Singaporeans not pronouncing Singapore correctly

From ‘Pronounce Singapura correctly’, 18 Dec 2012, ST Forum

(Mohammad Yazid): IT IS strange that many Singaporeans, be they media hosts, broadcasters, celebrities and even some politicians, do not seem to know how to pronounce the country’s name correctly.

Singapore or Singapura is a combination of Malay and Sanskrit words. Singa, meaning lion in Malay, should be pronounced “si-nga” as in “singer”, instead of “sing-guh”.

It is important that they say it right by virtue of their positions in society. How they say it may be taken as the right and official way of pronouncing Singapore.

According to and contrary to what the writer claims, Singapore SHOULD be pronounced ‘sing-GUH-pawr’, with the hard G, while others use ‘GAH-pore’ instead. Amazingly, this petty confusion over whether it’s ‘ga’ as in ‘manga’ or ‘galore’ goes all the way back to the 1930’s, when some called the country ‘Singgah-pura’, which means ‘Port of Call’ instead of ‘Singa-pore’ (Lion City). The ‘correct’ way of pronouncing Singapore/Singapura wasn’t initially the ‘British’ way either. In the early 20th century, British seamen reportedly referred to the island as, incredibly, SINKAPORE, which many of us still use affectionately, cynically or in sing-song jest. Just ask any uncle or auntie on the street. I would love to hear a demonstration by Mr Yazid himself.

Let’s see how SinGAHpore is bandied about in Parliament by our very own MPs, courtesy of Lim Swee Say and Low Thia Khiang:

How do our National Songs fare when it comes to accurately articulating the country’s name? Here’s ‘We Are Singapore’ from 1987, which pronounces Singapore the ‘proper’ way. Try singing it with ‘GAH’ instead and note the difference; using ‘-er’ sounds subdued, while the cathartic ‘AH’ can be ejaculated with much more gusto and pride.

How about ‘Singapura, Sunny Island’? Not so clear here. I still hear some ‘Gah’ moments, though it still sounds perfectly natural to me.

Listen to the National Anthem closely, written and sung entirely in Malay. In my opinion, there’s not a single word of Singapura in the track sounding like ‘Singerpura’.

So, if the writer is right in claiming that the proper way to saying ‘Singa’ is ‘Singer’, is ‘singing’ it as ‘Sin-GAH’ for melodic effect, especially in the National Anthem, OK? How would foreigners sing it? Listen to Manhattan Transfer below. Pretty vague here.

You would expect an American, European or African to pronounce Singapore differently, but will anyone correct them on the spot, or our fellow countrymen for that matter, for making this ‘mistake’? The French, for example, pronounce it the ‘heartland’ way.

Here’s how Jack Sparrow from Pirates of the Caribbean says it:

And Prince William during his State Visit. Nothing out of the ordinary here.

I think the phonetic difference is trivial, insignificant even. Most of us express it somewhere in the spectrum between ‘er’ and ‘ah’, which has since been formalised as the non-commital ‘uh’. We have more important things to worry and complain about than saying our own country’s name one way or the other, like what the anthem even means or how the Merlion came about. I would use the softer ‘Singerpore’ when introducing myself to an immigration officer or someone in a foreign land, while the brash, uncouth ‘Sinkapore’ is what I’ll use with family and friends. It’s almost like Singlish really, which makes it oh so uniquely SinGAHporean.


10 Responses

  1. The ‘a’ in Singapore can be ‘er’ as in ago. This is the British and the Malay pronunciation eg apa or mata in Malay However in english ‘a’ has at least four different pronunciations. Er as in ago, a as in hay, ah as in art, eh4 as in apple or air,
    The European and Indonesians consistently pronounce ‘a’ as ‘ah’ as in art or ah Meng.
    But you can’t blame Singaporeans for for mispronouncing our country’s name as we have been confused as we are jackasses of two languages but master of none.

  2. What is the fuss? So long as people understand.

  3. […] ‘Singgah-pura’, Sinkapore? Blogger gdy2shoez reviews various interpretations on how to correctly pronounce the name of […]

  4. […] ‘Singgah-pura’, Sinkapore? Blogger gdy2shoez reviews various interpretations on how to correctly pronounce the name of […]

  5. Hey I dont think the writer is even mentioning the difference between GAH and GUH, but trying to point out the silent G lol, ur article is good though but totally wrong interpretation of the writer u mentioned in the intro.

    To make it clear, he’s trying to say it should be Singh-a-pore and not Sin-guh-pore. But thank you for your article, truly insightful (:

  6. Hey there! Just wanted to say that I think what Mohamed Yazid(the author you had quoted from in the introduction) is trying to say is that Singapore should be pronounced Sing-a-pore (with the silent G) and he was not pointing out anything about Sin-Gah-Pore or Sin-Guh-Pore, although your article did mention a very startling mispronunciation, and insightful article indeed and a delight to read except for your misinterpretation of your source in the intro. Anyway jelly about your visitor stats! A fellow SGean btw.

  7. What a stupid article. The author Yazid was saying that the correct way to pronounce is Si-nga-pore, not Sing-ga-pore or Sing-a-pore or Sin-ga-pore. But you bulshitting yourself by explaning the non-sense thing. It is a shit waste for Singapore to have citizen like you.

  8. Speaking as a native Malay language speaker here,

    in Malay, most written ‘e’ is pronounced as /ə/ as in the ‘a’ in ‘ago’, although some are pronounced /e/ as in ‘a’ in ‘ate’

    Other than that (ie. pronunciation of alphabet ‘e’), all other vowels are standard. However, in Colloquial Malay, the alphabet ‘a’ is sometimes also pronounced /ə/, depending on its place in the word (usually at the end syllable).

    In ‘Singapura’, that applies to both ‘a’s in the word, where it is effectively pronounced /si-ngə-pu-rə/

    Another thing to take note is that in Malay, there is a difference between ‘ng’ and ‘ngg’. For example, the word ‘tanggal’ is pronounced tang-gal while ‘singa’ is pronounced /si-nga/.

    Therefore, either /si-nga-pu-ra/ or /si-ngə-pu-rə/ are fine, but anything other than that are incorrect pronunciations.

    What about ‘Singapore’? Same thing still applies, but taking into account how vowels are pronounced in English, ‘Singapore’ would sound like /ˈsɪ-ŋə-pɔːr/ (or /si-ngə-pɔ/ locally)

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