Talk:Singlish/Archive: Creole, dialect or pidgin

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Definition of dialect, pidgin, creole

The Wikipedia definition of dialect is imho not so clear. As I "feel" this word, "dialect" is appropriate for regional variants of languages, spoken natively by the people. Most Singaporeans do not have English as their native language, but use it as the common language in the city, outside their families and neighbourhoods. Maybe it is more a Pidgin language. Or are these dialects, too? That all depends on how you define it. I chose "version", because it was more neutral. I think I'll ask some linguist on this topic... -- zeno

Singlish has gone past the stage of "pidgin" -- it is now more like a creole. But more about that further down the page (under the heading "Singlish is not a pidgin"). -- ran

Does "ice water - water with ice" really qualify as a Singlish idiom? It's quite common in U.S. English. -- jdb 03:50, 19 Jan 2004 (UTC)

If I said "ice water," I would mean ice that was allowed to melt. —Casey J. Morris 01:56, August 4, 2005 (UTC)

Which one is more appreciate title, Signlish or Singapore English? -- Taku 21:24 Jan 5, 2003 (UTC)

Wouldnt Singapore English refer to the standard variety of English used in "educated circles" as opposed to the vernacular? 01:16, 10 February 2007 (UTC)

I do not really know: It is mostly referred to as "Singlish", and explained as "Singapore English"

--Zenogantner 01:10 Jan 6, 2003 (UTC)

"Singapore English" also seems to refer to standard English with a Singaporean accent. "Singapore Colloquial English" is a more precise term. -- bicoherent

How come don't have sotong one meh!? Haven't signed up yet 4:41 Nov 15, 2003 (UTC)

Now sotong also can lah. --Jpatokal Nov 15, 2003
What the heck does that even mean? You need to learn some Singlish. -- creamyhorror June 2006
On a related note, is "bedek kacang" still in use? I thought the common term is now "kan chiong". -- bicoherent 2002-04-22
I'd say remove the "bedek kacang" entry. I've never heard it used in my 30 years of existence in sg. -- colemanyee dec2004

Singlish is not a pidgin

(Excerpt from: )

Pidgins and creoles can be considered the linguistic product of two or more languages that have combined to form a language .... Pidgins are reduced languages, characterized by having a limited vocabulary and a simple grammar which serve to satisfy basic communication needs. Historically these languages have primarily arisen in trade centers and plantations .... By definition, a pidgin has no native speakers; it is always a person's second (or more) language.

In contrast, a creole language is a pidgin that has developed and become the mother tongue for a community of people. This process is called creolization and results in an expanded vocabulary and grammar structure that allow for communication as rich and complex as that of non-creole languages. While pidgins are regarded as reduced languages, creoles are considered expanded languages. That is, while pidgins develop to enable communication in relatively isolated domains, creoles allow for a full range of expressive possibilities on a par with more "recognized" languages.

In short:

A pidgin is a reduced language that results from attempts by speakers of different languages to communicate with each other.

A creole is what results when a pidgin develops and matures. A pidgin that "fully creolizes" is as complex as any other language.

Signs that a pidgin has evolved into a creole:

  • It is learned natively by children, on its own right. (A pidgin is learned and improvised by adults who already speak another language.)
  • It has a full range of grammatical and structural features comparable to any other language. (Pidgins have reduced grammars.)

Now let's look at Singlish:

  • Singlish is learned today natively by children, not by non-English speaking adults trying to learn English. There are plenty of people who can speak Singlish better than any Chinese, Malay, or Indian language / dialect.
  • The complexity, maturity, and expressivity of Singlish is comparable to any other language or dialect.

Taking the above definition into account, it is clear that Singlish has already developed from a pidgin into something like a "creole", i.e., Singlish has creolized. A creole is, by definition, a tongue that is as expressive and rich as any full language or dialect on its own right. This is what Singlish is -- not a poor form of English, but a rich, expressive, complex dialect of English on its own right.

- ran April 5, 2004

Ran, as a non-Singlish speaker (but learning), agreed with you. (I'm also a non-native English speaker). Singlish is not a substandard form of English but a language/dialect on its own. It took English, richly enhanced it in vocabulary and had some Chinese grammatical forms thrown in. It's pretty neat!

