporean Hokkien Hanzi Definition Compare Original Amoy Notes
Su-ka (soeka) 舒合 (su-kah) Like 合意 (kah-ì)
Sabun 雪文 (sap-bûn) Soap 茶箍 (tê-kho͘) 雪文 (sap-bûn) is also used in Taiwan. Amoy, Quanzhou and Zhangzhou also uses 雪文 (sap-bûn). Originates from old Portuguese "sabon" (modern Portuguese uses "sabão") which also gave Malay its word for soap. 茶箍/茶枯 (tê-kho͘) is also used in Amoy/Quanzhou/Zhangzhou.
Kah-win (kawin) 交寅 (kau-ín) Marry 結婚 (kiat-hun) 交寅 (kau-ín) is also used in Amoy. Originates from Malay.
Ka-cau Disturb 攪擾 (kiáu-liáu)
Ba-Lu (Baru) Recently 最近 (chòe-kīn)
Pa-sak (Pasar) 巴刹 (pa-sat) Market 市場 (chhī-tiûⁿ) or 菜市 (chhài-chhī)
Ma-ta (Mata Mata) Police 警察 (kéng-chhat)
Ga-duh Quarrel 冤家 (oan-ke)
Si-nang (Senang) Easy 簡單 (kán-tan)
To-long Help 拜托 (pài-thok),幫忙 (pang-bâng) or 鬥相共 (tàu-saⁿ-kāng)
Sa-lah Offence, Wrong 犯法 (hōan-hoat)
Ta-pi (Tetapi) But 但是 (tān-sī), 毋過 (m̄-koh/m-ku) or 猶毋過(iáu m̄-koh) 毋過 is also used in Amoy/Quanzhou/Zhangzhou. Quanzhou typically pronounces 毋過 as "m̄-ku", whereas Zhangzhou pronounces 毋過 as "m̄-koh".
Loti Bread 麵包 (mī-pau) or 'phang' (Japanese loanwords)
Pun (pun) Also 嘛是 (mā sī) or 也是 (iā-sī) E.g. 伊本是真帅 (i pun-sī chin suí) - She is also very pretty
Saman summons (fine) 罰款 (ho̍at-khóan)
Agak Agak Guess/Estimate (ioh)
Kentang Potato 馬鈴薯 (má-lêng-chû)
Guli Marble 大理石 (tāi-lí-chio̍h)
Botak Bald 光頭 (kng-thâu) or 禿頭 (thut-thâu) 
Pakat 巴结 (pá-kat) Conspire 串通 (chhòan-thong)
Buaya 磨仔 (buá à) Crocodile 鱷魚 (kho̍k-hî)
Beh Ta-han 袂扙捍 Cannot tolerate 擋袂牢 (tòng bē tiâu) Formed by Hokkien word "beh 袂" and Malay word "tahan"
Mana Eh Sai Mana 會使 How can this be? 敢會使 (kam ē-sái) Formed by Malay word "mana" and Hokkien word "e-sai 會使"
Lokun 老君 Doctor 醫生 (i-seng) From Malay word "Dukun", which means shaman or medicine man. Alternatively, 老君 lo-kun is related to Taoist's deity Daode Tianzun, which is commonly known as Taishang Laojun (太上老君) "The Grand Supreme Elderly Lord". Many Chinese in Singapore practised Taoism and visited Taoist temple to prescribe medicine to cure their disease. Naturally, the deity became like a doctor. Lokun 老君 can also mean a wise man.

English loanwords[edit]

There are also many English loanwords used in Singaporean Hokkien. They are usually used when the speaker does not know what the equivalent of the Hokkien word for a certain term is. Some of these English terms are related to working and living in Singapore

English loanwords in Singaporean Hokkien Compare Taiwanese Hokkien
Shopping (kho-koe)
MRT 地鐵 (tē-thih)
But 但是 (tān-sī)
Toilet 厕所 (tshe-só͘)


Anxi, Nan'an, Jin-jiang, Tong'an and Teochew accent[edit]

When Singaporeans are speaking Hokkien, they will carry with them accents and tones from Anxi, Nan'an, Jin'jiang, Tong'an District region, as well as Teochew accent. In practice, it's common for Singaporeans to mix English conjunction word such as "and" into a Hokkien sentence, some would include "hngo2" (used as an exclamation remark in Jin'jiang /Nan'an).

