About Singapore

About Singapore - Culture & LanguageAbout Singapore - Culture & LanguageAbout Singapore - Culture & Language

This page covers information on culture and language of Singapore. Understanding the culture and heritage of Singapore, the different races and languages like Singlish.


Singapore Culture

Singapore is a cosmopolitan society where people live harmoniously and interaction among different races are commonly seen. The pattern of Singapore stems from the inherent cultural diversity of the island. The immigrants of the past have given the place a mixture of Malay, Chinese, Indian, and European influences, all of which have intermingled.

Behind the facade of a modern city, these ethnic races are still evident. The areas for the different races, which were designated to them by Sir Stamford Raffles, still remain although the bulk of Singaporeans do think of themselves as Singaporeans, regardless of race or culture. Each still bears its own unique character.

The old streets of Chinatown can still be seen; the Muslim characteristics are still conspicuous in Arab Street; and Little India along Serangoon Road still has its distinct ambience. Furthermore, there are marks of the British colonial influence in the Neo-Classical buildings all around the city.

Each racial group has its own distinctive religion and there are colorful festivals of special significance all year round. Although the festivals are special to certain races, it is nonetheless enjoyed by all.

In Singapore, food is also readily and widely available. There are lots of cuisines to offer. We have, Chinese, Indian, Malay, Indonesian and Western, Italian, Peranakan, Spanish, French, Thai and even Fusion. It is very common to savour other culture's food and some of the food can be very intriguing. Indian food are relatively spicier, whereas Chinese food is less spicier and the Chinese enjoy seafood. Malay cooking uses coconut milk as their main ingredient, that makes their food very tasty.

You can refer to our Eating in Singapore section for a list of recommended food outlets in Singapore.


Religion in Singapore

Most Singaporeans celebrate the major festivals associated with their respective religions. The variety of religions is a direct reflection of the diversity of races living there. The Chinese are predominantly followers of Buddhism, Taoism, Shenism, Christians, Catholics and some considered as 'free-thinkers' (Those who do not belong to any religion). Malays have the Muslims and Indians are Hindus. There is a sizeable number of Muslims and Sikhs in the Indian population.

Religious tolerance is essential in Singapore. In fact, religions often cross racial boundaries and some even merge in unusual ways in this modern country. Younger Singaporeans tend to combine a little of the mysteries of the older generation with the realistic world that they know of today.

Religion is still an integral part of the cosmopolitan Singapore. Many of its most interesting buildings are religious, be it old temples, modern churches, or exotic mosques. An understanding of these buildings do play a part in contributing to the appreciation of their art.

Chinese Temples

Taoism, Confucianism, Buddhism, and ancestral worship are combined into a versatile mix in Chinese temples.

Followers of the Tao (The Way) adhere to the teachings of the ancient Chinese legend, Lao Tzu. They are concerned with the balance of the Yin and Yang, which are opposite forces of heaven and earth, male and female. Feng Shui, literally translated as wind and water, also originated from Yin and Yang. Ancestral worship is common and the spirits of the dead, like the gods themselves, are appeased with offerings.

Most Buddhists are of the Mahayana school although there are some from the Theravada school. In Singapore, the Buddhist faith is linked with Taoism and the practical doctrine of Confucianism.

Islam

The Malays in Singapore are Muslims. A few of the Indians are also Muslims, but even more uncommon are the Chinese Muslims.

Islam has a fundamental influence in the lives of those who follow the Prophet of Allah, Muhammad. The religion involves praying five times a day, eating only "halal" food, fasting during Ramadan, and going to Mecca on the Haj (pilgrimage). Halal food means food that has been specially prepared as according to the religion's dietary requirements.

Hinduism

As the Indian immigrants migrate to Singapore, they brought with them Hinduism. The early temples are still the central points of rituals and festivals, which are held throughout the year.

Christianity

One will be able to find Christian churches of all denominations in Singapore. They were actually established with the arrival of various missionaries after the coming of Sir Stamford Raffles. Together with Buddhism, Islam, and Hinduism, Christianity is considered one of the four main religions today. There is quite a large number of Christians on the island.

Others

Minority faiths are not forgotten. There are at least two synagogues for the Jews and Sikhs. The Zoroastrians and Jains are also represented in Singapore.


Language in Singapore

The four official languages of Singapore are Mandarin, Malay, Tamil and English. English is the most common language used and is the language which unites the different ethnic groups. Children are taught in English at school but also learn their mother tongue to make sure they don't lose contact with their traditions.

Expatriates and foreigners may encounter language problems in the beginning of their stay in Singapore as many Singaporeans use Singlish to communicate. Singlish is a mix of English with other languages mixed into the English, sometimes phrases can end with funny terms like 'lah', 'leh', mah'. Chinese commonly use their own dialects to communicate, and sometimes, inter-dialect groups don't understand one another's language, as the language is vastly different. Except for Hokkien and Teochew, which have a closer link. The Malays use the language among their fellow races and the Indians speak Tamil. But whatever the race or religion, the country's community unite as one nation, where most religious or racial gaps are being bridged.

Singapore English has its origins in the schools of colonial Singapore. In the nineteenth century very few children went to school at all, and even fewer were educated in English. The people who spoke English and sent their children to English medium schools were mainly the Europeans, the Eurasians (people of mixed racial ancestry), some of the small minorities, such as the Jews, some of the Indians and Ceylonese, and also a group of Chinese people usually called the Straits Chinese, who had ancestors of long residence in the region, and who spoke a variety of Malay usually called Baba Malay which was influenced by Hokkien Chinese and by Bazaar Malay.