To me the Chinese grammatical forms are quite interesting as while Chinese will likely remain quite unaccessible to me as a language without detailed study, Singlish is not due to its English heritage. I see in an earlier edit you listed some very interesting examples of such Chinese forms in Singlish. In the recent edit you took them out. I hope you will be able to integrate your exposition of these forms (lah, lor, already, and so on) into the main article in more detail as I'd love to find out more about these forms. They are the aspects of Singlish hardest for me to get a feeling for, which is also why they're the most fascinating. Some idea about their grammatical place would help satisfying my curiosity about them.

To me, Singlish is also an amusing language, often quite funny, but happily I share this amusement with my native Singlish speaking friends, who seem to enjoy their language very much. My Singlish speaking friends haven't taken my amusement negatively, are amused themselves, and have enjoyed teaching me. And in turn they've of course been amused with my blundering forays into speaking Singlish.

Of course the people worrying that people who may not learn 'international standard' English well enough due to exposure to Singlish do have a point. Singlish usages inevitably slip into speaking and writing patterns when Singlish speakers communicate in English. To someone unaware of Singlish (as I was a decade ago) this looks like sub-par English, which it is of course, from that perspective. It's a difficult situation.

I believe however that being explicitly being clear about the difference between Singlish and other forms of English in public education may actually be more productive in helping Singlish speakers to learn how to speak "proper" English than trying to bend Singlish back into English forcefully. A positive awareness of what makes Singlish unique and different could also help people learn to better communicate in other forms of English. Martijn faassen 23:06, 5 Apr 2004 (UTC)

Wa lao, why this page so long one? Even longer than main page leh! -- bicoherent

Ran you my hero lah! Wah, awesome. Martijn faassen 19:55, 22 Apr 2004 (UTC)

Is Singlish a Creole?, Redux

Also, to Node ue: I don't think Singlish is really a "creole" per se, since it is still understandable to speakers of English -- comparable to Jamaican English, perhaps? So I'd say that Singlish is a dialect of English. ran 23:41, Apr 28, 2004 (UTC)

Ran, that's not what makes a "creole" a "creole". According to the Ethnologue, Jamaican English is a creole. A creole language is generally formed when a pidgin is learned natively by children. A pidgin language does not nessecarily have to be mutually unintelligible with the parent language; what matters is the way it developed. Singlish is a speech variety formed as the result of contact between two or more languages (English, Hokkien, Malay, Tamil, Cantonese, Hainanese, Hakka, etc.), which is basically what a pidgin is. And I would argue that, although perhaps in its acrolectal and mesolectal forms (which as a non-Singaporean are what you are most likely to hear, since Singaporeans generally at least try to speak acrolect or mesolect [to them, it's "proper English"] to ang moh lang) Singlish and English are easily mutually intelligible, the Basilect and pre-modern Singlish are more difficult for native speakers of English to understand. A "dialect", on the other hand, is formed by the geographic separation of different groups of native speakers whose speech then develops separately (similar to teh process of speciation). Singlish is phonetically, grammatically, and lexically very different from any other English dialect - go to most places in the US and say "blahdi gahmen", and people will think you are saying "blotty garment" or "bloody garment". Such phrases as "blur like sotong", "si peh kaypo one", "ang mor lang", or "chewren" would be thought of as a foreign language in any English-speaking country. (when transcribed phonetically, Singlish looks much more different from English than it does when transcribed in an English-based orthography) Cheers.
First thing: If you want to move the page back to Singlish, please don't just copy/paste...
Second thing: I remember that the description that I read didn't exactly describe Singlish as a "creole", rather a "creoloid". I'll look it up and get back to you. -- [[User:Ran|ran (talk)]] 05:00, Oct 12, 2004 (UTC)
It's not my fault Singlish was edited since the page was moved. BTW, why exactly was that? If I were to move it *properly*, I'd have to ask a sysop which takes a lot of effort on everybody's part.
Secondly: The description you are talking about simply describes the different views regarding the status of Singlish. There are three groups. Most Singaporean linguists believe it is a creole, and most Australian linguists agree. There are those who believe it is a dialect of English, which does not fit with the definition of "dialect", as Singlish is a creolised pidgin (ie, it used to be a pidgin, but then people learnt it as a native language ["creolisation"] at which point it became a creole). The term "creoloid" is not widely used, but generally it means a dialect with creole-like grammatical features, though definitions differ. Singlish is by all definitions a creole. It was borne out of a need for mutual understanding between multiple populations, a language was learnt partially and then simplified and changed for ease of use and learning, and then later when children learnt it as a native language, they subconciously made it into a full-fledged language again. The process people have often observed in Singapore where Singlish is "gradually growing closer to Standard English" has happened for other creoles. However, it is debatable whether this is happening for Singlish: Instead, it seems Singlish has been separated into multiple sociolects: the pidgin, spoken by most people older than about 30 and by Ah Beng and co. (whose only home language was most likely Hokkien), the basilect, which is what native speakers speak in familiar situations, the mesolect, which is what uneducated Singaporeans speak when trying to speak proper English but don't know how, or what most Singaporeans speak in semiformal situations, and the acrolect, which is for all intents and purposes, English with an accent with a few subtle syntactical differences.
If it were really a "creoloid", the *only* forms would be something between the mesolect and the acrolect, and the acrolect (and perhaps the pidgin, but only among nonnative speakers). --Node 03:22, 20 Oct 2004 (UTC)
Thanks for the information. Clearly you've researched this more than I have so I'll go with what you say :).
As for moving a page onto a redirect, here's how you do it:
  1. Put a Speedy delete template onto the redirect.
  2. Wait 24 hours. (or less)
  3. Move the thing over.
Yes, someone has to do it manually, but Wikipedia has a policy of keeping all the edit histories intact, so it's worth it. Either that, or go apply to be a sysop yourself. :P -- [[User:Ran|ran (talk)]] 03:39, Oct 20, 2004 (UTC)


