When Singlish is actually Chinglish

From ‘Is it Singlish or is it Chinglish’, 27 June 2016, ST Forum

(Anand A.Vathiyar): When we hear broken English, we usually assume it to be Singlish, when it is often, in fact, Chinglish (English as spoken by the Chinese).

A growing number of Chinese dialect words and phrases, such as “bojio”, “chiobu” and “chut pattern”, are used by young Singaporeans daily.

Compare this to the number of Malay or Tamil words that has become a part of the local vernacular in recent times. To quote a Singlish phrase: “No fight”.

This worrying trend is boosted by the printing of Chinglish words and phrases on everything from T-shirts to tote bags and cups. Coupled with the frequent use of such terms on social media, the fight for better English becomes that much harder.

It is time for us to acknowledge that Chinglish is the more serious element in the make-up that is Singlish before we address how Singaporeans can connect and communicate better with the world (“English to help us connect to the world“; June 22).

In fact, it should start with how Singaporeans communicate among themselves first.

When the writer says ‘English as spoken by the Chinese’, surely he refers to the natives of China, because ‘Chinglish’ wasn’t invented in Singapore. Some would argue it’s a derogatory slur (an inferior, corrupt form of English, or ‘Yellow English‘) referring to the grammatical, though incidentally hilarious, atrocities observed when English in China is lost in translation, especially when it comes to signs like this:

No wonder the Beijing government sought to eradicate Chinglish once and for all in preparation of the Olympics.  I’m beginning to wonder if the writer is even Singaporean or understands Singlish in the first place. ‘No fight’ isn’t really a Singlish phrase at all. Phrases like ‘bojio’ or ‘chut pattern’ are also not exclusive to ‘young Singaporeans’. Just ask PAP MP Sim Ann, who used ‘chut pattern‘ to describe opponent Chee Soon Juan during the last GE. As a non-Chinglish speaking Singaporean would say, ‘Like that you win already lor’.

The earliest reference I could find with regard to the term is 15 years ago (2001), when a Chinese university dean used ‘Chinglish‘ to describe the state of Shanghai’s road signs. In less than 10 years, the term would evolve to also describe the Chinese’s attempts to speak English. More recently, the ‘Chinglish’ phrase ‘You can you up, no can no BB’ entered the Urban Dictionary, which is the Singlish equivalent of ‘You so good you do lah, if not you diam diam’. A modern Chinese and a Singaporean speaking some form of ‘Chinglish’ would still have problems understanding each other, China’s Chinglish being as different from our dialect-accentuated Singlish just as any other pidgin bastardisation of our colonial masters’ tongue.

Granted, Singlish does incorporate elements of linguistic ‘mash-ups’, whether it’s Hokkien-English or Malay-English, but these serve only to convey a uniquely Singaporean nuance. For example, ‘You flipped the thing upside-down’ just doesn’t have the same ring as ‘You put the thing terbalik’. Likewise, our alternative to ‘I’m going to the toilet to poop’, is the less infantile-sounding, euphemistic ‘I’m going to the toilet to LS’. If foreigners have any problems understanding us, most of the time it’s not because we’ve deliberately added Chinese into the mix, but because of how we’ve customised, or some say mangled, proper English. We sometimes anyhow speak one.

Given its reputation of turning poetic Chinese dishes into crass vulgarities and history of ridicule,  labelling Singlish as a modified form of ‘Chinglish’ is not just an insult to non-Chinese Singaporeans who excel in our ‘rojak’ language, but to all Singlish speakers. The component ‘Ching’ also has an undertone of racism in it, as in ‘Ching-Chong’, or ‘chinky’.   Chinglish, or should I say ‘Chingrish, has also been played for laughs in satire, a trait not just of the China people, but extended to anyone of Asian descent. In other words, ‘Chinglish’ is to how we speak as ‘slant-eyes’ is to how we look.

So please, let Singlish remain as Singlish. I no want tell people go fuck the fruits.


One Response

  1. […] – Everything Also Complain: When Singlish is actually Chinglish […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: