What Kind Of Chinese Do Singaporeans Speak?

asian businessman standing and talking in office.

Many people might be curious what kind of Chinese Singaporeans speak.

Are they speaking Mandarin? Are they speaking dialects?

Well, we’d say that they speak Chinglish – a mixture of Chinese, English, and Singlish. Chinglish. New term for you. Just kidding.

On a serious note, as most of the Singaporeans’ ancestors hail from the south of China, their dialect is either Hokkien, Teochew, Cantonese, or Hakka. These are the main languages our ancestors used to communicate in.

From the beginning of 1970s, they started to learn and promote the Mandarin language.

So the question is, what are the differences between Chinese Mandarin and the dialects?

The main difference is in the pronunciation of words. The Mandarin language is written in Chinese characters, and each character is pronounced differently in each language/dialect.

For example, the pronunciation of 张

  • pronounced in Mandarin as zhāng in Mandarin
  • in Hokkien as Teo
  • in Cantonese as Cheung

Today, we will talk about what is Hokkien.

Hokkien is one of the 8 main dialect groups in Chinese. Compared to other dialects, it is considered as a live fossil in language for its long history and culture. It shows the evolution of Chinese language and reservation of the ancient pronunciation of Han Dynasty.

  1. Pronunciation

Mandarin was started by Manchu in the Qing Dynasty. It has changed a lot and became the modern Mandarin language, giving up on many ancient pronunciations. However, Hokkien has kept many. For example, coffee in Mandarin is 咖啡 (kā fēi), Hokkien is “Kobi”, b is a sound in the ancient pronunciation. Many characters pronounced as “f” would be pronounced as “b” or “p” in Hokkien. In Hokkien, there are no sound of “zh, ch, sh” . 迟 chí is pronounced as “di” in Hokkien.

  1. Tones

Many learners feel it’s difficult to grasp the 4 Mandarin tones. However, congratulations! If you are learning Hokkien, you have to learn 8 (yes, 8!) tones from the ancient Chinese.

  1. Wording and sentence structure

Mandarin sentences follow the structure “subject+ preposition+noun+verb+object.” Many of the Hokkien sentences still keep the way ancient Chinese forms with the words or sentences go backwards. For example, 我比你大 in Mandarin which means I’m older than you is 我较大你 in Hokkien.

In Singapore, it would be good to pick up a little bit of Mandarin language and understand a bit Hokkien to better understand the culture.

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