Ever wondered what your Singaporean colleagues are saying when they use words like “Lah”, “Mah” and “Lor”? Well, as an expatriate in this country, you will come to realize that Singaporeans have their own colloquial way of speaking English – which has now been coined as Singlish.
Singlish is a fusion of a variety of local languages and dialects, which is incorporated into the English language. Words from Malay, Mandarin, Hokkien, Cantonese, Tamil, amongst others are inserted into English sentences and the sentences are often restructured, resulting in questioning looks from expatriates whenever locals speak it. However, it is quite common that over time, many expatriates tend to eventually adopt Singlish!
In this article, we will share with you some of the common Singlish words that might just help you in breaking the ice with your fellow Singaporean colleagues!
This is one of the most commonly used words in the Singlish vocabulary. “Lah” or “lar” is often used at the end of sentences for a certain emphasis, be it to suggest irritation, endearment, incredulous behaviour or even in a casual conversation. On its own, it has no meaning.
Examples of sentences where “lah/lar” is used:
Person 1: “Hey, you wanna go watch movie tonight?”
(English: “Hey, would you like to watch a movie tonight?”)
Person 2: “Ok lah, I got nuttin’ to do anyway, so we can go lar.”
(English: Yes I wouldn’t mind. There is nothing for me to do anyway.)
Person 1: “Eh, did you see that movie the other day? The one with Tom Cruise? Wah, he’s so handsome ah? Very charming leh… (person 1 continues on and on about Tom Cruise).
(English: “Did you watch the movie featuring Tom Cruise? He’s very handsome and charming…”)
Person 2 (getting irritated): “Oi! You are being very annoying lah! Can quiet or not? People trying to do work here you know! Not everybody free like you k?”
(English: “Can you please be quiet? I understand that you may not have any tasks right now, but it’s quite annoying that you are going on about him as I am busy trying to do my work.)
The word “mah/meh” originated from a Chinese dialect, Cantonese. It is quite commonly used by the Chinese community in their conversations and has over time been picked up by the other races in Singapore. The use of “mah” can often be heard when one person is trying to persuade the other of something, while “meh” is used when there is slight disbelief in the information provided. It is quite common to hear conversations amongst inter-racial groups peppered with these two words.
Examples of sentences where “mah” is used:
Person 1: “Eh, go out with us la. You finish your project mah, then sit at home also no point right?”
(English: “Hey, let’s go out! It’s quite pointless to sit at home as you’ve finished your project anyway!”)
Person 2: Ok lah, I go with you all.
(English: “Sure, I’ll join you guys!”)
Examples of sentences where “meh” is used:
Person 1: “Did you see that chiobu with that uncle? Wahlau, what she see in him sia?”
(English: “Did you see that pretty woman with that elderly man? I wonder what she sees in him?”)
Person 2: “You sure his girlfriend meh? Maybe his daughter mah, you dunno what.”
(English: “How sure are you that she’s his girlfriend? It could possibly be his daughter.”)
The terms “oi” and “eh” is used to address a person. Often this is used to address someone you know rather than a complete stranger as it would appear rude to address a stranger in such a manner. “Oi” is often used in a slightly more aggressive and confrontational tone while “eh” has a slightly more conversational tone to it.
Examples of sentences where “oi” and “eh” is used:
Person 1: “Oi! You take my money issit? Give back ah!”
(English: Hey, did you take my money? Can I have it back please?”)
Person 2: “Eh! You don’t anyhow accuse me ah! I never take your money k! You lost it then blame people!”
(English: “Hey, you shouldn’t accuse me. I didn’t take your money. You most probably lost it.”)