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Life in Singapore

Colloquial Singaporean Mandarin, also known as Singdarin (simplified Chinese: 新加坡式华语; traditional Chinese: 新加坡華語; pinyin: Xīnjiāpōshì Huáyǔ; Wade–Giles: hsing1 chia1 p'o1 shih4 hua23),[1] is an interlanguage native to Singapore. In Taiwan, this language variety is known as Singnese (Chinese: 星式中文; pinyin: Xīngshì Zhōngwén; Wade–Giles: hsing1 shih4 chung1 wen2; literally: 'Sing[apore] colloquial Chinese language').[2] It is based on Mandarin but has a large amount of English in its vocabulary. For this reason, Singdarin is sometimes known as "Anglo-Chinese". There are also words from Malay and other Chinese dialects.[3]

In general, well-educated Chinese Singaporeans are able to code-switch between Singdarin and Standard Mandarin.

Singdarin grammar is usually identical to Mandarin. In some circumstances, there is code-switching with English.[citation needed] Singdarin vocabulary consists of a large number of words from English, Hokkien and Malay, among other languages, often when speakers do not know the Mandarin equivalent of what they wish to express, and instead use English words to convey the meaning.

It is almost identical to the Colloquial Malaysian Mandarin spoken in Malaysia, while native Chinese from China or native Taiwanese from Taiwan generally find it difficult to understand Singdarin due to large number of English or non-Mandarin words used. The Singaporean government currently discourages the use of Singdarin in favour of Standard Singaporean Mandarin as it believes in the need for Singaporeans to be able to communicate effectively with native Chinese from China or Taiwan.


Like its Singlish equivalent, Singdarin evolved because many Singaporean Chinese families come from mixed language environments. For instance, children may be raised in households in which one parent speaks English while the other speaks Chinese or coming for other Chinese dialects, such as Hokkien or Cantonese respectively.

Singdarin has also evolved largely because Singapore is a multi-cultural, multi-ethnic and multi-lingual society. One of the most important policies of the Singaporean government is to ensure social and multi-ethnic harmony. Therefore, instead of letting certain ethnic groups to live in an isolated community like they did in the past, the Singapore government encourages the majority of Singaporeans to live in HDB flats that have now become a melting pot of Chinese, Malays, Indians and other different ethnicity who speak different languages. This is believed to reduce differences between the diverse linguistic and ethnic groups in Singapore.

As the majority of Singaporeans live in HDB flats, which have families coming from various linguistic, racial and ethnic background, there is a tendency for different languages to be mixed in order to facilitate more effective communication between the different races. In short, it leads to the creation of a hybrid culture (known colloquially as a "rojak" culture).

This and the tendency for the Singaporean Chinese people to use the mixed language that they use at home in daily colloquial conversation has since influenced the Mandarin spoken in schools, resulting in "Singdarin" being formed. It was in this environment that Singdarin developed.

Examples of Singdarin (Anglo-Chinese) dialogue[edit]

Below are some examples of Singdarin dialogue spoken amongst some Chinese Singaporeans.

Singdarin (Anglo-Chinese) dialogue English translation Standard Mandarin
你的(nǐde) office (zài) 哪裡(nǎlǐ) Where is your office? 您的辦公室在哪裡?
Raffles Place, (hěn) 靠近(kàojìn) MRT.1 Raffles Place, located near the MRT station. 萊佛士坊,在地鐵站附近/離地鐵站不遠
() (zài) 那邊(nàbiān) (zuò) 多久(duōjiǔ) (le) How long have you been working there? 你在那裡工作多久了?
() (tài) (jiǔ) Six months. () (xiǎng) find another job. Not long, 6 months. I'm thinking of finding another job. 沒多久,六個月。我想找一份新(的)工作
Maybe 明年(míngnián) when () complete 我的(wǒde) accounting course Maybe next year when I complete my accounting course 可能明年我修完會計課程之後
But () (yào) () 吃飯(chīfàn) But I'm going for my dinner 不過我要去吃飯

1 Usually the word 'station' is omitted.

English loanwords[edit]

The following are the common English loan words used in Singdarin.

English loanwords Standard Mandarin words Examples of usage
But 不过 / 但(是) / 可(是) But 他很聪明 leh! (But he's very clever!)
Then 然后 Then, 他就来了! (Then he comes!)
Actually 其实 Actually, 我本来要去的! (Actually, I wanted to go there!)
Share 共用 / 分/分享 Eh! 蛋糕可以跟我 share 吗? (Can you share your cake with me?)
Blur 搞不清楚状况 / 模糊不清 你知道吗?他弄到我很 blur! (Do you know he makes me very blur?)
Anyway/Anyhow 无论如何 / 不管怎(么)样 Anyway, 我一定要/该去! (Anyway, I must go!)
That's why 所以 / 于是 That's why 我很讨厌他! (That's why I hate him!)

Loanwords from other languages[edit]

Just like Singlish, certain words used in Singlish are also interchangeably used in Singdarin.

