|1.2 million (2010 census)
L2 speakers: 880,000 (1985)
Official language in
|Regulated by||Promote Mandarin Council
Singapore Centre for Chinese Language
Life in Singapore
Singaporean Mandarin (simplified Chinese: 新加坡华语; traditional Chinese: 新加坡華語; pinyin: Xīnjiāpō Huáyǔ) is a variety of Mandarin Chinese widely spoken in Singapore. It is one of the four official languages of Singapore along with English, Malay and Tamil.
Singaporean Mandarin can be classified into two distinct Mandarin dialects: Standard Singaporean Mandarin and Colloquial Singaporean Mandarin. These two dialects are easily distinguishable to a person proficient in Mandarin. Standard Singaporean Mandarin is the register of Mandarin used in more formal occasions in Singapore and can be heard on television and radio. It is also the form taught in all Singapore government schools, while Colloquial Singaporean Mandarin (Singdarin) is the form used by the general populace. They tend to infuse the language with many words from other Chinese dialects, Malay and English.
Singaporean Mandarin only became widely spoken by the Chinese community in Singapore after the Speak Mandarin Campaign in 1979. It is today considered to be the second most commonly spoken language in Singapore, after English. Due to its widespread usage, Singaporean Mandarin has replaced Singaporean Hokkien as the lingua franca of the Chinese community in Singapore today. Following the economic rise of China in the 21st century, Mandarin proficiency has been viewed with greater importance and has risen in terms of prominence in Singapore. In 2010, there was an increase in the number of Singaporean population who know two or more languages.
With increasing influx of mainland Chinese from mainland China to Singapore recently, Singaporean Mandarin has gradually inclined itself towards Putonghua. Currently, Singaporean Mandarin continues to develop itself with major influences coming from Putonghua, Taiwanese Mandarin and English.
- 1 Overview
- 2 History
- 3 Differences from Standard Mandarin
- 4 Grammar
- 4.1 Time
- 4.2 Days of the week
- 4.3 Large numbers
- 4.4 Use of the word "先"
- 4.5 The use of the word "而已"
- 4.6 Use of the word "啊" as an affirmative
- 4.7 Use of the word "才" instead of "再"
- 4.8 Pronunciation of the word "了"
- 4.9 The use of the word "有"
- 4.10 Reduplication of verbs preceding "一下"
- 4.11 Colloquial use of the word "被"
- 4.12 Using adjective as verb
- 5 Phonology and tones
- 6 Influences from other languages in Singapore
- 7 Writing system
- 8 Chinese writing style and literature
- 9 Arts and Entertainment
- 10 Sociolinguistics
- 11 See also
- 12 References
Standard Singaporean Mandarin
The official standard of Mandarin of Republic of Singapore, known in Singapore as Huayu (华语), is based on the phonology of the Beijing dialect and the grammar of Vernacular Chinese, is almost identical to the standard of Mandarin used in the People's Republic of China (known there as Pǔtōnghuà 普通话) and the Republic of China (Taiwan) (known there as Guóyǔ 國語）. Standard Singaporean Mandarin, which is usually heard on Singaporean Mandarin-language TV and radio news broadcast, is generally similar to Guoyu in terms of phonology, and Putonghua in terms of vocabulary and grammar. Small differences only appear in the form of lexicon.
Colloquial Singaporean Mandarin
In terms of colloquial spoken Mandarin, Singaporean Mandarin is subjected to influence from the local historical, cultural and social influences of Singapore. As such, there are remarkable differences between colloquial Singaporean Mandarin and Putonghua. Owing to a common culture and history between the Chinese Singaporeans and Malaysian Chinese, Colloquial Singaporean Mandarin bears the closest resemblance with Colloquial Malaysian Mandarin.
Features of Singaporean Mandarin
Singaporean Mandarin had preserved the vocabulary and certain features of the Classical Chinese and early Vernacular Chinese (baihua) of the early 20th century. Because Singapore's Chinese schools adopted Chinese teaching materials from Republic of China in the early 20th century, Singapore's early Mandarin pronunciations was based on the Zhuyin in the Dictionary of National Pronunciation (國音字典; Guó yīn zìdiǎn) and Vocabulary of National Pronunciation for Everyday Use (國音常用字彙). As such, it had preserved the older forms of pronunciations. In addition, during its initial development, Singaporean Mandarin was also influenced by Chinese dialects of Singapore such as Hokkien, Teochew, Cantonese etc.
From 1949 to 1979, due to lack of contact between Singapore and People's Republic of China, Putonghua did not exert any form of influence on Singaporean Mandarin. On the contrary, the majority of Mandarin Chinese entertainment media, Chinese literature, books and reading materials in Singapore came mainly from Taiwan. Consequently, Singaporean Mandarin has been influenced by Taiwanese Mandarin to a certain degree. After the 1980s, along with China's Open Door Policy, there was increasing contact between Singapore and mainland China, thus increasing Putonghua's gradual influence on Singaporean Mandarin. These influences included the adoption of pinyin and the shift from usage of Traditional Chinese characters to Simplified Chinese characters. Much of the lexicon from Putonghua had also found its way into Singaporean Mandarin.