No differentiation between Literary and Vernacular Pronunciation[edit]

When reading "years" or "numbers", Singaporean Hokkien normally does not differentiate between Literary (文讀音)or Vernacular pronunciations (白讀音). In Taiwan or Amoy, differentiation is usually made. For instance, the Year "1980" should be pronounced in Literary pronunciation(一九八空年 it kiú pat khòng nî), but in Singapore, no differentiations are made (literary/vernacular are mixed together) and it's pronounced as “一九八空年 it káu pueh khòng nî”.

For telephone numbers, Taiwan would pronounce using literary pronunciations while Singapore would use vernacular pronunciations instead. For example, the telephone number "98444678" will be pronounced in Taiwan using literary pronunciation as "kiú pat sù sù sù lio̍k tshit pat". Whereas Singapore would pronounce it using vernacular pronunciations as "káu pueh sì-sì sì la̍k tshit pueh".

Influence from Southern Zhangzhou and Teochew Phonology[edit]

A change of vowel from "ing" to "eng"[edit]

Although Singaporean Hokkien is inclined towards Quanzhou accent, certain pronunciations are influenced by accent from regions towards south of Zhangzhou (漳南 - Dongshan County/Yunxiao County/Zhangpu County/Pinghe County), Haifeng as well as from Teochew and Cantonese. Typically, Teochew played an important role in this vowel change.

For many Singaporeans, there is a vowel change in pronunciation from "ing" /iəŋ/ to "eng" /eŋ/, as compared to Standard Hokkien such as Amoy or Taiwanese which uses "ing". In Quanzhou, Zhangzhou, Amoy and Taiwan, a number of words are pronounced by the vowel "ing", but in Singaporean Hokkien, it's pronounced as "eng". This is similar to the pronunciation in the region towards south of Zhangzhou, Teochew and Cantonese. Typically, the Southern Zhangzhou accent (漳南腔) pronounces "eng" /eŋ/ or /ɛŋ/ instead of "ing" /iŋ/.

Below is a table illustrating this difference

Hanzi Standard Hokkien (Amoy/Taiwanese) Singaporean Hokkien
sing seng (Teochew )
tshing cêng (Teochew)
bîng bêng (Southern Zhangzhou) / mêng (Teochew)
líng léng (Southern Zhangzhou/Teochew)
ing eng (Southern Zhangzhou/Teochew)
tsìng zèng (Teochew)

Pronunciation of "我" (I)[edit]

In standard Hokkien pronunciation, "我" ("I" or "me") is pronounced as /gʊa52/ but in Singapore, it is pronounced as /wa52/. This is influenced by the Teochew pronunciation /ʊa52/.


There are some differences in the sentence structure used by Singaporean Hokkien and Standard Hokkien (Amoy/Taiwanese).

For instance, when asking a question for "do you want to..?", Singaporean Hokkien typically uses the sentence structure "愛(ai)...莫(mài)?", whereas Taiwanese Hokkien uses the structure "欲(beh)..無(bô)". Singaporean Hokkien typically uses the word "愛(ai)" to mean "want to", but in Taiwanese, the word "欲/卜(beh)" is used instead to mean "want to"."愛(ai)" in Taiwanese typically means "love to" or "need to".

Also, unlike Taiwanese Hokkien which typically uses the word "敢 kám" (meaning "whether or not 是否 /是不是") when asking a question. It's a more formal or polite way of asking a question. Singaporean Hokkien does not use the word "敢 kám". Instead, it simply adds the word "無(bô)" at the back of the sentence to indicate that it's a question (similar to Mandarin's 嗎)or adds a Cantonese intonation "meh 咩" at the back. Adding the word "無(bô)" at the back of the sentence is also used in Taiwanese Hokkien, when one is asking a question in an informal way.

Differences in Sentence Structure
Singaporean Hokkien Amoy English
食飯? (ai chia̍h-pn̄g mài?) 食飯? (beh chia̍h-pn̄g bô?) Do you want to eat?
汝有睏飽? (lé ū khùn-pá bô?) 有睏飽? (lí kám ū khùn-pá?) Did you have enough sleep?

