Thursday, September 24, 2015

Mother Tongues

My first two weeks in Singapore were centered around updating people at home about my arrival (and more importantly my dog's), finding something to eat, and getting around the city. Singapore English is the main language in Singapore though the Singapore Government also recognizes Malay, Mandarin, and Tamil, which is why many safety signs around the city are in four languages.

Here are some words and phrases I have learned, and I'll likely be adding corrections and additions to these as I learn more.


Singapore MRT Map

Singlish: Colloquial Singaporean English based upon English but simplified

Aircon: Air conditioner. Pretty obvious but that's what they say.

Chope: A term for reserving a seat by placing a packet of tissues on a table, most likely at a hawker center. Note that I said "seat" and not an entire table. 

Hawker: Food courts where locals eat lunch that serve Asian fast-food type dishes. When you eat at a hawker center you have to take your own napkins or paper towels as they're not supplied. 

Can/Cannot: This is a local way of answering a question. I asked "Aunty, can I break off bananas?" at the market, wondering if I must buy the bunch or only what I needed. The answer was "Can," so I broke off four bananas. If that were not possible Aunty would have said, "Cannot. Bunch is $2.00." 

On/Off: On and off are used as verbs as in "You must 'on' the lights" instead of "You must turn on the lights." Ask "Can on the aircon?" See how simple that is?

Aunty/Uncle: It's a sign of respect to refer to a shop owner, taxi drivers, or hocker vender as aunty and uncle when they are a generation older than me. I am told that I should address my same generation Big Brother and Big Sister, but I am still trying that out. I think "Boss" is also used within a generation. I am told this is more of an Asian custom than something particular to Singapore. 

Handphone: That's your mobile. On business cards it's HP.

Top Up: To add additional fair to something such as your mobile plan or MRT pass.

PAX: Person, as in "we paid about $40/PAX." It's origin comes from paying passengers but it means people, persons, or occupants.

EZ-Link: Permanent residents can get a monthly or weekly Season Pass with a photo ID for unlimited travel public transport, i.e., MRT and buses). There are sometimes associated promotions with merchants. I bought a 3 day Tourist Pass. Once that expired I kept the card and just kept topping up. 

NETs: A secure e-payment system tied to your bank that can be used for cabs, in markets, for airline transactions--just about anything. 

FairPrice: Supermarket chain in Singapore and the largest in the country. There generally seems to be one at every MRT stop. FairPrice carries local brands. Prices are reasonable and produce, eggs, and local foods are inexpensive. 


Cold Storage: Supermarket chain in Singapore and Malaysia that caters to the expat community, Australia in particular. Much of the food is imported and specialty items, which can be expensive, so if you're dying for a particular brand of cookies (or biscuits) from this is likely where you'll find it. 

Trolley: What you'll need for shopping at the local markets if you're not driving, i.e., a basket on wheels. I used to see these at the farmers markets in Los Angeles.

Keep in mind that in 1819 the British came to the Singapore to set up a port and colony so Singapore English follows British English to a certain extent. Google spell check has been reminding me that I am misspelling "specialize" with a "z" instead of an "s." You have probably already heard elevators being called lifts, a trunk of a car referred to as "the boot," and of course " a cuppa." If not, you have been missing out on some good British Netflix series!

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