Many people don’t realise that English is the first language here in Singapore (at least I didn’t until I arrived), however, everyone here also speaks what is known as ‘Singlish’. This is a combination of English and many other languages, sometimes Chinese sometimes Malay etc. and also comes with its own accent. This video is the perfect example of Singlish:
I have listed a few words I hear on a day-to-day basis below:
1. Lah – comes from the Hokkien character 啦 and also has malay influences.
Lah is used after what appears to be every single sentence, in any context whatsoever and it seems to mean nothing at all; I really thought this word was beyond pointless. After about 8 months here I maintain that it is still meaningless. When asked what it really means, my local friend tells me it’s simply as if saying yeah behind sentences and it is used to emphasise what you are saying.
Here’s an examples of it in use:
“can lah.” – I can do that for you/it can be done.
“okay lah.” – Basically just means okay or yes I’ll do it (whatever they are requesting).
“I dun have lah.” – They don’t have whatever is being requested of them
The best use of the phrase was when I heard a student (apparently stressed) come out with: “Fuck you lah!” to one of his friends, meant more in a joking way.
2. Leh – from the Hokkien character 咧
This sounds similar to lah I still have no idea what this means, other than an alternative to lah. My local friend told me it is an informal way of saying please or to show complaint:
“gimme soy sauce leh” – give me the soy sauce.
“Why so busy leh?” – Why are you so busy right now?
3. Walao – not sure where this is from sorry!
This phrase is used when the person speaking is showing their displeasure for something, and uses walao is used to emphasise that.
“Walao, two midterms this week!” – It sucks that I have two midterms this week.