SinGweesh on Wednesday: England
by Gwee Li Sui
WHY Singlish speakers like to say “England” when they mean “English” ha? Is this a solid question or what? Well, uncle thinks it’s high time we all get to the root and dun go make bodoh, self-loathing remarks. Dun go and say that “England” is used because we enjoy making fun of the less educated who cannot pronounce “English”. Because, you know, if someone bo tak chek, everything angmo sounds same-same one.
Excue me hor, if you want to anyhowly hum-tum or hentam, can at least use your head a bit? Less educated people can say “Sing-lish” but somehow cannot say “Eng-lish” – hello? And why you think that Singlish belongs only to those who dun study ha? Why you dun think that all of us can say “English” if we want to ha? Wah piang eh, this argument got so many lobangs that it exposes just how chow atas kay angmo anyone making it is!
Fact is, Singlish is smarter than you may believe if you’ll only give chance! By using “England”, Singlish speakers aren’t simply triggering a joke about mislearning, a fault that characterises someone blur about a language. Because to gabra over “English” is sibei unlikely, it rather highlights wilful mislearning. In other words, Singlish speakers are gnay-gnay using the wrong word here. We aren’t necessarily showing a gap in knowledge – we’re enforcing a gap in culture!
Dun stress yet, and let me explain more. Through “England”, Singlish is reminding you that England the language was a colonial import. England came to us from England, and, while it’s all schooled Singaporeans’ first language now, it can never be our only language. So “England” forces us to see England in both geographical and historical terms and to acknowledge angmo impact on our part of the world. It insists that we remember what speaking England well can make us forget, that we dun own this basic feature of us.
In fact, just pay attention to how Singlish often pokes fun at the cultural value of England lah. For example, “powderful” is yet another word that goondus like to talk cock and any-o-how say mocks the less educated. But please OK: you think Singlish speakers cannot say “power” if we want to meh? “Power” is itself a Singlish word although ours is a bit different from England’s. It means steady poon pee pee or top-notch – and we say “power” to this or that to speak it to power.
But, with the powderful, what or who is already full of power, Singlish is very uneasy even if it’s something or someone we like. The distortion in “powderful” doesn’t happen to similar adjectives like “beautiful” or “wonderful”, tio bo? Because Singlish is essentially wary of authority and force, it tends to chochok or cucuk these and speak of them in a naughty, kuai lan way. “Powderful” doesn’t just mispronounce “powerful”; it powderises power and makes it something macam sangat kecil!
Or consider the word “support”, which new England learners manage with a short second syllable, without the “r” sound. Last time, your teacher got scold you and kolaveri about how it was “sup-pourt”, with a long, airy, atas sound like “court” – which you also misread as “cot” – or not? Dun bedek me and say never hor. Well, Singlish chochoks this pretentiousness too, and so what do we say? “Suppork.” With a long, airy, atas sound, except that that’s all babi.
Featured image by Sean Chong.
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