Adventures in Colloquial Singaporean English (Singlish) – Topicalisation

Singlish, or more formally known as Colloquial Singaporean English, is an English creole which closely resembles that of Colloquial Malaysian English, drawing influences from the languages represented by the ethnic groups that make up the speakers’ population. It’s something I encounter almost every day, and I thought it would be good to make some observations in the speech and language patterns of Singlish. Join me, as I post about the key features about this uniquely Singaporean English.

My first observation homes in on topicalisation, where an item becomes the topic of the sentence by using a particle which marks it as a topic, or in Singlish, something quite different.  In English, many markers precede the item marked as a topic, such as “As for [topic]”, “Concerning [topic]”. The particle は (wa) functions as a topic marker in Japanese, and 은/는 (-eun/-neun) in Korean. In Colloquial Singapore English, I did not quite notice the use of any form of topic markers, like in the sentence:

The window remember to close ah.

It appears that the topic in Singlish is indicated by fronting the sentence with the desired word(s), making the need for topic markers redundant. Typically, this form of topicalisation is observed in the imperative mood, as it normally gives the receiver of the action emphasis (“the window” here is emphasised by pushing it from the object to topic), hence strengthening the instruction given by the speaker.


Upon further analysis, I found out that Singlish also uses a topic marker, although less often heard compared to the feature explained earlier. The marker follows the topic, as in:

The window right, remember to close.

This food right, quite good one.

That’s right, the right (pronounced with a high falling tone) functions as a topic marker too. It is also used in establishing relations between a noun and adjective or an identifier. Even so, it would still be grammatically correct in Singlish to omit the marker “right”.

So this is what I have observed in Singlish, something I encounter almost daily, but its features constantly overlooked by the average person. I hope this series of posts would shed light on the little things in this creole that makes Singapore uniquely Singaporean.


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