Historical sources indicated that before 1819 when Sir Stamford Raffles came to Singapore, there were already Chinese settlers in Singapore. After 1819 when Sir Stamford Raffles set foot on Singapore, many Peranakan from Malaysian and European merchants began to come to Singapore. Because they required large number of labourers, coolies were brought in from China to Singapore.
Large number of Chinese labourers came to Singapore after the Opium War. Chinese settlers who came to Singapore from China during the 19th and second half of the 20th century were known as "sinkeh" (新客). Amongst them were many contract labourers, including those who worked at the docks. Most of them came to Singapore to escape from poverty and to search for a better life, while others came to Singapore to escape from wars taking place in China during the first half of the 20th century. Most of them came from Southern Chinese provinces such as Fujian, Guangdong and Hainan.
Amongst these Sinkeh, there were many Hoklo (Hokkien), Teochew, Cantonese and Hainanese. They brought their own different native Chinese varieties to Singapore, including Hokkien, Teochew, Cantonese, Hakka and Hainanese. Because these varieties were mutually unintelligible, Chinese clans association were established based on their own ancestral home and dialect groups to help take care of their own people who speak the same dialect.
Development of Mandarin in Singapore
Before the 20th century, Old-style private Chinese school known as sīshú (私塾) in Singapore generally used Chinese dialects (such as Hokkien, Teochew, Cantonese, etc.) as their medium of instruction to teach the Chinese classics and Classical Chinese. Singapore's first Mandarin-medium classes appeared around 1898, but Chinese dialects school continued to exist till 1909.
After the May Fourth Movement in 1919, under the influence from the New Culture Movement in China, the local Old-style private Chinese school in Singapore began to follow the new education reform as advocated by China's reformist. Thus, the language of medium in school changed from other Chinese dialects to Mandarin Chinese or Guóyǔ (國語). This marked the beginning of the development of Singaporean Mandarin.
However, at that time, there was no colloquial Standard Mandarin which could be used as a basis for learning Mandarin. In addition, during the early 1900s, most Mandarin teachers in Singapore came from southern parts of China, and had strong southern Chinese accents. Thus, the pronunciations in Singaporean Mandarin were under heavy influence from China's southern Chinese dialects; for instance, there were no erhua (兒化), light tone (輕聲), and no sentences had the heavy or light accent (輕重音) etc.
In 1919, a group of scholars in China published the Dictionary of National Pronunciation. This was one of the earliest dictionaries on modern Mandarin based on the Beijing dialect of Mandarin. However, the dictionary was a mix of northern Chinese sounds and southern Chinese rhymes, which included a 5th tone; the checked tone (rù shēng or 入聲). It wasn't until 1932 that a dictionary called the Vocabulary of National Pronunciation for Everyday Use, which was based truly on the Beijing dialect, was published. This dictionary standardized the form of Mandarin taught in Singapore's Chinese schools. During the 1930s and 1940s, new immigrants from China, known as xīn kè (新客) helped to established more Chinese schools in Singapore, increasing the propagation of Mandarin Chinese in Singapore. The name of Mandarin in Singapore was eventually changed from Guoyu (國語, i.e. National Language) to Huayu (華語, i.e. Chinese Language).
From the 1950s till 1970, as most of the Chinese books and literature came from Taiwan or Hong Kong, Singaporean Mandarin was subjected to influence from Taiwanese Mandarin. After the 1980s, due to the open door policy of mainland China, Singapore began to have greater contact with mainland China. Consequently, Singapore began to adopt Hanyu Pinyin and changed its writing system from Traditional Chinese characters to Simplified Chinese characters. After the Speak Mandarin Campaign in 1979, the Promote Mandarin Council started research on Mandarin standardization based on case studies in mainland China and Taiwan.
After the 1990s, due to greater contacts between Singapore and mainland China, there was a large influx of new Chinese migrants from mainland China. Consequently, much of the lexicon of Putonghua found its way into Singaporean Mandarin. Today's Singaporean Mandarin continues to be subjected to influence from Putonghua, Taiwanese Mandarin and Hong Kong's Cantonese.
Differences from Standard Mandarin
Major differences between Singaporean Mandarin Huayu (华语) and Putonghua lie in the vocabulary used. A lack of contact between Singapore and China from 1949 to 1979 meant that Singaporean Mandarin had to invent its own new words to suit the local Singapore environment, as well as borrow certain words from Taiwanese Mandarin or some other Chinese dialects that were spoken in Singapore. As a result, new Mandarin words proprietary to Singapore were invented.
The Dictionary of Contemporary Singaporean Mandarin Vocabulary (时代新加坡特有词语词典) edited by Wang Huidi (汪惠迪) listed 1560 uniquely local Singaporean Mandarin words, which are not used in Mainland China or Taiwan.
