SinGweesh on Wednesday: Chapalang

Sep 21, 2016 11.00AM |

by Gwee Li Sui

BOLEH is the Singaporean who knows when to say “hampalang” and when to say “chapalang”. He or she intuitively knows the difference even when he or she may not be as steady telling them apart. If you think you very can, then you please try lor. It’s not easy hor! How to explain why “Hampalang drop twenty!” is corright but “Chapalang drop twenty!” isn’t? Or why “Singlish is a chapalang language” works but not “Singlish is a hampalang language”?

You mull over this a bit while uncle slowly describes something lagi shiok. Fun fact: nobody actually knows how these two saat-saat words came to relate to each other! Some bedek kings may kay-kay, yaya-papaya say that they took from Hokkien – but cannot be lah. They say at least “chapalang” in Hokkien means eat-full-people and so suggests being whole in satisfaction. Hello, kong simi? Eat-full-people your head lah! Can dun be a bodoh and everything with “lang” say is Hokkien? “Lalang” is Hokkien? “Tulang” is Hokkien?

In fact, “hampalang” and “chapalang” may involve almost every other cheena dialect except Hokkien. “Hampalang” is in Cantonese, and so, if you go Hong Kong, can hear “hampalang hampalang” a lot one. Some Hakkas got use too! “Chapalang” is trickier since it doesn’t exist liddat anywhere else. But “chap” means mixture in Cantonese and Hakka while the Teochews say “zap luang”. “Chap chai png” at your hawker centre is thus mixed veggie rice – also known in cheemer vocab as economic rice (huh?). “Chapalang” probably emerged as our chut-pattern variation on “hampalang” – with “palang” maybe from “barang”, meaning stuff in Malay.

Uncle will now go on to differentiate “hampalang” and “chapalang” – you think can be done? We know that “hampalang” refers to everyone, everything, or everywhere, and so you say “I hampalang buy from Daiso one” or “When in Geylang, hampalang the lao ti ko visits”. It can also be a predeterminer that means “all of”, as in “Hampalang Singapore is tulan with the frequent MRT breakdowns”. When a whole extent is noted already, “hampalang” isn’t a repetition but means “altogether”. So: “All the tourists hampalang go queue for Michelin-starred Hong Kong chicken noodles.”

As for “chapalang”, it isn’t so much about extent as about things mixing lah. It’s macam about varieties rather than about totality. “Chapalang” refers to anyone, anything, or anywhere – specifically how liddat also can. So, while “hampalang” suggests order and awe, “chapalang” conjures chaos and surprise. You differently say “I chapalang buy from Daiso one” or “When in Geylang, chapalang the lao ti ko visits”. See how they not sama-sama… or, err, maybe not? Nemmind.

“Hampalang” has a sibei epic sound, with just long vowels giving it a steady-poon-pee-pee panoramic sweep. Its masculine first syllable “ham” – pronounced “hum”, like in PM Lee’s famous “mee siam mai hum” – explodes into a tokong “pa” and tempts you to wave a grand drama-mama hand and say “lang”. Everything is included – left, right, centre! “Chapalang”, on the other hand, begins with a short vowel and instantly doesn’t feel the same although it uses the lively “palang” of “hampalang”. In sound, it’s mixed in the way its meaning is chum-chum too.

A choobi aspect of our two words is actually their rhetorical use. As they invite the dramatic, they’re often stressed in a sentence, and so, even as objects or adverbs, they appear early, impatiently. An Ah Pui therefore says either “I hampalang eat” or “Hampalang I eat” or either “I chapalang eat” or “Chapalang I eat” – but never “I eat hampalang” or “I eat chapalang”. “Hampalang” or “chapalang” gets us excited and prepares a sense of relation. We hear “chapalang-style cooking” and expect an any-o-how but creative dish. We hear “Hampalang fail exam!” and expect loud gasps, then a lot of cow pei cow bu.


Featured image by Sean Chong.

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