“Have you left your valuables behind?”

This warning from the Singapore Police, spotted in a toilet stall in Cineleisure at Orchard is semantically equivalent to “Have you left all of your valuables behind?”

Although it is a somewhat plausible question, I think a better question would be one that has a slightly different meaning, less like “Have you left everything behind?” and more like “Have you left anything behind?”

“Please Watch Out For Your Belongings!”

This warning, spotted in The Clementi Mall, makes it sound like the belongings themselves are dangerous, like a sign that says “Beware of Dog” or “Watch Out for Falling Rocks”, though admittedly neither of those warnings starts with ‘please’.

Of course the intent is something like ‘take care of’, and ‘watch out for’ sometimes has this meaning. “Watch out for your children” means ‘keep a lookout’ so that they come to no harm, but the meaning doesn’t transfer to inanimate objects as nicely.

While we’re nitpicking, we might as well point out that the exclamation mark seems extraneous. No final punctuation is needed since the words are all capitalized. Alternatively, only one capital letter is needed, since it’s a sentence with end punctuation.

Pesky ‘with’

Dumex advertisement
at Block 610 bus stop

When I read this:

Dumex, proudly nurturing Singapore babies with global expertise and experience.

I thought, Wow, Singapore babies have global expertise and experience?

The preposition ‘with’ is ambiguous. It could mean ‘having’ (which is what I thought at first) or it could mean ‘using’ (which is what was intended).

Please be understood.

at The Central
at The Central

I spotted this hilarious Engrish sign at Book Mart at The Central. It is (I assume) not a joke but rather the best translation they could manage.

Thank you for usually favoring it more. This time I will perform store remodeling construction in the following schedule. I am so sorry, but a store is closed until November 3. I really trouble it, but it, please be understood.

I think it means:

Dear customers, thank you for your continued support. The shop will be closed for remodeling until November 3. We apologize for any inconvenience caused.

If you are looking for a better translation for “please be understood,” consider:

Thank you for understanding.
Thank you for your understanding.
Thank you for your kind understanding.

Books on Singapore English

I’ve been collecting observations of my own about the features of English here in Singapore, but others have published books on the subject (some more serious than others).

I have these four books. They are all a bit silly.

  • English as it is Broken
    Panpac (2007) ISBN: 9789812730497
  • English as it is Broken 2
    Panpac (2008) ISBN: 9789812802859
  • The Coxford Singlish Dictionary
    Angsana (2009) ISBN: 9789814193689
  • An Essential Guide to Singlish
    Samantha Hanna (2003) ISBN: 9789810467081

I would like to have some books written more for linguistic purposes than for mere entertainment.

  • Singapore English: Structure, Variation, and Usage
    by Jakob R. E. Leimgruber (2013) ISBN: 9781107027305
  • Singapore English: A Grammatical Description
    edited by Lisa Lim (2004) ISBN: 9781588115768
  • English in Singapore: Modernity and Management (Asian Englishes Today)
     edited by Lisa Lim (2010) ISBN: 9789888028436

Signaling tense and aspect

Chinese does not have ‘grammar’ the way European languages do because words are not inflected. There are no plurals, noun cases or past tense. All the memorization of declensions you have to do when you study, say, Germanic, Slavic and Romance languages—that kind of stuff is absent from Chinese entirely (though you would of course be foolish to conclude that Chinese is therefore easy). So how are the relationships between words indicated? Context, adverbs and particles.

Let’s look at verb tense (specifically past tense) and aspect (specifically completed aspect) in Singlish as influenced by Chinese.

Continue reading Signaling tense and aspect

Why Johnny Can’t Read

Why Johnny Can’t Read is a rant, but the rant is justified if the ‘whole-word’ method was as dominant as the author, Rudolf Flesch, claims.

How infuriating that someone assumed, and led a whole country to assume, that because adult readers take in whole words in a glimpse when reading that that was how reading should be taught to children, rather than by sounding out the letters and letter combinations.

Flesch proposes that parents teach their kids at home using a phonetic system very much like the one I’m teaching now.

Spell all the words!

My six-year-old students must think I’m omniscient. One of them asked me whether I could “spell all the words”. He wasn’t asking about all the words in the wordlist for chapter three, or something like that; he was asking about all the words in the English language. I think I said that I can spell a lot of words but not all of them because English has so many. Imagine believing that a language has a particular number of words and no more!

Short i

Two of my reading classes did the ‘i’ lesson today. I had to explain ‘chill’, ‘cliff’, ‘knit’, and ‘vanish’. At least a couple of kids in the noon class knew what a ‘vest’ was. (No, ‘vest’ doesn’t have a short ‘i’, but it is one of the words in the short ‘i’ lesson.)

I continue to be surprised by gaps in vocabulary. Plus, half the time, the gaps are gaps they don’t even know are there: when I ask what ‘knit’ was, they think it’s ‘neat’ or ‘need’. Today, they thought ‘vanish’ was ‘Spanish’ or ‘spinach’. Fake homophones abound.