Please see discussion here. It's gotten kind of ugly, and I would like assistance from somebody who is formally trained in linguistics, or at least has a better grasp of the subject than I do. I'm more of a hobbyist, and I know the terminology. However, I think in this case, it's a grey area. I would also ask that before making a quick judgement based on the nature of the article, that you think about some of the comments. I am fairly certain we're not talking about a slang here, as it's a constructed grammar, which is dynamic. I also don't think we have a pidgin. A dialect may be the right word, but because it is so drastically different, I have doubts about that. Really, I'd just like a chance to discuss the matter. I've also asked for help at Hawaiian Pidgin, as I think there may be people there who could help. Thanks. Avriette 15:46, 18 January 2006 (UTC)

Creole language

Are you sure Singlish is creole? From Creole language article, "A creole language, or just creole, is a well-defined and stable language that originated from a non-trivial combination of two or more languages, typically with many distinctive features that are not inherited from either parent." I doubt Singlish is stable or well-defined, and maybe we should consider changing that to something more representative of the situation. - SpLoT / (talk) 10:26, 12 November 2006 (UTC)

Yes, I am sure. First of all, the introduction to the creole language article isn't very good and oversimplifies the creolisation process to the point of actually being incorrect (it sounds like more of a definition of a mixed language). A creole language typically does develop from two or more languages, but not by a simple combination. It's rather more complex -- one language, typically the one with more "prestige" or a colonial status (English, in the case of Singlish), is the "lexifier language". It gives the majority of vocabulary and a large part of the foundation of the language. The "substrate language" (or languages, as is the case with Singlish) supply more structure than they do vocabulary. The syntax, grammar, phonology, etc. are often (though not always) based on the substrate language. Substrate languages also act as a secondary source of vocabulary. The primary substrate languages for Singlish are South Chinese languages (mostly Cantonese, Hokkien and Teochew), the secondary substrate languages are Malay, Tamil, other Indic languages, other Chinese languages, and whatever other colonial and immigrant languages were mixed in to the situation (Japanese, for example, had its own relatively minor impact).
Your assertion that Singlish is not stable isn't really correct. Singlish is relatively stable. Whatever instability it has is due to the following:
  1. A majority of Singlish speakers still do not speak it as a native language. However, the majority of younger Singaporeans do, and this trend seems to be increasing. Once the transition is more completed (when Baby Boomer generation has completed transition to "elder" generation), Singlish will likely be the native language of all influential Singaporeans, and it is possible, even probable that by 2050 it will be the native language of almost all Singaporeans. Native speakers are what makes Singlish a creole instead of a pidgin, they are the ones who have set the absolute grammatical rules. Language acquisition is a complex process, but it is such that future native speakers are likely to learn the same standard of Singlish that was unconsciously created by its very first native speakers, due to the influence of peers and older siblings who are also native speakers (the same process that serves to ensure that children of immigrants born in the new country learn the new language without an accent, despite their parents' accents).
