|Native speakers||200,000 (1985)
880,000 L2 speakers
Life in Singapore
Conscription in Singapore
Singaporean Mandarin (simplified Chinese: 新加坡华语; traditional Chinese: 新加坡華語; pinyin: Xīnjiāpō Huáyǔ) is a variety of Mandarin Chinese widely spoken in Singapore. It is one of the four official languages of Singapore along with English, Malay and Tamil.
Singapore Mandarin can be classified into two distinct Mandarin dialects, Standard Singaporean Mandarin and Colloquial Singaporean Mandarin. These two dialects are easily distinguishable to a person proficient in Mandarin. Standard Singaporean Mandarin is the register of Mandarin used in more formal occasions in Singapore and can be heard on television and radio and is the form taught in all Singapore government schools while Colloquial Singaporean Mandarin (Singdarin) is the form used by the general populace, usually among those with poorer command of Mandarin and who are less exposed to Standard Mandarin. They tend to infuse the language with many words from other Chinese dialects, Malay and English.
The official standard of Mandarin of Republic of Singapore, known in Singapore as Huayu (华语), based on the phonology of the Beijing dialect and the grammar of Vernacular Chinese, is almost identical to the standard of Mandarin used in the People's Republic of China, known there as Pǔtōnghuà (普通话). Standard Singaporean Mandarin, which is usually heard on Singaporean Mandarin-language TV and radio news broadcast, is generally similar to Putonghua in terms of phonology, vocabulary and grammar. Small differences appear in the form of vocabulary differences.
However, in terms of colloquial spoken Mandarin, Singaporean Mandarin is still subject to influence from the local historical, cultural and social influences of Singapore. As such, there are remarkable differences between colloquial Singaporean Mandarin and Putonghua. Colloquial Singaporean Mandarin bears the closest resemblance with Colloquial Malaysian Mandarin.
Singaporean Mandarin only became widely spoken by the Chinese community in Singapore after the Speak Mandarin Campaign in 1979. It is today considered to be the second most commonly spoken language in Singapore, after English. As of 2000, 82% of literate Chinese Singaporeans were literate in the language and were able to speak Singaporean Mandarin. Due to its widespread usage, Singaporean Mandarin has replaced Singaporean Hokkien as the lingua franca of the Chinese community in Singapore today. Following the economic rise of China in the 21st century, Mandarin proficiency has been viewed with greater importance and has risen in terms of prominence in Singapore.
Singaporean Mandarin had preserved the vocabulary and certain features of the Classical Chinese and early Vernacular Chinese (baihua) of early 20th century. Because Singapore's Chinese schools adopted Chinese teaching materials from Republic of China in the early 20th century, Singapore's early Mandarin pronunciations was based on the Zhuyin in the Dictionary of National Pronunciation (國音字典) and Vocabulary of National Pronunciation for Everyday Use (國音常用字彙). As such, it had preserved the older forms of pronunciations. In addition, during its initial development, Singaporean Mandarin was also influenced by Chinese dialects of Singapore such as Hokkien, Teochew, Cantonese etc.
From 1949 to 1979, due to lack of contact between Singapore and People's Republic of China, Putonghua did not exert any form of influence on Singaporean Mandarin. On the contrary, the majority of Mandarin Chinese entertainment media, Chinese literature, books and reading materials in Singapore came mainly from Taiwan. Consequently, Singaporean Mandarin has been influenced by Taiwanese Mandarin to a certain degree. After the 1980s, along with China's Open Door Policy, there was increasing contact between Singapore and China, thus increasing Putonghua's gradual influence on Singaporean Mandarin. These influences included the adoption of pinyin and the shift from usage of Traditional Chinese characters to Simplified Chinese characters.
Before the 20th century, Old-style private Chinese school known as sīshú (私塾) in Singapore generally used Chinese dialects (such as Hokkien, Teochew, Cantonese, etc.) as their medium of instruction to teach the Chinese classics and Classical Chinese.
