04 November 2007

Coffee on the Singaporean menu

The vocabulary of Singlish, an English-based creole spoken in Singapore, consists of words originating from Malay, Cantonese, Hokkien (福建), as well as some other Indic languages, such as Tamil, to a lesser extent. Although the Singaporean government discourages the use of Singlish in favour of Standard English and runs Speak Good English Movement, this English-based creole is still used by most Singaporeans.

Both Fanne's brother-in-law, who is now working in Singapore, and her sister, who unfortunately still lives in Taipei at the moment but frequently flies over to visit him, have spent some time acquainting themselves with Singlish. Among a wide selection of interesting (or amusing) examples is coffee on the Singaporean menu. According to their demonstration and explanation, as well as my own investigation, I found following terms and origins of those non-English words.
  • Kopi: coffee with milk and sugar, or sweetened condensed milk
    It's the Singaporean default configuration of coffee.

  • Kopi-kosong: coffee without milk, without sugar
    Kosong, a Malay word for 'empty', 'hollow'.

  • Kopi-o (also kopi-oh): coffee with sugar, without milk
    O, the word for 'black' (烏) in Hokkien.

  • Kopi-kau: strong coffee, with condensed milk
    Kau means (of liquid) 'stronger' or 'thickened' (厚) in Hokkien.

  • Kopi-C: coffee with evaporated milk
    C stands for Carnation, a proprietary name for a brand of evaporated milk).

  • Kopi-ping: iced coffee
    Ping, the word for 'ice' (冰) in Hokkien.
I've been to Singapore in 2001 but haven't suffered too much from their native tongue as it was just a short break. Nevertheless, next time when I pay a visit, I will at least be able to order a cup of coffee in Singlish and I shall see what would happen if unwittingly I start speaking Scots.

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