Singapore is a small island with a surface area of just 734.3 km² and a population of under 6 million people. However, despite these small numbers, it is home to some interesting linguistic diversity. Singapore’s history is a weird one, an area that was occupied by criminals, pirates, and fishermen became one of the most prosperous countries in the world. The country has seen itself become populated by various populations. It was also under British rule for more than a century. The area has also been heavily influenced by China, India, Sri Lanka, and Malaysia. Singapores’multiethinic community also reflects on the diversity of non-official spoken Singapore languages.
This also begs the question ‘What language is spoken in Singapore’? Well, the answer is not language but languages, as Singapore has 4 official languages. Namely:
Almost 75% of Singapore’s population is bilingual, which is one of the highest numbers in the world. Singapore is well-known for having many minority languages and dialects. The country also hosts many living on unofficial status in Singapore like a work visa, student visa, or business visa. Given the small size of the country, you can see why it is so easily influenced by these individuals as well.
Table of Content
- Let’s Talk About What Language Do They Speak In Singapore In More Detail
- Here Are Some Non-Official Languages Spoken In Singapore
Let’s talk about what language do they speak in Singapore in more detail
1. Malay (National Language In Singapore)
Malay was and is the national language of Singapore. Bahasa Melayu is the standardized Malay version of the language in Singapore. However, despite being the main language, it is spoken by 13% of the Singapore population. This was not always the case before the arrival of the British in 1819, Malay was widely spoken by 90% of the population. But during the British reign, English was the official language in Singapore for 100+ years. Which is a lot of time to set the tone for something.
Hence, the popularity and speakers of Malay deteriorated. If Singapore was not neighbors with Malaysia or did not share such a historic past. The language may have completely been wiped off instead of being the native language of the region. The historical integrity makes the language a highly important and unavoidable form of national pride. Malay follows the Roman script for writing known as Rumi. Previously the Jawi script was used based on the Arabic language. The national anthem ‘Majulah Singapura’ is also in Malay, it is also taught in schools with both Rumi and Jawi scripts.
2. English (The main language of Singapore)
English is the most commonly spoken language in Singapore. It is the medium of school instruction, the official language of business, the language of tourism, and the government. You would be surprised to know that 37% of the Singapore population speaks the English language. Even though English is their second language, it is spoken more widely than their official language. One of the main reasons why Singapore declared English as an official language was to attract investors and tourists. This has worked out quite well for them since their influence can be felt by the number of speakers in the country. The country has excelled on the international stage.
3. Mandarin (Huayu Dialect)
The Chinese community is strong in Singapore, which is why Huayu Mandarin is also one of the official languages of Singapore. Singapore language spoken Mandarin is simplified taking words from Teochew, Cantonese, Hainanese, and Hokkien. Though the number of Mandarin speakers has slightly declined in the last few years. It is still spoken by 33-35% of the population. However, the Chinese Singapore community along with the government’s help has been promoting Mandarin as a key link to its Chinese-influenced past. More than 70% of the Singaporean population has Chinese origins. The language is often used in new channels and government business documents. Trade with China is also maintained through Mandarin. The language is taught at both primary and secondary education levels.
4. Tamil (Indian Origin Population)
This may be surprising to hear for many but 10% of the Singapore population compromises of Indians. Of those 10% of people, almost 80% speak Tamil as their native tongue. Moreover, since Tamil has been spoken in the region for a long time, it has been declared as the 4th official language of Singapore. Tamil is spoken by 3-5% of the Singapore population. Certain other minority Indian languages are also found such as Punjabi, Sindhi, Urdu, Hindi, Kannada, Gujarati, and Malayalam. Most of the Indian immigrants in Singapore moved from the Tamil Nadu region. The language is the least spoken official language. But if you belong to the Indian Singaporean community then it is regularly used in life.
4. Singlish (Singapore Version of English)
Okay, so this is not an official language per say. However, those who live in Singapore or visit Singapore cannot ignore Singlish. The word Singlish may ring new to your ears. Singlish is basically Singapore’s unique version of English that burrows words from Tamil, Hokkien, and Malay. Try not to expect any clear accent or decent grammar. It is like an everyday language that takes words from all official languages. Singaporeans associate themselves with this broken-ish type of English. Yes, you can not use this form of language for formal matters like emailing your boss. But, for socializing it is the most commonly spoken form of language.
- Singlish Examples
Since many of you might be hearing about Singlish for the first time here are some examples.
- Take away one chicken rice – One Chicken Rice da bao.
- No need for camera tomorrow- Tomorrow dun need camera
- Don’t be so aggressive/difficult – Don’t be so kiasu lah.
- Not good – not good one lah
- Oh, my gosh!/What – Alamak!
- Oh my this is expensive – Wah liao so expensive lah
- Where is the bus stop – Where bas?
- Ok – Ok lah
- Correct – Corright
- Black Coffee – Kopi Oh
- Don’t be like that – dun lai dat lah
- Iced Coffee – Kopi Ais
- How is that possible – How can lah?
- I want to go to Orchard Station – I wan go Orchard MRT
Here Are Some Non-Official Languages Spoken in Singapore
1. Minority Languages
2. Immigrant Languages
3. Foreign Languages
Singapore being a multi-cultural country is highly bilingual. The government does a great job of making all populations feel at home. There are four unique populations living in Singapore in vast majority. Hence, four different languages have been given the official language status. It is great to see a country giving its citizens such ease of expressing their cultural identity. The education system also follows this suit allowing secondary school learners to choose their language of study. While in primary, the situation is slightly different with English and Mandarin given the most importance. At the same time, many foreign nationals live in Singapore for business, investments, education, and jobs. They also bring culture and language with them. You never know maybe in the next hundred years we might see a 5th official Singapore language.