After the May Fourth Movement in 1919, under the influence from the New Culture Movement in China, the local Old-style private Chinese school in Singapore began to follow the new education reform as advocated by China's reformist. Thus, the language of medium in school changed from other Chinese dialects to Mandarin Chinese or Guóyǔ (國語). This marked the beginning of the development of Singaporean Mandarin.
However, at that time, there was no colloquial Standard Mandarin, which can be used as a basis for learning Mandarin. In addition, during the early 1900s, most Mandarin teachers in Singapore came from southern parts of China, and had strong southern Chinese dialect accents. Thus, the pronunciations in Singaporean Mandarin were under heavy influence from China's southern Chinese dialects; for instance, there were no erhua (兒化), light tone (輕聲), and no sentences had the heavy or light accent (輕重音) etc.
In 1919, a group of scholars in China published the Dictionary of National Pronunciation (國音字典). This was one of the earliest dictionaries on modern Mandarin based on the Beijing dialect of Mandarin. However, the dictionary was a mix of northern Chinese sounds and southern Chinese rhymes, which included a 5th tone; the checked tone (rù shēng or 入聲). It wasn't until 1932 that a dictionary called the Vocabulary of National Pronunciation for Everyday Use, which was based truly on the Beijing dialect, (國音常用字彙) was published. This dictionary standardized the form of Mandarin taught in Singapore's Chinese schools. During the 1930s and 1940s, new immigrants from China, known as xīn kè (新客) helped to established more Chinese schools in Singapore, increasing the propagation of the Mandarin language in Singapore. The name of Mandarin language in Singapore was eventually changed from Guoyu (國語, i.e. National Language) to Huayu (華語, i.e. Chinese Language).
Major differences between Singaporean Mandarin Huayu (华语) and Putonghua lie in the vocabulary used. A lack of contact between Singapore and China from 1949 to 1979 meant that Singaporean Mandarin had to invent its own new words to suit the local Singapore environment, as well as borrow certain words from Taiwanese Mandarin or some other Chinese dialects that were spoken in Singapore. As a result, new Mandarin words proprietary to Singapore were invented.
There are many new terms that are specific to living in Singapore (though some also apply in neighbouring Malaysia). These words were either translated from Malay and Chinese dialects (or invented) as there were no equivalent words in Putonghua. Some of the words are directly translated from Malay. Words translated from Malay include kampung, kelong, satay and pasar (巴刹, English 'market'). This explains the uniquely Singapore Mandarin words.
|红毛丹||hóngmáodān||rambutan (a type of Southeast Asian fruit)|
|奎笼||kuílóng||kelong (a place for fishing)|
|沙爹||shādīe||Satay (a type of Singaporean Malay food)|
|清汤||qīngtāng||a type of dessert|
|固本||gùběn||coupon. Also used for car parking|
|组屋||zǔwū||flat built by Housing Development Board|
|保健储蓄||bǎo jiàn chǔ xǜ||medisave (medical saving)|
|周末用车||zhōu mò yòng chē||Weekend Car (a classification of car ownership in Singapore)|
|财路||cáilù||"Giro" (a system of payment through direct bank account deduction in Singapore)|
|巴刹||bāsā||"bazaar" or market or pasar (Malay)|
|mín zhòng jù lè bù
lián luò suǒ