  2. Singlish will never be as stable as most languages are able to be because of the nature of the community in which it is spoken. Singapore is a very fertile environment for language change. It has a large population living in a small area, constantly intercommunicating due to high proliferation rates of "handphones" (as they are called in Singapore), Internet, and other communications technologies. If a popular girl at one secondary school or a successful businesswoman in her early 20s created her own new Singlish word, it would be very possible for it to catch on throughout Singapore in a month or less. This is not due to the status of Singlish as a language, but rather to the unique society of Singapore (City-State), paralelled nowhere else (to a certain degree in Hong Kong, but Hong Kong has much larger population, and to a degree in Macau, but Macau is very heavily influenced by Hong Kong).

I myself was born in 1989, and I shall start university next fall. I would very much like to major in linguistics and conduct a broad study of Singlish. It is in a very interesting and unique sociolinguistic position, as I noted above. It would be amazing to track its progress in creolisation, and to document the rapid language change which is encouraged by the unique nature of Singaporean society. --Node 05:35, 19 November 2006 (UTC)

I concur with SpLoT, we need to improve this article. Oh BTW, who can find some updated statistics. --Terence Ong (C | R) 05:10, 19 November 2006 (UTC)

The article does need to be improved no doubt, but as Ran and I discussed above, it should be in the direction of moving it away from "How is it different from English?" and towards describing it as a discreet entity. The historical proofs and the linguistic proofs that Singlish is a creole (actually currently undergoing the transformation from pidgin to creole, but since it has native speakers already it is considered a "creole" even though it has not yet completely stabilised) are abundant, if you want them you need only to ask. The popular misconceptions that Singlish is a dialect or "just broken English" are just that -- misconceptions. Same with myths like "Singlish has no grammar" or "Singlish is just a hodge-podge of English and Hokkien with no rules". Singlish does have grammar and it does have rules. Example: Does it make any sense to say "Can also tea one lah lor or not izzit"? No, it doesn't, because Singlish, like every other natural language, has rules for constructing clauses. The rules are perhaps not as solid or well-defined as those of English, but that is because Singlish is, as I mentione earlier, in a state of flux. --Node 05:35, 19 November 2006 (UTC)
And, regarding statistics, they do not exist. Current statistics are of Singaporeans who claimed "English" as mother tongue. This is the best statistic available for now. There is no survey of who speaks Singlish, and if such a survey did exist it would likely not produce very accurate results as the identity of Singlish is not yet as well-defined as that of "Patwa" in Jamaica or "Kreyol" in Haiti. (People speaking Singlish often insist they are speaking English, and this was formerly the case with Patwa in Jamaica and with Kreyol and French in Haiti, but their distinct identities emerged clearly and now there is a more clear-cut distinction). Currently Singlish is not possible to study as a language the way you study another language because it is in a state of flux. Most serious study of Singlish at the moment uses a diachronic perspective and respects the fact that Singlish is still in the process of creolisation and that research will likely not be current for very long. Wait about a decade, and then we will have all the answers. --Node 05:35, 19 November 2006 (UTC)

Status of Singlish

Well, this has been discussed in the past but I feel perhaps it needs to be re-discussed. While many (maybe even most?) Singaporeans agree with the view of the PAP government that Singlish is nothing more than "broken English" with a little bit of local flavour, the opinion of linguists is drastically different.