Unique Singaporean Mandarin words
There are many new terms that are specific to living in Singapore (though some also apply in neighbouring Malaysia). These words were either translated from Malay and Chinese dialects (or invented) as there were no equivalent words in Putonghua. Some of the words are taken from the Hokkien translation of Malay words. Words translated from Malay into Hokkien include kampung, pasar (巴刹, English 'market'). This explains the uniquely Singapore Mandarin words.
|红毛丹||hóngmáodān||rambutan (a type of Southeast Asian fruit)|
|奎笼||kuílóng||kelong (a place for fishing)|
|沙爹||shādīe||Satay (a type of Singaporean Malay food)|
|清汤||qīngtāng||a type of dessert|
|固本||gùběn||coupon. Also used for car parking|
|组屋||zǔwū||flat built by Housing Development Board|
|保健储蓄||bǎo jiàn chǔ xǜ||medisave (medical saving)|
|周末用车||zhōu mò yòng chē||Weekend Car (a classification of car ownership in Singapore)|
|财路||cáilù||"Giro" (a system of payment through direct bank account deduction in Singapore)|
|巴刹||bāsā||"bazaar" or market or pasar (Malay)|
|mín zhòng jù lè bù
lián luò suǒ
|叻沙||lāsā||laksa (a type of curry noodle)|
|垃圾虫||lājī chóng||"litter-bug"; someone who violated the law for littering|
Same meaning, different words
|乐龄||lè líng||old people||老龄
nián zhǎng zhě
|三文治||sān wén zhì||sandwich||三明治
sān míng zhì
|From English "sandwich" via Cantonese 三文治 sāam màhn jih|
|compare Cantonese 的士 dīk sih (from English "taxi").|
jí zhuāng xiāng
|火災 is also used in Singapore and Taiwan.|
|From classical Chinese. 耐用 is also used in Singapore.|
|驾车||jià chē||drive a car||开车
|The word 驾 originates from classical Chinese. 开车 is also used in Singapore. 驾车 has also found its way into Putonghua vocabulary.|
dì yī gè
|第一个 is also used in Singapore. 首个 has also found its way into Putonghua vocabulary.|
|公众||gōng zhòng||public mass||群众
|公众 has also found its way into Putonghua vocabulary. 群众 is also used in Singapore, as in 群众大会 (rally).|
|群体||qún tǐ||organized group||集体
|群体 has also found its way into Putonghua and Taiwanese Mandarin vocabulary. 集体 is also used in Singapore, more commonly as an adverb (en masse).|
|第一时间||dì yī shí jiān||immediately||立刻
|Literally 'the first timing'. Both 立刻 and 立即 are used in Singapore as well.|
|一头雾水||yī tóu wù shǔi||blurred and confused||晕头转向
yūn tóu zhǔan xìang
hú lǐ hú tú
|the idiom 一头雾水 has also found its way into Putonghua vocabulary.|
|From Hokkien/Cantonese, Hokkien: bé-thâu, Cantonese: ma tau. 头 may carry a neutral tone in Mandarin, thus the phrase becoming mǎtou.|
|领导 is sometimes used in Singapore, more commonly as a verb (to lead).|
|手提电话||shǒu tí diàn huà||mobile phone||手机
xíng dòng diàn huà/shǒu jī
|手机 is also used in Singaporean Mandarin, although less frequently.|
|客工||kè gōng||foreign worker||外勞
|外劳 also appears in some Singaporean Chinese writing (e.g. Lianhe Zaobao)|
|农夫 was an older Chinese term used in China before 1949, but continues to be used in Singapore.|
gōng jiāo chē
gōng chē/bā shì
|电单车||diàn dān chē||motorcycle||摩托车
mó tuō chē
|From English word "lorry".|
|From Hokkien kak-thâu. Note that in Putonghua, 角头 actually means "chieftain of mafia/secret society" instead of "corner". Occasionally, the phrase carries the Putonghua meaning in Singaporean context, so the latter may be clarified with a postposition like 间 jiān (in between), 内 nèi or 里 lǐ (both mean 'in(side)').|
|散钱||sàn qián||small change||零钱
|Originates from classical Chinese. 散钱 is also used in Putonghua, while 零钱 is sometimes used in Singapore, especially in writing.|
Same word, different meanings
There are certain similar words used in both Singaporean Mandarin and Putonghua, but have different meanings and usage.
|Chinese Characters||Pinyin||Meaning in Huayu||Meaning in Putonghua||Notes|
|小姐||xiǎo jiě||Miss||Prostitute or lady involved in sex trade||小姐 is used to refer to a lady or waitress in restaurant in Singaporean Mandarin. However, in Putonghua, 小姐 has negative connotation in the northern provinces, used mainly to refer to prostitutes. 女士 or 服务员 tends to be more commonly used in Putonghua, instead of 小姐. In Taiwan it is used the same way as in Singapore.|
|对付||duì fù||fight against/counteract||take action to deal with a person or problem||对付 is used to refer in negative connotation in Singaporean Mandarin to mean fight or counteract e.g. against a criminal or terrorist. But in Putonghua, it can have positive connotation to mean take action dealing with a person or problem.|
|懂||dǒng||know||understand||懂 is commonly used in Singaporean Mandarin to mean "know" instead of 知道 (Putonghua). 懂 means 'understand' in Putonghua.|
|计算机||jì suàn jī||calculator||computer||计算机 is commonly used in Singaporean Mandarin to mean 'calculator'. In PRC, the word 计算器 is used instead to refer to 'calculator'. 计算机 means computer in PRC, although in the recent years, the word 电脑 for computer has also become more popular in PRC.|
Loanwords and influence from other Chinese dialects
There is quite a number of specific words used in Singaporean Mandarin that originate from other Chinese dialects such as Hokkien, Teochew, Cantonese etc. These dialects have also influenced the pronunciation in Singaporean Mandarin.