|叻沙||lāsā||laksa (a type of curry noodle)|
|垃圾虫||lājī chóng||"litter-bug"; someone who violated the law for littering|
|乐龄||lè líng||old people||老龄
nián zhǎng zhě
|三文治||sān wén zhì||sandwich||三明治
sān míng zhì
|From English "sandwich" via Cantonese 三文治 sāam màhn jih|
|compare Cantonese 的士 dīk sih (from English "taxi").|
jí zhuāng xiāng
|火災 is also used in Singapore and Taiwan.|
|From classical Chinese. 耐用 is also used in Singapore|
|驾车||jià chē||drive a car||开车
|The word 驾 originates from classical Chinese. 开车 is also used in Singapore. 驾车 has also found its way into Putonghua vocabulary.|
dì yī gè
|第一个 is also used in Singapore. 首个 has also found its way into Putonghua vocabulary.|
|公众||gōng zhòng||public mass||群众
|公众 has also found its way into Putonghua vocabulary.|
|群体||qún tǐ||organized group||集体
|群体 has also found its way into Putonghua and Taiwanese Mandarin vocabulary.|
|第一时间||dì yī shí jīan||immediately||立刻
|一头雾水||yī tóu wù shǔi||blurred and confused||晕头转向
yūn tóu zhǔan xìang
hú lǐ hú tú
|the idiom 一头雾水 has also found its way into Putonghua vocabulary.|
|From Hokkien/Cantonese, Hokkien: bé-thâu, Cantonese: ma tau|
|领导 is sometimes used in Singapore|
|手提电话||shǒu tí diàn huà||mobile phone||手机
xíng dòng diàn huà/shǒu jī
|手机 is also used in Singaporean Mandarin, although less frequently.|
|客工||kè gōng||foreign worker||外勞
|外劳 also appears in some Singaporean Chinese writing (e.g. Lianhe Zaobao)|
|农夫 was an older Chinese term used in China before 1949, but continues to be used in Singapore.|
gōng jiāo chē
gōng chē/bā shì
|电单车||diàn dān chē||motorcycle||摩托车
mó tuō chē
|From English word "lorry"|
|From Hokkien "kak-thâu". Note thaut in Putonghua, "角头" actually means "chieftain of mafia/secret society" instead of "corner".|
|散钱||sàn qián||small change||零钱
|Originates from classical Chinese. "散钱" is also used in Putonghua|
There are certain similar words used in both Singaporean Mandarin and Putonghua, but have different meanings and usage.
|Hanzi||Pinyin||Meaning in Huayu||Meaning in Putonghua||Notes|
|小姐||xiǎo jiě||Miss||Prostitute or lady involved in sex trade||小姐 is used to refer to a lady or waitress in restaurant in Singaporean Mandarin. However, in Putonghua, 小姐 has negative connotation in the northern provinces, used mainly to refer to prostitutes. 女士 or 服务员 tends to be more commonly used in Putonghua, instead of 小姐. In Taiwan it is used the same way as in Singapore.|
|对付||duì fù||fight against/counteract||take action to deal with a person or problem||对付 is used to refer in negative connotation in Singaporean Mandarin to mean fight or counteract for e.g. against a criminal or terrorist. But in Putonghua, it can have positive connotation to mean take action dealing with a person or problem.|
|懂||dǒng||know||understand||懂 is commonly used in Singaporean Mandarin to mean "know" instead of 知道 (Putonghua). 懂 means 'understand' in Putonghua.|
|计算机||jì suàn jī||calculator||computer||计算机 is commonly used in Singaporean Mandarin to mean 'calculator'. In PRC, the word 计算器 is used instead to refer to 'calculator'. 计算机 means computer in PRC, although in the recent years, the word 电脑 for computer has also become more popular in PRC.|
There is quite a number of specific words used in Singaporean Mandarin that originate from other Chinese dialects such as Hokkien, Teochew, Cantonese etc. These dialects have also influenced the pronunciation in Singaporean Mandarin.