It's not difficult to demonstrate the status of Singlish as an independent language.

From a young Singaporean girl's blog: "Today mum actually off but she accompany my dad go NUH pluck teeth."

It seems from the girl's profile that due to her background Singlish is her native language. Now let us translate this into Colloquial English (Western American to be more specfic, I don't know what biases I'm inserting here from my own native dialect):

"Today my mom's actually off, but she went to NUH with my dad to get some of his teeth pulled."

And a broad transcription in IPA, even if I were to pronounce that sentence as if it were English (to the best of my knowledge/ability):

Singlish: /tude mɑm ʔɑtʃəli ʔɔf bɑʔ ʃi ʔɑkɔmpɑni mai dɑʔ go NUH plɑʔ tif/ English: /tʌdeɪ mʌm æktʃəliː ɔf bʌʔ ʃiː əkəmpəniː maɪ dæd goʊ NUH plʌk tiːθ/

...which is totally ignoring the fact that 1) That phrase breaks many of the syntactical rules of my dialect and thus is not a plausible utterance and 2) unmarked for stress and timing.

There's really a spectrum when it comes to written Singlish. Some of it is understandable to the average American with a little though, like the example I gave previously. Then there are sentences like "wake up around 10 plus wait for tuition teacher come my house he go take so long" which is mildly confusing to the uninitiated. Then there are sentences like "Say wad later go out lose face" or "At CPA blogging sibei sian all ppl doing homework nothing to do haiz sian". Those are just a total mystery. I can only decipher them because I have worked with Singlish for a while and explored it, and I am familiar with its syntactical rules and I know, for example, that "sian" means "bored".

Now, some people claim Singlish is a dialect of English. This would be where the use of the term "diglossia" comes from --although it can be used to refer to any situation in which one individual switches between two speech systems, it is generally used for dialects (ie, home dialect and standard dialect).

Singlish is not, however, a dialect. The reason it is not lies primarily in its origins. It is a creole because it was first a pidgin -- the lingua franca of a society where nobody spoke it natively, which was severely simplified and with syntax varying depending on the native language of the individual speaker, and with infusions of non-English vocabulary to fill lexical gaps created by incomplete language learning -- of course, you *could* say "bored" instead of "sian", but the reason "sian" is used far far more often is because the people who were at the root of the development of Singlish did not know the English word or were not comfortable with its usage and so used a Hokkien word instead. Children of very mixed dialect heritage (each grandparent has a diff dialect) and to a lesser extent interethnic heritage, began to learn this a their native language because it was used between their parents for communication. This was reinforced at school, and later In Real Life by their agemates with similar experiences. These children, learning a limited language as their native language, unconciously but very obviously expanded Singlish to be a full language, by regularising the grammar and syntax. Frequent interaction among the native-speaking children means that there are not thousands of differing creolised versions.

Singlish however is still primarily a second language, in a period of fluidity of vocabulary and especially syntax because the creolisation process is not yet complete. For this reason, its vocabulary and syntax do not have the same stability and solidity of most creole languages. However, in a couple of generations, it is probable that Singlish will be the primary native language in Singapore, and the vocabulary and syntax will have solidified.

Dialects, unlike creoles, have developed alongside each other and the standard language. They do not go through the same drastic processes.

Here are some examples of some of the more divergent English dialects: Geordie: "I telt you to give us a one, but you've forgetten. If you divvent give us it now, I'm gannin yearm." Newfoundland: "I don't get ome much but whoever said nuttin grows on rocks ne'er been to Newfoundland! Me roots are firmly planted in the rock and I longs for the good ole days!" Cumbrian: "I thought I was good at trainen animals and things till I tries me hand with a conger eel, an that gave me summat to do an neah mistake." --Node 03:54, 6 November 2006 (UTC)

I had no idea that Singlish is not regarded as a dialect. As a layman, I view dialects as spoken languages localized to a particular area, so it would make sense to perceive Singlish as a dialect, when it is regarded as being very much part of Singapore's culture, is largely defined by Singaporeans who use it and is mainly used in Singapore and not anywhere else. Arkansaw (talk) 11:11, 25 November 2007 (UTC)