|阿兵哥||ā bìng gē||soldiers||originates from Hokkien "a-peng-ko"|
|怕输||pà shū||afraid to lose||originates from Hokkien "kiaⁿ-su"|
|几时||jǐ shí||when?||originates from Hokkien "kuí-sî" or Classical Chinese
|阿公||ā gōng||grandpa||originates from Hokkien "a-kong"|
|阿嬤||ā mā||grandma||originates from Hokkien "a-má"|
|阿婆||ā pó||old lady||originates from Hokkien "a-pô"|
|很显||hěn xiǎn||very boring||spoken colloquially in Singaporean Mandarin instead of 无聊/闷 (in Standard Mandarin). The word "xian 显" originates from Hokkien 'hián-sèng' (顯聖).|
|敢敢||gǎn gǎn||be brave/daring||spoken colloquially in Singaporean Mandarin instead of 勇敢 (in Standard Mandarin). For instance, 敢敢做个开心人(dared to be a happy person - also the title for a Mediacorp Channel 8 sitcom). The word "敢敢" originates from Hokkien "káⁿ-káⁿ" (daring)|
|古早||gǔ zǎo||ancient||originates from Hokkien "kó͘-chá". Appears in some Singaporean Chinese writing (e.g. Hawker Center) instead of 古时候 (in Standard Mandarin).|
|做工||zuò gōng||work||originates from Hokkien "cho-kang", which means 'work'. 做工 is often spoken colloquially in Singaporean Mandarin instead of 工作/上班 (in Standard Mandarin). In Standard Mandarin, 做工 usually means doing work that involves manual hard labour.|
|烧||shāo||hot||originates from Hokkien "sio", which means 'hot'. 烧 is often spoken colloquially in Singaporean Mandarin instead of 热/烫 (in Standard Mandarin).|
|什么来的||shěn mè lái dè||What is this?||originates from Hokkien "siáⁿ-mi̍h lâi ê" (啥物來的). 什么来的 is often spoken colloquially in Singaporean Mandarin instead of the more formal 这是什么 (in Standard Mandarin)|
|起价||qǐ jià||price increase||originates from Hokkien "khí-kè". 起价 is often spoken colloquially in Singaporean Mandarin instead of the more formal 涨价 (in Standard Mandarin)|
|做莫||zuò mò||Why? / Doing what?||originates from Cantonese 做咩 zou me. 做莫 (or 做么) is often spoken colloquially in Singaporean Mandarin instead of the more formal 爲什麽/做什麽 (in Standard Mandarin)|
|阿佬||ā lǎo||man!||Corruption of a vulgar Hokkien word|
|是乜||shì miē||is it?||The word 乜 mēh, more often rendered as 咩 (see above), originates from Cantonese and is used in colloquial Singaporean Mandarin. Compare Standard Mandarin 是嗎 shì ma.|
|大耳窿||dà ěr lóng||loan shark||originates from Cantonese. (compare Guoyu: 地下錢莊)|
|搭客||dā kè||passenger||originates from Cantonese. (compare Putonghua: 乘客)|
|摆乌龙||bǎi wū lóng||misunderstanding/make mistakes/confusion||originates from Cantonese.|
|好脸||hào liàn||boastful, likes to show off||originates from Teochew (ho lien). Other than "likes to show off", the term can also describes someone who has a strong pride, i.e. cares about not losing face. (compare Putonghua: 爱出风头, Guoyu: 愛現)|
|粿条||guǒ tiáo||a type of flat noodle||originates from Teochew "kuey tiao". Compare Cantonese "hor fan" (河粉)|
Loanwords and English influences
There is quite a number of specific words used in Singaporean Mandarin that originate or are transliterated from English. These words appear in written Singaporean Mandarin.
|摩多西卡||móduōxīkǎ||Motorcycle||Both 电单车 and 摩托车 are also used in Singaporean Mandarin|
|巴仙||bāxiān||Percentage||百分比 is standard|
In terms of standard written Mandarin in Singapore, the Singaporean Mandarin grammar is almost similar to that of Putonghua. However, the grammar of colloquial Singaporean Mandarin can differ from that of Putonghua as a result of influence from other varieties of Chinese, classical Chinese and English. Some of the local Singaporean Mandarin writings do exhibit certain local Singaporean features.