Old Chinese Words in Singaporean Hokkien[edit]

Certain colloquial pronunciations of Singaporean Hokkien words are directly inherited from the Consonant system of Old Chinese. Hokkien did not experience a great phonological change throughout the transition period from Old Chinese to Middle Chinese. It preserved a unique feature of Old Chinese; it does not have the consonant "f", for instance the word “分” is not pronounced as "fen", but rather as "pun" in Hokkien. This marks a major difference between Middle Chinese and Old Chinese. Hokkien also preserved the Nasal vowel and the 'sai' vowel of Old Chinese.

Old Chinese Words in Singaporean Hokkien -including those that are not used in Standard Mandarin, but are preserved in Singaporean Hokkien
Old Chinese Words/Hokkien pronunciation (IPA) Meaning in Mandarin English Notes
汝/li/ You
伊/i/ 他/她/它 He/She
箸/ti/ 筷子 chopsticks
物件/mi-kiaⁿ/ 东西 Things
安呢/an-ni/ 这么 Like this
按怎/an-tzua/ 怎么 How?
老君/lo-kun/ 医生 Doctor
厝/tsu/ 房子 House
檨/suaiⁿ/ 芒果 Mango
枵/iao/ 肚子饿 Hungry Eg.我个腹肚真枵。(My stomach is very hungry)
尻川/kha-tsəng/ 屁股 Buttock
骹/kha/ leg
塗骹/thɔ-kha/ 地上 Floor
鼎/tiaⁿ/ Pot
肉脞/ba-tsɔ 碎肉 Minced meat
蹛/tua/ 在/居住 Live E.g.:汝蹛底落? (where do you live?)
佇/ti/ at E.g.:汝佇底落?(Where are you at?)
徛/khia/ 居住/站 live E.g.:我徛佇牛车水。(I live in Chinatown)
暗冥/am-mi/ 晚上 Night
晏/uaⁿ/ night
门骹口/məng-kha-khao/ 门口 Entrance
外口/gua-khao/ 外面 Outside
泅水/siu-tzui 游泳 swim
即阵/tzit-tzun/ 现在 now
即久/tzit-ku/ 现在 now
即马/tzit-ma/ 现在 now
现此时/hien-tsu-si/ 现在/现时 now
当今/tɔng-kim/ 现在 nowadays
眠床/bin-tsəng/ 睡床 bed
遘/kao/ get to e.g:我遘厝了(I've reached home。)
转/təng/ 回去 go back E.g.:我转去学堂提物件。(I got back to get my things)
倒转/to-təng/ 回去 go back
食/tzia/ Eat
还未/ia-bue/ 还没 not yet E.g.:我还未食饭。(I've not yet eaten。)
趁钱/than-tziⁿ/ 赚钱 earn money

Religion, Arts Entertainment and Culture[edit]


Hokkien Sutra
Extract from a Buddhist repentance sutra 《大悲懺法儀規》 (with Singapore-style Hokkien romanization) taken from a Buddhist temple in Singapore
Hokkien Sutra
A display outside Telok Ayer Chinese Methodist Church showing Hokkien Sunday Services (on the right side)

Some of the Buddhist temples in Singapore continue to have Buddhist sutra being recited in Hokkien. The sutra contains Singapore-style Hokkien romanization to help in the recitation. Some of the Chinese Christian Churches in Singapore also have services conducted in Singaporean Hokkien. Many of the Taoism services continue to be done in Hokkien.

Hokkien Folks Song and Music[edit]

There existed some Hokkien writings, folk adage and ballad in Singapore written by early Chinese immigrants to Singapore. Amongst the various Hokkien folk ballad in Singapore, a few outstanding writings include the history and hardship of early Chinese immigrants to Singapore. For instance, 《雪梅思君》 (Soat-m̂-su-kun) (Snow and plum thinking of a gentlemen) is a folk ballad written about the loyalty and chastity of love. [2]

Another Singapore Hokkien Love Poetry is 《針線情》 (Chiam-sòaⁿ-chiâⁿ) (The emotions of needle and thread) has the following beautiful Hokkien writing:


lí sī chiam , góa sī sòaⁿ ,chiam-sòaⁿ éng-óan liâm siòng óa


lâng kóng chiam pó͘ chiam hiam tio̍h sòaⁿ, ūi-hô pàng gún leh ko͘-toaⁿ


Ah, lí góa pún sī tâng phōe-toaⁿ, chóaⁿ-iūⁿ lâi thiah-sòaⁿ


ū chiam bô sòaⁿ kiò gún ài an-chóaⁿ, su-liām sim-chiâⁿ bô-tè khòaⁿ

There is another 18 sections in the poetry ballad 《行船歌》 (Hâng-chûn-koa) (Songs of traveling on boat), which talks about how early immigrants migrated to Singapore.