Loanwords Standard Mandarin words Definition Notes Example of usage
buay tahan 受不了 cannot tolerate formed by combination of Hokkien word "beh 袂" (cannot) and Malay word "tahan" (tolerate) 哇!袂 tahan 咧! (wa, be tahan leh) [wow, cannot tolerate it leh]
sibeh 非常 very/damn originate from Teochew (死父, literally meaning dead father and hence in such a context, "on my dead father") and has the general meaning of 'damn'. sibeh sian![very boring]
walao eh 我的天啊! my gosh/oh my god originate from Singaporean Hokkien vulgar word "wa lan eh 我膦呃" (literally 'my father's (dick)'). "wa lau eh" is a more polite variant of it. Walao eh, 你怎么可以这样? [my god, how can you be like that?]
guai lan 令人讨厌的家伙 annoying/irritating person originate from Singaporean Hokkien vulgar word "guai lan 怪膦" (literally 'strange dick'). 他sibeh guai lan的! [he is an annoying person!]
sua ku 井底之蛙 someone who has not been exposed to the society and is not well-informed about many things from Hokkien word "suaku 山龟" (literally "tortoise on the mountain") 这个人很sua ku! [this guy is a tortoise on the mountain]
salah 错/坏掉了 incorrect/something went wrong from Malay 电脑salah了 ! [something went wrong with the computer]
ulu 偏僻 remote from Malay 这个地方这么 ulu ,连一只鬼影都没有! [that place is very remote, not a single ghost (person) around!]
terok 難搞/困难 troublesome from Malay 那位顾客sibeh terok! [that customer is very troublesome!]
sibei jialat 非常(真假)麻烦 really difficult from Hokkien 那個东西不懂被谁弄到乱七八糟,sibei jialat! [Somebody has made a huge mess of that thing, which makes things really difficult for us!]

Usage of English technical terms[edit]

Since English is the main working and educational language of Singapore, many Chinese Singaporeans are more familiar with the English professional terminology (technical terms) used at work, rather than that of Mandarin. This led to many Chinese Singaporeans tending to mix large number of English professional terms into Mandarin at work, instead of using Chinese technical terms. As such, a form of Singdarin spoken at work appears, resulting in some degree of communication barrier at work between the Chinese Singaporeans and the Chinese from China or Taiwan.

Comparison between Singdarin spoken at work in Singapore and Mandarin spoken at work in China is shown below:

Singdarin spoken at work in Singapore [4] Mandarin spoken at work in China[5] English translation
你的 cable tray 要从 ceiling 上走。 你的电线桥架要在吊顶天花板上铺设。 Your cable tray needs to be lined up along the ceiling
Server room 里面的 fire sprinkler 拆了,你们的 fire department 会allow吗? 机房里面的消防喷淋拆了,你们的消防部门会批准吗? If you dismantle the fire sprinkler inside the server room, will the fire department approve it?
今天的天 sibeh 热 leh! Buay Tahan lah! 今天的天气太热了!我忍受不了了! The weather today is too hot! It's unbearable!

Other terms associated with Singdarin[edit]

There are other terms associated with Singdarin such as "Broken Chinese", "Half-bucket" (半桶水) or "Half-past Six Chinese". These are the terms used by Singaporean Chinese-language professionals to refer to the mediocre (or low) proficiency level of [Standard Mandarin] amongst certain Chinese Singaporeans. The terms describe that when measured against Standard Mandarin, certain Chinese Singaporeans are only 50-65% proficient in Mandarin[citation needed].

Part of the reason for this could be due to the widespread use of Singdarin in Singapore. Singdarin has led to the impression of "broken Chinese" or "bad Chinese", and is generally considered to be an adulterated form of Mandarin Chinese. Speaking Singdarin, for Singaporeans, is a natural linguistic habit derived from speaking a mixed language in daily life. However, the lower proficiency in formal Mandarin Chinese was mainly due to a lack of practice and exposure to more proper Chinese language, a lack of practice in speaking, hearing, reading and writing Chinese[citation needed]. This further led to a limited Chinese vocabulary or knowledge on Chinese cultural subjects, thus making it difficult for Singdarin speakers to speak Standard Mandarin fluently. Singdarin speakers will generally find it difficult to communicate (at a higher level) when attempting to interact with native Chinese speakers from China or Taiwan.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "中文·外来语来聚"掺"". 《三联生活周刊》. Retrieved 1 August 2010.
  2. ^ 顧長永 (Gu Changyong) (25 July 2006). 《新加坡: 蛻變的四十年》 (Singapore: The Changing Forty Years). Taiwan: 五南圖書出版股份有限公司. p. 54. ISBN 978-957-11-4398-9.
  3. ^ "重视新加坡本土华语的文化意义 (Attending to the cultural significance of Colloquial Singaporean Mandarin)". 華語橋 (Huayuqiao). Retrieved 11 February 2011.
  4. ^ "新加坡式华语". 《联合早报网》. Archived from the original on 8 July 2012. Retrieved 1 August 2010.
  5. ^ "新加坡式华语". 《联合早报网》. Archived from the original on 8 July 2012. Retrieved 1 August 2010.

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