Spiaking Singlish: A Companion to How Singaporeans Communicate

October 6, 2017

Written and drawn by Gwee Li Sui

Published by Marshall-Cavendish Editions, 2018

Spiaking Singlish

From Back Cover:

This is a book about Singlish in Singlish.

Read, learn, & enjoy!

From “Afterwards”:

Singlish steadfastly refuses to be excommunicated. Singaporeans can tahan many things, no chewing gum, spitting fines, ERPs, and COEs. But sorry hor, don’t touch my char koay teow and don’t anyhow say my Singlish. Because you are tampering with my identity here.

Sorry Richelieu, Shakespeare even, and PM Goh, the vox populi has spoken, and, whether you sian or not, our pasar patois has entered the dictionary. Not just any dictionary, okay, but the venerable Oxford English Dictionary.

Ho seh liao!

Sylvia Toh Paik Choo, Queen Mother of Singlish

Advance Praise:

More than any cunning linguist who has produced cheem publications (self included), Dr Gwee Li Sui has been the one to put Singlish on the map, in world media, and, most of all, in our mouths. Spiaking Singlish is what it’s all about – not just a list of quaint sayings, formally explained, but a whole book, in Singlish. Perhaps most crucially, Gwee shows how Singlish – indeed, any emergent contact language variety – isn’t a handicap. Articulate and persuasive, he amuses, he expounds, he argues – fully grounded in theories of language contact and change – and all in Singlish! His performance throughout the book is a delight to proponents of translingual practice, seamlessly bringing together the more “standard” and more Singlish dimensions of his repertoire. I especially appreciate how much he sayang Singapore’s diversity and multiculturalism, in word and in deed. He continues to do for Singlish what many of us only talk about – revel in it even on the most formal of platforms, use it as one would use any language. This is precisely how any once-maligned language variety can increase in international intelligibility, garner greater acceptability, and attain legitimacy. I’m putting this book on my course reading list.

Dr Lisa Lim, Associate Professor and Head of the
School of English at the University of Hong Kong

When I approached Dr Gwee to write a Singlish column for The Middle Ground, I knew I might be asking for trouble. Would The Middle Ground kena suan for promoting Singlish? If so, I would argue that the rest of our columns and news reports clearly showed our support for good, standard English – and at a high level too. We can’t deny that Singlish is part of our heritage, so why not delve into it more deeply? Dr Gwee obliged. He very nice one.

Bertha Henson, veteran journalist who declines to reveal her age

He’s done it! Gwee has written a book explaining Singlish… in Singlish! Champion! So better fasterly buy this powderful book before it kena banned or dunno what!

Colin Goh and Woo Yen Yen, editors of The Coxford Singlish Dictionary

Singlish has always been a big part of my personal and maybe even more so of my professional life. I am excited that Gwee Li Sui has decided to embark on this project to make Singlish accessible to the masses not just locally but for the international market to appreciate something we can really call our very own. Don’t play, play!

Gurmit Singh, artist, author, and director of InDaHouz

Actually ah, I neh intended to be the Queen’s-English-enemy-number-one with my op-ed in The New Paper. Just so happens at the time, bladdy TV execs and mega-angkat cronies were telling us TV sitcom writers to write “proper English”. So, of course, everyone angry la siol. Liddat the tone of voice sure salah one what. Hallo, when have writers EVER listened to cockanaden execs?! Big surprise meh? Ah Gwee, you hantam them properly, can?

Imran Johri, scriptwriter for Phua Chu Kang Pte Ltd, Season 3

Wah seh! Who more tokong to write about Singlish than Dr Gwee! His England is more powderful than Queen of England sia! Also, inside the book got mention me, so I lagi must sappork! You may think Singlish is just anyhowly one but acherly is quite cheem ok? Dun say I bojio! Buy his book now!

mrbrown (aka Lee Kin Mun), Blogfather of Singapore

Reviews:
Limpeh kong, poit usually sibeh atas one. Then sekali Uncle Gwee choot this kind of book, I shock ah. Damn nice! You all must like. If not, I hamtam you!

Teochew pai kia Wena Poon

My Book of 2017 is Gwee Li Sui’s Spiaking Singlish: A Companion to How Singaporeans Communicate (Singapore: Marshall Cavendish, 2017). While any encounter with Singlish in print still tends to hit the reader’s funny bone, this book should significantly reduce that elbow-jerking response. Gwee’s book is  a massive work of research and detective work (and superlative listening); this, to show Singlish as an evolving tongue, as language is in human societies. What I like best is its analytical approach in placing Singlish in historical, sociological and linguistic contexts, using the medium of Singlish itself to achieve this. In some ways, the vigor of the tongue shows how it may serve more serious purposes — more than the simply laughter-raising pronouncements of the Phua Chu Kangs of Singapore. I see Gwee’s strategy here as providing something of a breakthrough beyond the use of Singlish for dramatic or narrative purposes. Many readers may react with suspicion (and maybe even outrage) when they see the patois being used in serious discourse; this possibly dissipates on subsequent readings, as it did for me. Gwee makes a sustained case for seeing Singlish as a a kind of linguistic cement with deep foundations in our society, a foundation formed quite naturally and effortless through time, simply because a people of diverse tongues wanted to communicate, reach out, to one another. That deep bond is there whatever the linguistic purists may say in protest.

Anne Lee Tzu Pheng, Poet

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