Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Singlish in Cambodia

I find it really funny when I meet Caucasian men who have Khmer girlfriends and wives who then start speaking broken English. At least, they do when they speak with me, because they assume I am Khmer (it is hard to believe they'd resort to such talk when speaking to another Westerner). Just the other day a Western man came into the shop. This is an example of the conversation:

"My girlfriend, she no money. She ask me for money go buy food. My girlfriend marry when she 14 and when she 18, her husband say he want younger girl so he go."

Hahahahaha! I always have to keep from laughing.

Actually it reminds me of Singlish (Singapore English). In Singlish, we drop "unnecessary" words, like articles, prepositions--anything that gets in the way of us trying to quickly get our message across. So we say "Where you come from?" for "Where did you come from."; "Where you going?" for "Where are you going?"; "Why you so like dat", instead of "Why are you so [annoying, petty, greedy--add your own adjective here]". Or "Cannot, meh?" for "Why can't I do what I like?".

Singlish is a mixture of English, Malay, Hokkien--aiyah anything lah.

I love, love, love Singlish! It's what makes us unique and it's colourful and funny. I am so happy it refuses to die despite the Singapore government's efforts to try to get us to speak proper English.

When I hear Singlish in Cambodia, I often smile. I miss it so much. I miss saying "Aiyoh" ("oh dear"), "Alamak!" ("oh no!"), "Buay tahan" (I cannot stand it), "See buay sien" (so boring) etc etc. Alan used to tell me when I get together with my Singapore friends, all he hears is gibberish. And I like it that way!


Alison said...

Ugh, I HATE when people don't speak in complete English sentences to Khmers. I find it extremely patronizing. I've seen white men and women do it lots to people in the service industry- people that are TRYING to learn proper English. It seems to me that people who speak like that are just saying that they think the person they are speaking with is too dumb to handle a complete sentence. Really all they need to do is speak slowly!

My 2nd biggest language pet peeve is when people say Nom Penh instead of PHnom Penh. Khmer is full of words that begin with consonant clusters- the Ph sound at the beginning of Phnom Penh is supposed to be pronounced!
OK End Rant :)

Diana Saw said...

I totally agree! I too hate it when people say Nom Penh-how much effort does it take to say Per-nom Penh? Do these people also say Wat Nom and Nom Kulen??

As for the patronising white people, well, what I do is speak back in proper English and after a while they get embarrassed they're speaking so poorly. Hopefully that'll make them think twice before "dumbing down" their English in Cambodia.

Jimmy Yap said...

re: Singlish.

I used to be a fan of Singlish. I used to see it as a marker of identity for Singaporeans. However, now that I have children who go to school in Singapore, I feel a little differently.

To my kids, English is a third language. Unfortunately, when they go to school, they don't stand out because all their peers speak as if English is a third language.

Helen, the oldest, spent a month in New Zealand learning English. She came back to Singapore speaking in complete grammatical sentences. Within two weeks of being back, her spoken English reverted to Singlish.

Singlish is great if you are able to code switch. If you can't, and Singlish is all you can use, then you have a problem communicating with the rest of the world.

Diana Saw said...

Hmm...that's true. You know how Alan taught Chhun Hy English in the beginning when he lived with us in Phnom Penh. When we moved to Siem Reap, he started speaking English with new Khmer friends in Siem Reap, tuk tuk drivers and waiters etc. Alan 's noticed Chhun Hy's pronunciation and grammar's become worse. He's unable to "code switch" either.

I know what you mean. I used proper English when talking to non-Singaporeans (or writing--as best I can anyway) and Singlish to Singaporeans, but I am lucky I can do either.

The other day a Singaporean said to me it is so "wenxin" (warms the heart) to hear Mandarin and Singlish in Cambodia.


Blog Widget by LinkWithin