There is also another ballad called 《砰嘭水中流》 (Pin-pong-chúi-tiong-lâu) (Flow in the midst of water):


kih kok bo̍k ūi tsiu


pin pong chúi tiong lâu


mn̂g-siang u̍ih-hiúⁿ


si suit kàu chôan-chiu

Singapore Getai[edit]

Singapore also held Getai during traditional Chinese festivals, for instance Hungry Ghost Festivals. During the Getai event, it is common to speak a number of Chinese varieties, including Hokkien, Teochew and Cantonese. During the 1960s, Hokkien Song was particularly popular. The Singapore Hokkien star Chen Jin Lang 陳金浪 was once the main compere and singer during the Hungry ghost festival. For instance, his famous song "10 levels of Hade" 《十殿閻君》 was especially popular.

Singapore Hokkien Opera[edit]

The early Singaporean Hokkien opera had its origin from Gaojia opera, which was brought from Quanzhou to Singapore during the late 19th century. In 1927, the Taiwanese Gezai opera spread to Singapore. Because its lyrics and singing style were easier to understand, it had a huge impact and influence on Singapore. Consequently, by the mid 20th century, it had replaced Gaojia opera to become the mainstream hokkien opera in Singapore.

At the moment, the performance of Singapore Hokkien opera is done by two oldest troupe such as Sin Sai Hong Hokkien Opera Troupe (新賽風閩劇團), Xiao Kee Lin Hokkien Opera Troupe (筱麒麟閩劇團) and two other new troupe such as Sio Gek Leng Hokkien Opera Troupe (筱玉隆閩劇團) and Ai Xin Hokkien Opera Troupe (愛心歌仔戲團). In recent years, a young group Do Opera [Hokkien] (延戏[福建歌仔戏]) has also been formed.

Singapore also has a Singapore Chinese Opera school to nurture talents in Opera, including Hokkien opera.

Singapore Hokkien Movies[edit]

Singapore Hokkien Movies began to develop in the late 1990s, notably by infusing Hokkien Chinese into mainstream Chinese movies made by Singapore. Amongst these, movies directed by Jack Neo such as "I not stupid", "Money No Enough" were popular. They reflected the social environment of local Singaporeans.

Singapore Radios[edit]

Although Singapore radios started to ban Hokkien in the 1980s, Rediffusion Singapore continued to use Hokkien. This radio continued to broadcast programs in hokkien, and had great contribution to the culture of Singapore. For instance, the hokkien story-telling program (Amoy folks story 《廈語民間故事》 ) by Xu Shumei 許淑梅 was very popular.

Singapore Nanyin[edit]

Nanyin (Southern Music) was first spread to Singapore in 1901[3]. Many immigrants from Quanzhou began to establish various Nanyin organization. At this moment, the one which had survived include Siong Leng Musical Association.

Siong Leng Musical Association was established in 1941; it was responsible for promoting Nanyin, an important Chinese culture heritage as well as Liyuan opera. In 1977, then the Chairman of the association, Mr. Ting Ma Cheng (丁馬成), advocated the ASEAN Nanyin Performance (亞細安南樂大會奏), which helped to revive Nanyin. In addition, in order to educate the young people about this performance art, he also published two books on Nanyin and Liyuan opera.[4]

The current Siong Leng Musical Association is led by Ding Honghai (丁宏海) and it continues to promote Nanyin in Singapore.

Footprints of Peh-oe-ji[edit]

Provided by descendant of Tan Boon Hak, 陈文学, a cousin of Tan Kah Kee, who donated it to the Brownies for the exhibition

There were some past letters written in Peh-oe-ji from early Hokkien migrants in Singapore.