|阿兵哥||ā bìng gē||soldiers||originates from Hokkien "a-peng-ko"|
|怕输||pà shū||afraid to lose||originates from Hokkien "kiaⁿ-su"|
|几时||jǐ shí||when?||originates from Hokkien "kuí-sî" or Classical Chinese
|阿公||ā gōng||grandpa||originates from Hokkien "a-kong"|
|阿嬤||ā mā||grandma||originates from Hokkien "a-má"|
|阿婆||ā pó||old lady||originates from Hokkien "a-pô"|
|很显||hěn xiǎn||very boring||spoken colloquially in Singaporean Mandarin instead of 无聊/闷 (in Standard Mandarin). The word "xian 显" originates from Hokkien 'hián-sèng' (顯聖).|
|敢敢||gǎn gǎn||be brave/daring||spoken colloquially in Singaporean Mandarin instead of 勇敢 (in Standard Mandarin). For instance, 敢敢做个开心人！(dared to be a happy person). The word "敢敢" originates from Hokkien "káⁿ-káⁿ" (daring)|
|古早||gǔ zǎo||ancient||originates from Hokkien "kó͘-chá". Appear in some Singaporean Chinese writing (e.g. Hawker Center) instead of 古时候 (in Standard Mandarin).|
|做工||zuò gōng||work||originates from Hokkien "cho-kang", which means 'work'. 做工 is often spoken colloquially in Singaporean Mandarin instead of 工作/上班 (in Standard Mandarin) . In Standard Mandarin, 做工 usually means doing work that involves manual hard labour .|
|烧||shāo||hot||originates from Hokkien "sio", which means 'hot'. 烧 is often spoken colloquially in Singaporean Mandarin instead of 热/烫 (in Standard Mandarin) .|
|什么来的||shěn mè lái dè||What is this?||originates from Hokkien "siáⁿ-mi̍h lâi ê" (啥物來的). 什么来的 is often spoken colloquially in Singaporean Mandarin instead of the more formal 这是什么 (in Standard Mandarin)|
|起价||qǐ jià||price increase||originates from Hokkien "khí-kè". 起价 is often spoken colloquially in Singaporean Mandarin instead of the more formal 涨价 (in Standard Mandarin)|
|做莫||zuò mò||Why？/ Doing what?||originates from Cantonese "zou me 做咩". 做莫 is often spoken colloquially in Singaporean Mandarin instead of the more formal 爲什麽/做什麽 (in Standard Mandarin)|
|阿佬||ā lǎo||man||佬 originates from Cantonese|
|是乜||shì mēh||is it?||The word 乜 mēh originates from Cantonese and is used in colloquial Singaporean Mandarin. Compare Standard Mandarin "是嗎 shì ma".|
|大耳窿||dà ěr lóng||loan shark||originates from Cantonese. (compare Guoyu: 地下錢莊)|
|搭客||dā kè||passenger||originates from Cantonese (compare Putonghua: 乘客)|
|摆乌龙||bǎi wū lóng||misunderstanding/make mistakes/confusion||originates from Cantonese|
|好脸||hào liàn||boastful, likes to show off||originates from Teochew (ho lien). Other than 'likes to show off', the term can also describes someone who has a strong pride, i.e. cares about not losing face. (compare Putonghua: 爱出风头, Guoyu: 愛現)|
|卤面||lǔ miàn||a type of noodle||originates from Teochew "lou mee".|
|粿条||guǒ tiáo||a type of flat noodle||originates from Teochew "kuey tiao". Compare Cantonese "hor fan" (河粉)|
There is quite a number of specific words used in Singaporean Mandarin that originate or are transliterated from English. These words appear in written Singaporean Mandarin.
|摩多西卡||móduōxīkǎ||Motorcycle||Both 电单车 and 摩托车 are also used in Singaporean Mandarin|
|巴仙||bāxiān||Percentage||百分比 is standard|
In terms of standard written Mandarin in Singapore, the Singaporean Mandarin grammar is almost similar to that of Putonghua. However, the grammar of colloquial Singaporean Mandarin can differ from that of Putonghua as a result of influence from other Chinese dialects, classical Chinese and English language. Some of the local Singaporean Mandarin writings do exhibit certain local Singaporean features.
When speaking of minutes, colloquial Singaporean Mandarin typically uses the word 字 (zì), which represents a unit of 5 minutes. When referring to a number of hours (duration), 钟头 (zhōngtóu) is used instead of 小时 (xiǎoshí). For instance:
The use of zì (字) originates from Hokkien (jī or lī), Cantonese or Classical Chinese. Its origin came from the ancient Chinese units of measuring time. In ancient Chinese time measurement, hours were measured in terms of shíchén (时辰), equivalent to 2 hours while minutes were measured in terms of kè (刻), equivalent to 15 minutes. Each kè was in turn divided into 3 zì (equivalent to 5 minutes). For instance, 7:45 pm is:
As a result of Hokkien influence, colloquial Singaporean Mandarin typically uses the word "拜-" (bài) to refer to the days of the week, in lieu of Standard Mandarin "星期-" (xīngqí-). For instance:
Both 拜 (bài) and 礼拜 (lǐbài) originate from Hokkien pài and lé-pài respectively.