When speaking of minutes, colloquial Singaporean Mandarin typically uses the word 字 (zì), which represents a unit of 5 minutes. When referring to a number of hours (duration), 钟头 (zhōngtóu) is used instead of 小时 (xiǎoshí). For instance:
- 5 minutes: 一个字 (yī gè zì)
- 10 minutes: 两个字 (liǎng gè zì)
- 15 minutes: 三个字 (sān gè zì)
- 45 minutes: 九个字 (jiǔ gè zì)
- 1 hour: 一个钟头 (yī gè zhōng tóu)
The use of zì (字) originates from Hokkien (jī or lī), Cantonese or Classical Chinese. Its origin came from the ancient Chinese units of measuring time. In ancient Chinese time measurement, hours were measured in terms of shíchén (时辰), equivalent to 2 hours while minutes were measured in terms of kè (刻), equivalent to 15 minutes. Each kè was in turn divided into 3 zì (equivalent to 5 minutes). For instance, 7:45 pm is:
七 点 九 个 字or 七 点 九。 (Singaporean Mandarin) 七 点 四十 五 分。 (Standard Mandarin)
Days of the week
As a result of Hokkien influence, colloquial Singaporean Mandarin typically uses the word "拜-" (bài) to refer to the days of the week, in lieu of Standard Mandarin "星期-" (xīngqí-). For instance:
- Monday: 拜一 (bàiyī) instead of 星期一 (xīngqíyī)
- Sunday: 礼拜天 (lǐbàitiān) or simply 礼拜 (lǐbài) instead of 星期日 (xīngqírì)
- A week: 一个礼拜 (yī gè lǐbài) instead of the more formal 一个星期 (yī gè xīngqí)
Both 拜 (bài) and 礼拜 (lǐbài) originate from Hokkien pài and lé-pài respectively.
In colloquial Singaporean Mandarin, 万 (wàn), referring to a "ten thousand" is often used but 十千 (shí qiān), referring to "ten thousands" is occasionally used too. This usage was influenced by English numbering system.
Use of the word "先"
The word "先" (xiān) is often used at the end of a sentence in colloquial Singaporean Mandarin (instead of after a subject, as in Standard Mandarin), as a result of influence from Cantonese grammar. For example, take the sentence "You walk first":
你 走 先。 (Singaporean Mandarin) 你 先 走。 (Standard Mandarin) 你 走 先。 (Cantonese)
- (Note that the reverse, "你先走," is ungrammatical in spoken Cantonese.)
The use of the word "而已"
而已 (éryǐ) is more common in colloquial Singaporean Mandarin than in Standard Mandarin, which uses 罢了 (bàle). The same is true for Taiwanese Mandarin. While 而已 (éryǐ) is also used in colloquial Mandarin within Mainland China, but perhaps to a lesser extent as compared to Singapore or Taiwan. For example:
Translation: only like this
这样 子 而已 啊！ (Singaporean Mandarin) 这样 子 罢了！ (Standard Mandarin)
Use of the word "啊" as an affirmative
In colloquial Singaporean Mandarin, the word "啊" is often used in response to a sentence as an affirmative. It is often pronounced as /ã/ (with a nasal tone) instead of 'ah' or 'a' (in Putonghua). Putonghua tends to use "是的/对啊" (shì de/duì a)， "哦" (ó), "噢" (ō), "嗯" (en/ng) to mean "yes, it is".
Use of the word "才" instead of "再"
In Singaporean Mandarin, there is a greater tendency to use the word cái "才" (then) in lieu of Standard Mandarin zài "再" (then), which indicates a future action after the completion of a prior action. For instance:
- The tax declaration form has incidentally been used up, plan to obtain it on the plane and then fill it up
- Don't say anything now; say it only after he's finished his meal
Pronunciation of the word "了"
In the colloquial Singaporean Mandarin, "了" (already) is often pronounced "liao3”, e.g. “吃饭了 chi fan liao” (already eaten). Standard Mandarin would pronounce "了" as "le". The pronunciation of "liao3" comes from Hokkien pronunciation of "了"(liáu). For instance "食饱了" (Hokkien: sia̍h pá liáu).
The use of the word "有"
In Standard Mandarin, one typical way of turning certain nouns into adjectives, such as 兴趣 (xìngqù, 'interest'), 营养 (yíngyǎng, 'nutrition'), 礼貌 (lǐmào, 'politeness'), is to prefix the word "有" (yǒu) at the front of these nouns.
- "很有兴趣" (hěn yǒu xìngqù - very interested)
- "很有营养" (hěn yǒu yíngyǎng - very nutritious)
- "很有礼貌" (hěn yǒu lǐmào - very polite).
The word 有 (yǒu) is sometimes omitted in writing.
Reduplication of verbs preceding "一下"
In Singaporean Mandarin, verbs preceding "一下" may be reduplicated, unlike in Putonghua. In Putonghua grammar, the use of the word "一下" (yīxià) is often put at the back of a verb to indicate that the action (as indicated by the verb) is momentary.
想 想 一下。(Singaporean Mandarin) 想 一下。(Standard Mandarin)
- "Think for a while."
研究 研究 一下。 (Singaporean Mandarin) 研究 一下。(Standard Mandarin)
- "Research for a little while."
Colloquial use of the word "被"
Singaporean colloquial Mandarin tends to use 被 (bèi) more commonly than Putonghua, mainly due to influence from English.
Compare the following:
- "The road has been repaired"
马路 被 修好 了(Singaporean Mandarin) 马路 已 修好 了(Putonghua)
Using adjective as verb
Sometimes, colloquial Singaporean Mandarin might use intransitive verbs as transitive.