An example was provided by the descendant of Tan Book Hak, a cousin of Tan Kah Kee.[5]

POJ Letter (in romanized Hokkien) Hanzi transcription

12 ge̍h 26 ji̍t

Ha̍k-ḿ siu

Tī bô phah-sǹg ê tiong-kan chih-tio̍h lâi phoe chit hong, lāi-bīn só kóng long chai siông-sè, lūn lín Hiân-chek ê sin-khu, kūn lāi ū khah ióng, lín bián khoà-lū, lūn jī á nā-sī khah kín tò-lâi pó khah hó. Nā tò-lâi chia, ū sî iā thang hō͘ in hiân-chek khah I kàu-hùn, bián-lē. sǹg hiân-sî nî-hè iáu chió, bē bián tit-siū ín-iń, ng-bāng nî-hè kàu gia̍h i chiū ē bat siūⁿ . lí m̄-thang khoà-lū. lūn chhin-chiâⁿ goá ta̍k lé-pài lo̍h khì Ē-Mn̄g thām thiā, long boē hó-sè. Tā-chiah chia bān-bān koh chhōe, goá iā chin tì-ì . lūn su-chē hiân-chai bô tī the, iā thang chai ié ī-sū. Lái heⁿ lun̄ mā ái kóng hó, chiaⁿ-ge̍h chiah beh tò-lâi. Lūn chō sō ê seng-khu ū ióng-ióng á-bô. Chin siàu-liân ǹg-bāng mê-nî ē long tò-lâi, koh $100.00 kho ě sū. Suá bô ti-teh thēng hāu-lâi,góa chiah mn̄g I ê siông-sè, chit ê kì-hō,lí chai āu-pái m̄-thang kià kòe lâi sàng góa, ū chōe chōe êhùi khì. Chhéng an put it.

Ông pheh lîm


學姆 收

佇無拍算的中間,接著來批一封,內面所講攏知詳細。論恁賢叔的身軀,近來有較勇,恁免掛慮。論兒仔若是較緊倒来保較好,若倒來遮,有時也通予(亻因) 賢叔共伊教訓、勉勵。算現時年歲猶少,袂免得受引誘,向望年歲夠額 伊就會捌想,汝毋通掛慮。論親情,我逐禮拜落去廈門探聽,攏袂好勢,踮遮則慢慢閣揣,我也真致意。論師姐現在無佇咧,也無通知伊的意思,來衡論嘛愛講好,正月才欲倒來。論做嫂用身軀有勇勇抑無?真少年,向望明年會攏倒來,閣$100.00箍的事。師也無佇咧,聽後來,我才問伊的詳細,這個記號,汝知後擺汝毋通寄過來送我,有濟濟的費氣。請安不一。


Places in Singapore[edit]

Singapore's Chinese name "新加坡" (sin-ka-pho) originated from Hokkien's transliteration of "Singapore". In addition, there were also many places in Singapore that originated from Hokkien, for instance Ang Mo Kio, Toa Payoh etc.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Ethnologue. "Languages of Singapore - Ethnologue 2017". Retrieved 2017-07-14. 
  2. ^ "闽江茶座——周长楫教授谈闽南话在新加坡" (in Chinese). 國際在線. 
  3. ^ "Siong Leng Musical Association". Lukechua. 
  4. ^ "新加坡湘靈音樂社訪臺文化藝術交流音樂會" (in Chinese). rimhncfta. 
  5. ^ Bukit Brown: Our Roots, Our Heritage

Further reading[edit]

  • Chua, B. H. (2000). Taiwan's present/Singapore's past mediated by Hokkien language. Singapore: Dept. of Sociology, National University of Singapore. ISBN 981-3033-43-6. 
  • The Rev. Carstairs Douglas (1899). Chinese-English Dictionary of the Vernacular or Spoken Language of Amoy, with the Principal Variations of the Chang-chew and Chin-chew Dialects. London: Publishing Office of the Presbyterian Church of England. ISBN 1-86210-068-3. 
  • 周長揖、周清海(著) (2002). 新加坡閩南話詞典 [Singaporean Hokkien Dictionary] (in Chinese). 中國社會科學出版社. ISBN 7-5004-3530-4. 
  • 周長揖、周清海(著) (2000). 新加坡閩南話概説 [Summary of Singaporean Hokkien] (in Chinese). 廈門: 廈門大學出版社. ISBN 7-5615-1692-4. 
  • 周長揖、周清海(著) (2003). 新加坡閩南話俗語歌謠選 [Hokkien Folks Songs of Singapore] (in Chinese). 廈門: 廈門大學出版社. ISBN 7-5615-2158-8. 

External links[edit]