In colloquial Singaporean Mandarin, 万 (wàn), referring to a "ten thousand" is often used but 十千 (shí qiān), referring to "ten thousands" is occasionally used too. This usage was influenced by English numbering system.
The word "先" (xiān) is often used at the end of a sentence in colloquial Singaporean Mandarin (instead of after a subject, as in Standard Mandarin), as a result of influence from Cantonese grammar. For example, take the sentence "You walk first":
而已 (eryǐ) is more common in colloquial Singaporean Mandarin than in Standard Mandarin, which uses 罢了 (bàle). The same is true for Taiwanese Mandarin. For example:
Translation: only like this
In colloquial Singaporean Mandarin, the word "啊" is often used in response to a sentence as an affirmative. It is often pronounced as /ã/ (with a nasal tone) instead of 'ah' or 'a' (in Putonghua). Putonghua tends to use "是" (shì)， "哦" (ó), "噢" (ō) to mean yes.
In Singaporean Mandarin, there is a greater tendency to use the word cái "才" (then) in lieu of Standard Mandarin zài "再" (then), which indicates a future action after the completion of a prior action. For instance:
In Standard Mandarin, one typical way of turning certain nouns into adjectives, such as 兴趣 (xìngqù, 'interest'), 营养 (yíngyǎng, 'nutrition'), 礼貌 (lǐmào, 'politeness'), is to prefix the word "有" (yǒu) at the front of these nouns.
The word 有 (yǒu) is sometimes omitted in writing.
In Singaporean Mandarin, verbs preceding "一下" may be reduplicated, unlike in Putonghua. In Putonghua grammar, the use of the word "一下" (yīxià) is often put at the back of a verb to indicate that the action (as indicated by the verb) is momentary.
Singaporean colloquial Mandarin tends to use 被 (bèi) more commonly than Putonghua, mainly due to influence from English.
Compare the following:
The phonology and tones of Singaporean Mandarin are generally similar to that of Standard Mandarin. There are 4 tones similar to those in Standard Mandarin, but Erhua (-er finals) and the neutral tone (轻声, lit. 'light tone') are generally absent in Singaporean Mandarin.
In its initial development, Singaporean Mandarin was highly influenced by the Ru sheng 入声 (checked tones or "5th tones") from other Chinese dialects. As such, the 5th tone did appear in earlier Singaporean Mandarin. The characteristics of the 5th tone are as follows:
However, due to over 20 years of development, the 5th tone in Singaporean Mandarin had basically disappeared. It no longer exists in modern Singaporean Mandarin.
Singaporean Hokkien is the largest non-Mandarin Chinese dialect spoken in Singapore. The natural tendency of Hokkien-speakers to use the Hokkien way to speak Mandarin has influenced to a large degree the colloquial Mandarin spoken in Singapore. The colloquial Hokkien-style Singaporean Mandarin is commonly heard in Singapore, and can differ from Putonghua in terms of vocabulary, phonology and grammar.
In Singapore, simplified Chinese characters are the official standard used in all official publications as well as the government-controlled press. While simplified Chinese characters are taught exclusively in schools, the government does not officially discourage the use of traditional characters, as the government of the People's Republic of China does. Therefore, many shop signs continue to be written in traditional characters. Menus in hawker centres and coffeeshops are also usually written in simplified characters.
As there is no restriction on the use of traditional characters in the mass media, television programmes, books, magazines and music CD's that have been imported from Hong Kong or Taiwan are widely available, and these almost always use traditional characters. Most karaoke discs, being imported from Hong Kong or Taiwan, have song lyrics in traditional characters as well. While all official publications are in simplified characters, the government still allows parents to choose whether to have their child's Chinese name registered in simplified or traditional characters though most choose the former.
Singapore had undergone three successive rounds of character simplification, eventually arriving at the same set of simplified characters as Mainland China. Before 1969, Singapore generally used traditional characters. From 1969 to 1976, the Ministry of education launched its own version of Simplified Characters, which differ from that of Mainland China. But after 1976, Singapore fully adopted the Simplified Characters version of Mainland China.
|About Singaporean Mandarin|
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