“進步" (improve) is an intransitive verb. But as influenced by the use of English, "I want to improve my Chinese" is sometimes said in Singaporean Mandarin as “我要進步我的華語”. The standard Mandarin should be “我要讓我的華語進步”
Phonology and tones
The phonology and tones of Singaporean Mandarin are generally similar to that of Standard Mandarin. There are 4 tones similar to those in Standard Mandarin, but Erhua (-er finals) and the neutral tone (轻声, lit. 'light tone') are generally absent in Singaporean Mandarin.
The earliest development of Singaporean Mandarin includes the old Beijing phonology (老國音), followed by new Beijing phonology (新國音) and then finally Hanyu Pinyin of mainland China. In its initial development, Singaporean Mandarin was highly influenced by the Ru sheng 入声 (checked tones or "5th tones") from other Chinese varieties. As such, the 5th tone did appear in earlier Singaporean Mandarin. The characteristics of the 5th tone are as follows:
- It is a falling tone. The common tone letter is 51, but sometimes it is 53.
- The tone does not last long. It feels more like an 'interrupted stop'.
- The syllable which carries the tone had a glottal stop; sometimes the final sounds to be clear, but sometimes, it does not sound very clear. This glottal stop not only interrupts the lasting period of the tone, but also makes the start of consonant stronger, thus nearing itself more to a voiced consonant.
However, due to years of development, the 5th tone in Singaporean Mandarin had basically disappeared. It no longer exists in modern Singaporean Mandarin. This means that the Singaporean Mandarin had inclined itself towards Standard Chinese.
Minor differences occur between the phonology (tones) of Standard Singaporean Mandarin and other forms of Standard Mandarin.
|Chinese character||Definition||Singapore||Mainland China||Taiwan||Notes|
|休息||Take a rest||xiūxí||xiūxi||xiūxí||The character 息 is pronounced with the 2nd tone in Standard Singaporean Mandarin, similar to that in Taiwan. In Mainland China, 息 is pronounced as a light (neutral) tone (simplified Chinese: 轻声; traditional Chinese: 輕聲; pinyin: qīng shēng) instead.|
|垃圾||Rubbish||lājī||lājī||lèsè||The pronunciation for 垃圾 is the same in Singapore and Mainland China. But in Taiwan, it has maintained the older pronunciation before 1949, which was influenced by Wu Chinese.|
|角色||Role||juésè||juésè||jiǎosè/juésè||The pronunciation for 角色 is the same in Singapore and Mainland China. But in Taiwan, it has maintained the older pronunciation jiǎosè before 1949. However, both juésè and jiǎosè can be interchangeably used in the Chinese-speaking world.|
|包括||Include||bāokuò||bāokuò||bāoguā/bāokuò||The pronunciation for 包括 is the same in Singapore and Mainland China. But in Taiwan, the older pronunciation of "guā" for 括 before 1949 continued to be used, alongside the modern pronunciation of "kuò".|
Influences from other languages in Singapore
Just like any languages in Singapore, Singaporean Mandarin is subjected to influences from other languages spoken in Singapore.
Singaporean Hokkien is the largest non-Mandarin Chinese variety spoken in Singapore. The natural tendency of Hokkien-speakers to use the Hokkien way to speak Mandarin has influenced to a large degree the colloquial Mandarin spoken in Singapore. The colloquial Hokkien-style Singaporean Mandarin is commonly heard in Singapore, and can differ from Putonghua in terms of vocabulary, phonology and grammar.
In Singapore, simplified Chinese characters are the official standard used in all official publications as well as the government-controlled press. While simplified Chinese characters are taught exclusively in schools, the government does not officially discourage the use of traditional characters, as the government of the People's Republic of China does. Therefore, many shop signs continue to be written in traditional characters. Menus in hawker centres and coffeeshops are also usually written in simplified characters.
As there is no restriction on the use of traditional characters in the mass media, television programmes, books, magazines and music CDs that have been imported from Hong Kong or Taiwan are widely available, and these almost always use traditional characters. Most karaoke discs, being imported from Hong Kong or Taiwan, have song lyrics in traditional characters as well. While all official publications are in simplified characters, the government still allows parents to choose whether to have their child's Chinese name registered in simplified or traditional characters though most choose the former.
Singapore had undergone three successive rounds of character simplification, eventually arriving at the same set of simplified characters as mainland China. Before 1969, Singapore generally used traditional characters. From 1969 to 1976, the Ministry of education launched its own version of simplified characters, which differed from that of mainland China. But after 1976, Singapore fully adopted the simplified characters of mainland China.
Chinese writing style and literature
Chinese writing style
Before the May Fourth Movement in 1919, Singapore Chinese writings were based on Classical Chinese. After the May Fourth Movement, under the influence from the New Culture Movement in China, the Chinese schools in Singapore began to follow the new education reform as advocated by China's reformist and changed the writing style to Vernacular Chinese.
Singapore's Chinese newspaper had witnessed this change from Classical Chinese to Vernacular Chinese. Lat Pau (叻報), one of the earliest Chinese newspaper, was still using Classical Chinese in 1890. By 1917, it continued to use Classical Chinese. But by 1925, it had changed to Vernacular Chinese. After this, all Chinese newspaper in Singapore used Vernacular Chinese.
Singaporean Chinese Literature
Singaporean Chinese literature was once part of Malaysia Chinese literature. It originated from the New Culture Movement in China. In 1965, Singapore was separated from Malaysia and became independent. Since then, Singaporean Chinese literature started to develop on its own.
