Singaporean.. text speak? or Singlish?
November 1, 2014 4:12 PM   Subscribe

On internet fora, it isn't uncommon to see people using abbreviations/textspeak. I've noticed Singaporean posters using particularly idiosyncratic versions of this: 'dun' for don't, 'den' for then, 'TT' for that. Example. What's the origin of this?

I have seen British English dialects rendered in txtspk before: 'oreyt' for alright and 'm8' for mate/friend are pretty common where I grew up. However, I'm pretty unfamiliar with varieties of English used by Singaporeans, and Google only leads me to articles about Singlish (which is a creole) and heavily xenophobic articles by expats complaining about 'locals' use of English by email. (Is this a common/accepted way to communicate formally online?) I feel like I'm missing some context!
posted by mippy to Society & Culture (12 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
When I worked in Malaysia the people I worked with would compose much more formal emails than I (an American) was used to, but at the same time they would also use the (to me) craziest abbreviations. It was a weird contrast.

Dear Sir,

Regarding r scheduled appt 4 tmro lunch, plz don't say allo to...

Warm Regards,

Abdullah bin Osman

Seriously strange to me, but whatever, it is their culture, so they can decide what is appropriate. I have no idea of the origins, but in my experience it was completely usual behavior even in a professional setting.
posted by Literaryhero at 4:21 PM on November 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: That was similar to the example I saw in an article by a recruiter - didn't post it as the article was full of unpleasant browank. It's not something I'd expect to see professionally in the UK, even from those whose grammar/punctuation generally isn't style-guide perfect, or who are communicating hastily via phone - more the register people use for informal stuff like Facebook. So that's interesting.

(My own grammar's probably all over the place there as I'm high on cake.)
posted by mippy at 4:31 PM on November 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

I've spent a bit of time in Singapore and it seemed to me that Singaporean text-speak is basically just a direct transliteration of spoken Singlish. I know Singlish began as a creole, but these days it's more like a colloquial register of speech that people fall into when speaking in casual contexts, particularly within a multi-ethnic group. Most younger Singaporeans I knew could speak and write "proper English" too (their term - the government actually runs ads that say: "Speak Proper English!"), as well as their ethnic language(s) (Hokkein/Mandarin/Malay/Tamil/etc). But it seemed like everyone felt comfortable dropping Singlish phrases into conversation - it connotes a kind of friendly familiarity, I guess. Kind of like a US Southerner saying "y'all". I did notice some odd choices about casual/formal writing in emails, but I think that's a slightly separate issue from Singlish as a language.

You might find the Singlish dictionary at Talking Cock an interesting read. (Despite the name, the site is totally safe for work, unless you work somewhere where satirising the Singaporean government is a problem - "Talking Cock" is Singlish for "speaking nonsense").
posted by embrangled at 5:04 PM on November 1, 2014

From the Singlish dictionary:
A local variant of ‘Don’t’ (much like ‘don’ch’), which has become especially popular in the wake of text messaging on cellphones.
“Dun lai dat, lah!” (Please don’t be like that.)
See also: Don'ch

Yet another Singlish tag, similar in use to "lah", but which almost always follow a word which is some sort of attribute. This probably stems from words such as "de" in Mandarin and "eh" in Hokkien.
1. "Why you so stupid one?"
2. "Aiyah, he's like that one, lah."

The ubiquitous Singlish tag. Used like a fullstop in a sentence.
1. "It was just like that, lah."
2. "He was running, lah."
3. "Donno, lah."
See also: Leh Lor Meh

posted by embrangled at 5:13 PM on November 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

Yep, it's just how we talk, for the most part. There's textspeak that is transliteration, and textspeak that's just abbreviation, like 'tt'. 'Dun', 'den' are at the crossroads of transliteration and abbreviation, because they don't really sound exactly like written but it's just A Thing by now. (Side note: I haven't, though, seen as much textspeak in official communications in Singapore as I have in Malaysia, though that might be a selection bias issue because I attend university in Singapore.)

