Structure dataset 21: Singlish

Singapore English or Singlish is the variety used increasingly for everyday communication in Singapore, in particular in the younger generation. It functions within a complex multilingual ecology: while Mandarin Chinese, Malay and Tamil are the three other official languages in addition to English, numerous other languages are also used by the ethnically heterogeneous population, including southern Chinese languages such as Hokkien, Teochew, Cantonese, Hakka and Hainanese, and South Asian languages such as Punjabi, Bengali, Malayalam, and Telegu. Singlish exists on a lectal continuum, where basilectal and mesolectal varieties combine strong elements of Chinese grammar with a lexicon of English origin, with rich Malay and Hokkien contribution, while at the acrolectal end convergence to standard – often British, increasingly American – English is sought. Influence from other varieties of English during the British colonial period such as Indian English and Peranakan English, significant elements in the early days of English-medium education, is also observable. The basilectal/mesolectal variety, which comprises both the varieties of those without English-medium education (in older generations) and the colloquial variety of Singapore English of the English-educated, is often referred to as Singlish, and is the default lect documented in APiCS. Code-mixing between Standard English, Singlish, and some Asian language(s) – Mandarin and sometimes Hokkien, or Malay, or Tamil or other Indian language – is a dominant linguistic practice in the Chinese, Malay and Indian communities respectively. Two recent observations are of note, significant in the light of Singlish being officially stigmatised in Singapore: The gap between the more acrolectal Standard Singapore English and the more mesolectal-basilectal Singlish appears to be diminishing, with the variety used in the more formal domains showing features – certainly in phonology but also morphosyntax – usually ascribed to Singlish. And even in classroom discourse of both students and teachers, systematic mixing of acrolectal and mesolectal/basilectal varieties is documented.

No. Feature Value Details Source
No. Feature Value Details Source


Pulmonic Consonants
Place → Labial Coronal Dorsal Laryngeal
↓ Manner Bilabial Labio­dental Linguo­labial Dental Alveolar Palato-
Retroflex Alveolo-
Palatal Velar Uvular Pharyngeal
/ Epiglottal
Nasal m n ŋ
Stop p  b t  d k  g ʔ
Sibilant affricate t͡ʃ t͡ʃʰ d͡ʒ
Non-sibilant affricate
Sibilant fricative s z ʃ ʒ
Non-sibilant fricative f v θ ð h
Approximant j
Flap or tap ɾ
Trill r
Lateral affricate
Lateral fricative
Lateral approximant
Lateral flap


Front Near-front Central Near-back Back Close Near-close Close-mid Mid Open-mid Near-open Open ihigh front unrounded vowel uhigh back rounded vowel ehigher mid front unrounded vowel ohigher mid back rounded vowel əmid central unrounded vowel ɛlower mid front unrounded vowel ɔlower mid back rounded vowel æraised low front unrounded vowel alow central unrounded vowel

Special segments

Other segments
 w  voiced labial-velar glide


       Exists (as a major allophone)
       Exists only as a minor allophone
       Exists only in loanwords
No. Feature Value Details Source