Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Spiaking Singlish by Gwee Li Sui


I got lagi many things to tok about, so you best buy some kopi, sit somewhere nice-nice, then continue reading.

If you dun know Singlish, this book will teach you until your Singlish steady pom pi pi. Whole book oso written in Singlish sia. Now wait some people complain how come liddat, so horrigible, the author say he macam follow Oxford England Dictionary.

I thought my Singlish sibeh solid, read this book then stunned like vegetable, actually my Singlish quite kayu, a bit cannot make it. I dunno words like bakero, hampalang, and tombola. All oso dunno. Like that how can?

Budden I think to myself, onli got 3 words dunno, still quite steady lah.


This unker not only teach Singlish, but oso is lagi funni and although I dun want simi sai oso politisai, realli got a bit. The author talk cock sing song about Ah Kong, Lao Goh, Ah Loong, our world-crass MRT and how we try to be more England than England speakers. So confirm-plus-chop is the bestest explanation of how life in our kampung is like. Hope he dun kena buak goo-yoo though.

The Singlish terms quite easily understooded cos the same sentence got explain. If dun have, the next sentence sure got. If lagi best, still dunno, then you hampalang guess lor. Or you ask your fren help you. I also got ask.

Budden hor, if you cannot spiak both powderful Singlish and England, then cham, might be a bit hard to read. Cos unker last time is assistant prof at university, some words quite cheem, you not enuff England, maybe won’t understand cos cheemology. 

Words like “onomatopoeia”, “end-rhymes”, macam Lit student then know.

Then those who only spiak England, also sama-sama. Reading the book, they might find it cannot be understooded, cos lagi cheem. I myself read more than 5 chapters become blur like sotong.


This book good is cos it got say where the Singlish word come from. Example is like this. Si geena might say corright Singlish is say “steady pom pi pi”, but unker explain it is from Hokkien, where “poon pee pee” mean macam blow whistle cos last time people do that when they suka their favourite singer or football team.

Like a typical Singaporean geena, I found the quiz at the back of the book lagi fun. I only got 44/50, then unker say like this:

“Your Singlish is so-so nia. If I close one ear, it should pass, but, if I dun, can’t say how long I can tahan leh. You have a sense of the language and some love - and that’s good! But you sibeh suka tikam-tikam: the bits you bo chap, you act blur and present only Ah Bengs and Ah Lians use. Dun so atas, can? Oso, not I say you, but, when you dunno what to spiak, can dun keng and anyhowly whack? You lidded is as bad as mee siam mai hum: dun bedek-bedek and say you never ha! Embrace your Singaporeanness properly. Learn more Singlish and chiong with it. No need to scared: Singapore won’t become a fishing village one. The more you spiak, the betterer you’ll be, and, one fine day, you’ll sure song-song gao Jurong!”

Best.

This unker also very zai in drawing ang kong. He ownself draw comics at the front of each chapter. Ho say bo? And is not kiam chye cha loti one, is got link to the Singlish word he trying to explain. Not super stylo-milo like Marvel comic, but the ang kong realli quite funny and is lagi good. They short-short one, like each chapter, chop-chop kalipok can finish a few in one train ride.

Budden hor, I dun like one thing is the word “kuniang”, but not unker’s fault, is the fault of Singlish lah, what to do. But dun have a lot so okay lah.

I think you should suppork this book, and those who can spiak powderful England and Singlish will be able to read it easily. Those who aren’t might catch no ball, but can relak if they read with their fren who can spiak. It is also good for ang moh and cheena people in Singapore. Cos spiaking Singlish which all born and bled Singaporeans can, is the bestest.

English Translation


I have a lot of things to say in this review, so it’s advisable that you grab yourself a cuppa coffee, seat yourself some place comfortable, before embarking on this review.

This is quite the definitive guide to the language that is Singlish. And guess, what, it’s written entirely in Singlish. Now before you raise your heckles and complain how anyone would understand a book about Singlish delivered in Singlish, the author points us to the Oxford English Dictionary.

I thought my standard of Singlish was pretty decent until I read this book. Terms like bakero (a term “to express extreme disdain or hostility”), hampalang (“refers to everyone, everything, or everywhere), and tombola (“to leave a decision to luck”) are quite foreign to me.

However, 3 unknown words out of a list of 45 ain’t too bad I reckon.

Not only does this book explain Singlish to us, it is a humorous and subversive book. With references to the late MM Lee, the former PM Goh, our current PM Lee, our “world-crass MRT”, how we try to be more “England than England speakers”, it provides a wonderfully perceptive view of how life in Singapore is like.

Also, most Singlish terms are defined within the same sentence, or at most, in the very next one. You might also be able to use contextual clues to help you figure out terms that are not defined. Or you could also ask a more fluent Singlish speaker to help you. Which I did.

However, I must say that this isn’t a book for those whose can only speak Singlish, or English. It is meant for the Singaporean well-versed in both languages. As a former assistant professor, Gwee takes great care to explain the usage of certain terms, and without a good grasp of the English language, one might find it hard to follow the train of thought the author is taking. 

A Lit student might be able to comprehend terms like “onomatopoeia”, “end-rhymes”, but your typical Ah Beng may not. (I’m not looking down on Ah Bengs, some may very well understand these terms, but I’m making a generalisation here.) 

Conversely, someone who only speaks English might find reading this book an insurmountable hurdle. As someone who’s a frequent reader, I found this book quite taxing on the brain and could only consume it in small amounts (3-5 chapters) at any one time. (Perhaps it is an admission that my Singlish isn’t quite up to par?)

But this book does a good job with clarifying etymology of Singlish terms. I thought that this was the strength of the book. Here’s an example. Whereas a teenager may claim that “steady pom pi pi” is the correct pronunciation of the term, Gwee explains that “steady poon pee pee” references a person blowing a whistle in Hokkien which was what audiences used to declare their love for a performer or a team.

I especially loved the 50 question test located at the end of the book. Because like the typical Singaporean, we have been well-trained in taking MCQ tests from our years in school. I scored 44/50, to which the author declares:

“Your Singlish is so-so nia. If I close one ear, it should pass, but, if I dun, can’t say how long I can tahan leh. You have a sense of the language and some love - and that’s good! But you sibeh suka tikam-tikam: the bits you bo chap, you act blur and present only Ah Bengs and Ah Lians use. Dun so atas, can? Oso, not I say you, but, when you dunno what to spiak, can dun keng and anyhowly whack? You lidded is as bad as mee siam mai hum: dun bedek-bedek and say you never ha! Embrace your Singaporeanness properly. Learn more Singlish and chiong with it. No need to scared: Singapore won’t become a fishing village one. The more you spiak, the betterer you’ll be, and, one fine day, you’ll sure song-song gao Jurong!”

Which describes me perfectly.

An added plus point would be the comics that grace the start of each chapter. They are wholly in Singlish and complement the said Singlish term, giving readers a good illustration of how the words can be used in real life. I liked the fact that the comics were to-the-point. They were just like how the chapters themselves were self-contained within 3-5 pages.

One gripe of mine would be that there were hints of misogyny which is not the author’s fault, but is inherent in Singlish. Those called “kuniang” will no doubt feel the same. Thankfully, those were few and far between.


I’d recommend this book to fluent speakers of both English and Singlish. Those who aren’t might have trouble with it, but try buying it with a group of friends and the more fluent ones might explain certain terms to the beginners. It might also be useful for the newly integrated immigrants or even foreigners working in Singapore. For there’s nothing quite like speaking the language of the vox populi, is there?




Disclaimer: The publisher provided me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

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