The development of the Singaporean Chinese literature reflected the history of immigrants in Singapore. When many Chinese writers from Southern China arrived in Singapore, they established Chinese schools, newspaper press etc. They contributed a lot to the development of Chinese literature in Singapore. In 1919, the New National Magazine 《新國民雜誌》 marked the birth of Malaysia Chinese literature. In those days, the migrant's mindset was still deeply entrenched. Many of the literary works were influenced by New Culture Movement. Most of the literary works that were published originated from the works of writers in China.
In 1925, the presence of literary supplements such as "Southern Wind" 《南風》, "Light of Singapore 《星光》" brought a new dimension to Malaysia Chinese literature. They differed from past magazine that relied on writers from China. It was at this time, that the thoughts of Nanyang began to surface the corner. In January 1927, the "Deserted Island" 《荒島》 published in the "New National Press" 《新國民日報》 clearly reflected the features of Nanyang in its literary work. The "localization" literary works mostly described the lifestyle in Nanyang, the people and their feelings in Nayang. The quality of Singaporean Chinese literature had greatly improved.
In 1937, the outbreak of Second Sino-Japanese War raised the anti-Japanese sentiment. The literature during these times reflected the missions of national salvation against the Japanese. This brought a halt to the localization movement and in turn re-enacted a sense of Chinese nationalism amongst the migrants in Singapore. From 1941 till 1945, during the Japanese occupation of Singapore, the activities for Malaysia Chinese literature was halted.
After the war, people in Singapore began to have a sense of belonging to this piece of land, and they also had a desire for freedom and democracy. During this times, Malaysia Chinese literature was inclined towards Anti-colonialism. With new arts and thoughts, between 1947 - 1948, there was a debate between "Unique Malaysian Literary Art" and "literary thoughts of migrants". The results from these debated led to a conclusion that the Malaysia Chinese literature was going to develop on its own independently. The "localization" clearly marked the mature development of Malaysia Chinese literature.
During the 1950s, writers from Malaysia and Singapore drew their literary works mostly from the local lifestyle and events that reflected the lifestyle from all areas of the society. They also included many Chinese-dialect proverbs in their works. They created unique works of literature. Writers including Miao Xiu (苗秀), Yao Zhi (姚紫), Zhao Rong (趙戎), Shu Shu (絮絮) etc. represented the writers of "localization" works.
On 9 August 1965, Singapore became independent. Malaysia Chinese literature was now divided into Malaysian Chinese literature and Singaporean Chinese literature.
From 1960 to 1970, the number of literary works published began to increase. Locally-born and locally bred Singaporean writers became the new writers in the stage of Singaporean Chinese literature. Their works were mainly based on the views of Singaporeans towards issues or context happening in Singapore. They continued the "localization" movement and brought the Singaporean Chinese literature to a new dimension.
Arts and Entertainment
After the Speak Mandarin Campaign in 1979, all Chinese TV programs using other Chinese varieties were replaced by Mandarin programs. Singapore also started to broadcast Mandopop. The birth of Xinyao during the 1980s injected a new life to the creation of lyrics for Mandopop in Singapore. Singapore radios also began to have Singapore Billboards (新加坡龍虎榜) for Mandopop. This allowed Singapore to be developed into a major center for Mandopop in South East Asia. There were also many Mandopop artist coming from Singapore such as Stefanie Sun, JJ Lin, Tanya Chua, etc.
TV Drama Serial
|Television Channel||Program Title||Aired||Status||Duration|
|MediaCorp TV Channel 8 (新傳媒8頻道)||Singapore Today (獅城6點半)||Monday until Sunday at 18:30 until 19:00||Live (現場直播)||30-minutes|
|Channel 8 National News (晚間新聞)||Monday until Sunday at 22:00 until 22:30|
|MediaCorp TV Channel U (新傳媒U頻道)||Monday until Sunday at 23:00 until 22:30||Rerun/Recorded (重播/早前錄影)|
Language plays an important role in Singapore politics. Up to today, it is still important for politicians in Singapore to be able to speak their mother tongue (and even other dialects) fluently in order to reach out to the multilingual community in Singapore.
According to observation, if an election candidate is able to speak fluent Mandarin, his chance of winning an election is higher during the election campaign. As such, most election candidates will try to use Mandarin in campaign speeches in order to attract Mandarin-speaking voters.
Singaporean Mandarin Standard
Some Chinese elites in Singapore had criticized that the Mandarin standard of Chinese Singaporean has dropped greatly due to the closure or subsequent conversion of Chinese-medium schools to English-medium schools in the 1980s. Others attributed the drop in standard to the lack of learning Chinese literature in schools.
Ever since 1965 when Singapore became independent, bilingual policy has become the pillar of Singapore's education. The first language of Singapore was English, while Mandarin was chosen as the "mother tongue" of Chinese Singaporean. Generally, most Chinese Singaporean can speak Mandarin fluently, but are usually weaker in writing Chinese.
Influence of Mainland China's economic rise on Singapore
In recent years, with the subsequent economic rise of mainland China and a transition from a world factory to a world market, Mandarin has become the 2nd most influential language after English. Besides transmitting Chinese culture values, many people began to realize the economic values of Mandarin, which has raised the interests of local and working professionals in learning Mandarin.
