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Wednesday, 19 November 2008
by Nur Liyanah Ali Mohamed
I had run ins with Singlish the week I got my hair cut into a more petite than average bob. More than four of my fellow Singaporean friends from university and another two Singaporean professionals took a look at me and exclaimed happily, with a tinge of surprise and curiosity, "You cut your hair!"
I reacted each time with a toothy, shoulder-shaking, belly-jiggling laugh. Why? Because I knew the (professional) hands that did cut my hair, and they were not mine. Until I can grow a pair of eyes outside my body, the most that these humbled hands can do is either shave my head botak, or cut straight lines through my hair with a pair of cloth scissors.
The final scene was when I was walking through an air-conditioned food court on Sunday with a friend, and we happened to meet two other friends there.
One of them exclaimed, "Eh...your hair? Hahaha!"
Unwilling to let my friend travel down the same road as my other friends and be my laughing stock, I quickly interrupted with, "Yar, a lot of people who saw me said, 'You cut your hair!'and I told them,'No, no, no! I didn't cut my own hair!'"
I have noticed this uniquely Singaporean habit of relegating most, if not all, agency to the person whom they are talking to, or to themselves, to convey the idea that something has been done unto them.
For example, when a Singaporean tells another person, "I fix my car," it can have a different, more complex meaning than the obvious one. So also when a Singaporean says, "I do facial," or, "I buy this," or, "I clean my house."
"I got my car fixed," and, "Someone did a facial for me," and, "My mother shops for this for me," and, "I paid someone to clean my house," may be closer to the truth.
Also, have you ever noticed that to talk in Singlish is to talk in a perpetual present tense? I noticed this a lot when I gave English tuition to a Chinese boy who had to be weaned off Singlish for his PSLE this year.
He would narrate events to me by saying, for example, "My friend say...and then I take....and then the teacher scold us." And that's just one sentence of many.
Psychologists say that the happiest people are those who have learnt to live in the present. Are people taking things too far with Singlish?
Apart from these, speakers of Singlish like to number points, and this number does not go beyond one, because the most important point is the number one point, and being number one is the most important thing. "My mother will scold me, one," instead of, "One, my mother will scold me."
Number two, three and four will be spoken of as "then".
What do you think are some of the reasons Singlish is spoken this way?
The writer is an honors year sociology major at Nanyang Technological University. The above are her opinions and does not represent the views of the society or the main committee of NTUSS.
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