Recently I was lucky enough to visit the city-state of Singapore for a few days and soak up the culture and language (in amongst all the shopping).

A multicultural country made up of ethnic Malays, Indians and Chinese, along with quite a few ex-pats, Singapore has four official languages: Malay, Tamil, Mandarin and English. In addition to these, a number of dialects are spoken, including Hokkien, Hakka and Teochew.

What you’ll hear on the streets, however (and despite the government’s efforts with their Speak Good English Movement), is Singlish, a form of English mashed up with words borrowed from Tamil, Malay, Hokkien and other languages and dialects spoken by Singaporeans.

Primary based on British English, with some American English influence, Singlish is a creole that is the first language for many Singaporeans. Evolved gradually after the withdrawal of the British from this former colony, Singlish has its own grammatical forms and is spoken on a continuum ranging from an almost-pidgin to something very similar to British or American English. It even has its own dictionary!

The term you’ll probably hear most often though, is lah. Tacked on to the end of many sentences, lah is used like a full stop. Examples from the Coxford Dictionary:

1. “It was just like that, lah.”
2. “He was running, lah.”
3. “Donno, lah.”

Whilst this may not be “good English”, Singlish is definitely a great example of language helping form and shape culture and identity.