'tt' for 'that' in particular is a textspeak thing, I think. I use it when handwriting notes but I have no idea where it comes from. It's interesting, because I can usually tell my Malaysian friends' and sister's texts apart from my Singaporean friends' texts just by the abbreviations used. 'tt', 'alr' for 'already', 'tgt' for 'together'... they just aren't things that my peers in Malaysia would use. It's linguistic transmission by text, maybe?
posted by undue influence at 5:41 PM on November 1, 2014 [2 favorites]

Here's a link to one of a huge series of videos in which a dad records and scripts his two kids speaking Singlish. Here's one where they talk about psoriasis (because they're pretty darn popular) where you can compare the more 'standard' English the older boy speaks to Singlish.
posted by undue influence at 6:31 PM on November 1, 2014

Singaporean here. To answer the last part of your question more directly, such textspeak is not acceptable in formal situations. If I were recruiting and an applicant sent in a resume with textspeak, it would drop the applicant down my list.

That said, standards have been getting more lax here as I hear it has elsewhere. Many people don't even realise it when they fall into patterns of textspeak, as I suspect was the case with your recruiter.

The strangest thing is that I see this most often with older folk. In these cases, they likely learned to communicate through email at the same time they learned to communicate through text, and I suspect that these two modes of communication became conflated in their minds, resulting in that odd mix of formal structure and informal abbreviations. It's like how some Singaporeans learn to codeswitch between Singlish and standard English in the appropriate contexts, and some never do. This is a similar situation, but with text communication.

(Regarding the substitution of "dun" for "don't": I've seen some of the Americans I chat with use this spelling. Not sure where they might have picked it up though, I didn't use it with them because I, like you, assumed at first that it was a Singlish peculiarity.)
posted by satoshi at 7:36 PM on November 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

I remember doing that in handwriting - there was an unofficial shorthand for school notes that had like an e with a line over it for "the" and tt for that and so on, to write notes quickly while the teacher was talking. When pagers and then mobiles came in, Singapore was one of the earliest widespread usage (we have over 100% mobile phone coverage here because some people have multiple phones) and so everyone used the acronyms and shorthand phrases because they were faster to type on an alphanumeric keypad.

It's totally normal by text and goes over into emails that aren't so formal. I've only seen it in print for teenagers.

It helps to read the phrases aloud as they're usually a phonetic transcription, like dun for don't. It's also a syntax or grammar, not just a sprinkling of Chinese dialect and Malay words. You can have a sentence in English that is still Singlish by construction.
posted by viggorlijah at 7:41 PM on November 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

My Malaysian students have no discernible difference in their language for email, SMS, whatsapp, social media or for who they're talking to in those mediums. It's all just one big internet out there. I think about it as an age thing more than anything else. I learned style standards for each of those things as they appeared - young people are exposed to it all at once. The only formal communications I get from them are term papers.

Abbreviations and phonetic spellings and slang terms are all treated with a lot more playfulness and seem to have a wider range of registers than in the States. Since you wind up communicating with people with many different home languages and degrees of familiarity with English, you have to be more flexible and accommodating. It's a lot of fun once you relax about it.

I move for stateside adoption of my favorite abbreviation "TQ", which is Thank You said very very fast and clipped.
posted by BinGregory at 9:39 PM on November 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

Also I checked out your last tweet. That question was asked by a jobseeker who wasn't Singaporean I'm fairly sure. "juz abt 2 weeks in sg, i interview at least 1 job each day, really so sad with sg" - a Malaysian or Filipino perhaps? I wonder in that case if heavy use of textspeak might be a way to disguise broken English that would be more obvious in formal writing.
posted by BinGregory at 10:00 PM on November 1, 2014

It's not broken English, it's a different subtype of English.
posted by viggorlijah at 10:35 PM on November 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

Noted, TQ.
posted by BinGregory at 11:54 PM on November 1, 2014

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