Changes in mother tongue and dialect preservation
The original mother tongue of Chinese Singaporeans other Chinese varieties, such as Hokkien, Teochew or Cantonese. This was certainly true when southern Chinese migrants came to Singapore. However, with the Speak Mandarin campaign, the Chinese Singaporean's home language experienced a change from these other varieties to Mandarin, and later from Mandarin to English. Mandarin was designated as the mother tongue of Chinese Singaporean in Singapore.
In recent years, there has been an increasing awareness of dialect preservation, due to the great decline in the use of other Chinese dialects in Singapore. Most young Chinese Singaporeans were unable to speak these Chinese dialects effectively and were thus unable to communicate with their grandparents, who are more used to speaking these dialects. This has caused a generation gap. As such, there is a minority of Singaporeans working to help preserve or spread these Chinese dialects in Singapore.
Language policy and culture
Under the bilingual policy of Singapore, Chinese Singaporeans had a greater chance to speak and use English especially in school and at work. But this can cause a relative limitation in the use of mother tongue. Generally speaking, most Chinese Singaporeans are able to speak Mandarin, and also read newspapers in it, but only a minority is able to use it at a professional level such as academic research, literary writing etc. In the endeavor to use English, some Chinese Singaporeans even distanced themselves from the mother tongue culture, resulting in the erosion of Chinese culture in Singapore.
- Standard Singaporean Mandarin
- Singapore Chinese Characters
- Speak Mandarin Campaign
- Chinese in Singapore
- Languages of Singapore
- Comparison of national standards of Chinese
- Standard Mandarin
- Taiwanese Mandarin
- Philippine Mandarin
- Malaysian Mandarin
- Mandarin Chinese (Singapore) at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
- Mandarin Chinese (Singapore) at Ethnologue (14th ed., 2000).
- Leong Koon Chan. "Envisioning Chinese Identity and Multiracialism in Singapore". Retrieved 14 February 2011.
- Reuters (16 September 2009). "RPT-FEATURE-Eyeing China, Singapore sees Mandarin as its future". Retrieved 14 February 2011.
- SINGAPORE DEPARTMENT OF STATISTICS. "CENSUS OF POPULATION 2010 STATISTICAL RELEASE 1 ON DEMOGRAPHIC CHARACTERISTICS, EDUCATION, LANGUAGE AND RELIGION" (PDF). Retrieved 15 August 2013.
- 中国新闻网 (China News Site). "探讨新加坡人与中国新移民：接纳与融入间的对视(An insight into Singaporean and New Chinese immigrants: receiving and assimilation)" (in Chinese). Retrieved 15 August 2013.
- 中国新闻网(China News Site). "新加坡内阁资政：新加坡华语尽量向普通话靠拢(Lee Kuan Yew: Singaporean Mandarin should incline itself towards Putonghua)" (in Chinese). Retrieved 15 August 2013.
- Bukit Brown: Our Roots,Our Heritage
- 洪鎌德◎台大國發所教授 (Hon Liande). "新加坡的語言政策(Singapore's language policy)" (in Chinese). National Taiwan University. Retrieved 21 August 2013.
- 《时代新加坡特有词语词典》 (Dictionary of Contemporary Singaporean Mandarin Vocabulary) (in Chinese). 新加坡联邦出版社出版. 1999.
- Welch, Anthony R. Freebody, Peter. Knowledge, Culture and Power. Routledge Publishing. ISBN 1-85000-833-7.
- 吴元华 Wu Yuanhua. "论新加坡华语文的"政治价值"(About the political values of Mandarin)" (in Chinese). Retrieved 28 August 2013.
- 吳英成 (Wu Yincheng). "新加坡雙語教育政策的沿革與新機遇 (Singapore's bilingual education and new opportunity)" (PDF) (in Chinese). Nanyang Technological University Institute of Education. Retrieved 28 August 2013.
- 吳英成 (Wu Yingchen). "新加坡雙語教育政策的沿革與新機遇 (Singapore's Bilingual Policy and Opportunities)" (PDF) (in Chinese). Nanyang Technology University Institute of Education. Retrieved 28 Aug 2013.
- 陳學怡(Chen Xue Yi). "語言政策與幼兒教育 (Language Policy and Children's Education)" (PDF) (in Chinese). National Taichung Institute of Education Research center for kids education. Retrieved 2 September 2013.
- 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，, September 2002, ISBN 981412723X， ISBN 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, ISBN 9814243922、ISBN 9789814243926 (Zhou, Qinghai (2009), The changing languages, Lingzi Media)
Bibliography in Chinese
- Differences between Huayu and Putonghua (新加坡华语和普通话的差异)
- Teacher from China feels that Singaporean Mandarin is very lively (中国老师觉得新加坡华语有活力)
- Comparison of Vocabulary used in Huayu and Putonghua (华语、普通话词汇比较)
- Influence of Singaporean Mandarin on PRC Mandarin (论新加坡华语对大陆汉语的影响----评"一直以来"的谬误)
- An Overview over the Changes of Singaporean Mandarin (新加坡华语变异概说)