The fact that all these children would have known Malay probably explains why most of the loan words in Singapore Colloquial English are from Malay. The largest group of teachers were Eurasians, and there were also many teachers from Ceylon and India. European teachers were never more than a quarter of the total teaching staff in a school, and they usually taught the senior classes. These Europeans may have been from Britain (which at that time included Ireland) but were also from the USA, Belgium and France. The children in these schools would have been exposed to many varieties of English.

In the first twenty years of the twentieth century, English medium education became popular for all groups. Girls started going to school in larger numbers too. By the 1950s nearly all children went to school, and the majority were educated in English. By the 1980s. all education was in the medium of English (with children learning another language alongside English).

Singapore English grew out of the English of the playground of these children of various linguistic backgrounds who were learning English at school. As more and more of its people experienced learning English at school, English became widely spoken, alongside Singapore's many other languages. Since Singapore became an independent Republic in 1965, the use of English has increased still further. For many Singaporeans, English is the main language. Many families speak English at home and it is one of the the first languages learnt by about half of the current pre-school children.

Nearly everyone in Singapore speaks more than one language, with many people speaking three or four. Most children grow up bilingual from infancy and learn more languages as they grow up. Naturally the presence of other languages (especially various varieties of Malay and of Chinese) has influenced the English of Singapore. The influence is especially apparent in the kind of English that is used informally, which is popularly called Singlish. Singlish is a badge of identity for many Singaporeans.

 

Singlish

Singapore English usually come from other languages spoken in Singapore, especially Malay and Hokkien. Speakers of Singlish are not necessarily aware of which language they are from however.

Example:

  • habis - finished
  • makan - to eat
  • chope - to reserve something
  • cheem - difficult, complicated
  • ang mo - a white person
  • rojak - mixed, a mix of
  • liao - finished, the end
  • kiasu - afraid to lose mentality

Speakers of Singlish will usually end his sentence with a distinctive exclamation. The three most common are ah, lah, ley and what.

Examples:

  • OK lah, bye bye.
  • Don't like that lah.
  • You are going there ah?
  • No parking lots here, what.
  • The price is too high for me lah.
  • And then how many rooms ah?
  • It is very troublesome ley.
  • Don't be like that ley!
  • I'm not at home lah. That's why ah.
Related Page

   
UK Inheritance Tax

QRM:
Now that most of our parents are getting on a bit I was just wondering what people personal expereices are with IHT, all the google result says the same old thing, try and get the parents to give you their asset 7 years before they croak etc.

I know I should get in touch with a financial adviser, but no disrespect to the banki type here, but i know they are not in the job out of the kindness of their heart, they will try and flog me some product that gives them the best return.

Some say set up a trust but if that is such a great idea why doesn't every one do it, (too expensive)

Just for example lets just say a friends mum has 1m pounds cash in various savings accounts what is stopping her taking it all out, go to bonhams and buy a million pound painting, roll it up and fly out to her kids and hand it over?

Sounds too simple am I missing something?

Re: [need advice] I lost my job and my landlord is kicking me

zzm9980:
I have recently lost my job. I have informed my landlord around 75 days (more than 2 months) about my situation, and that I will be breaking the lease. I have requested that she should use my deposit as my last month's rent, but she has refused unless I find a replacement for my lease. What rights do I have as a tenant?

There are no diplomatic clauses in my contract. I can send a copy to anyone who is interested to take a look and help. I cannot ask my agent because they are friends (I even once caught the agent taking a shower in my unit's common bathroom). Thank you very much.

You have no rights that are not explicitly spelled out in your tenancy agreement.

Re: Transferring money to Singapore bank account...

zzm9980:
If it is frequent, Citibank accounts in both locations is the easiest (and fastest) way to do it. It's also one of the better priced options, as they won't charge you a few but will instead just make some money off the exchange rate. On USD <-> SGD Citi tends to charge about .5-1% off the daily exchange rate. There will likely be something cheaper, but it won't be nearly as convenient.

Re: Chinese names - Gender?

zzm9980:
Yes!

Usually names describing all the feminine beauty and/or virtues are for females whereas the males have names about prosperity, fitness, courage, loyalty, peace, etc.

Apart from some rare names, it is easy to tell the gender via the name.

If you already know enough Chinese* to know which words mean which, you would already know which names are female or , Male.




Even then, it's not always the case. I've met multiple Chinese females who didn't like their names, as they were for 'male attibutes'. No, get your mind out of the gutter, not like that. :)

Re: Chinese names - Gender?

zzm9980:


It gets even odd

Was looking for a kevyn with Chinese surname

Assumed it was a , Male till I was told Kevyn is on maternity leave ...

Re purely Chinese name, Some names are easy to figure, most, not

Mei Ling is female, but when you hear Lim alone, that should give warning bells going and try not to guess

Lim is a family name, Mei Ling is not. Mei often (but not always!) is 美 which means beautiful, and thus is female.

How to know which one is family name and which isnt? Well, if it's a long chinese name the first syllable is usually the family name. Also in Singapore, I've noticed most people have a tendency to use Hokkien/Hakka/Teochew for family names, but Mandarin Pin Yin for given names. So learn Pin Yin (actually quite easy) and it becomes easy. That's how I'd do it when I first arrived.

Bringing plants outside Singapore

kclarins:
I am thinking of bringing my plant from here (bought it from Ikea) to another country within Asia. Has anyone does this before? Thanks.

[need advice] I lost my job and my landlord is kicking me out

kclarins:
I have recently lost my job. I have informed my landlord around 75 days (more than 2 months) about my situation, and that I will be breaking the lease. I have requested that she should use my deposit as my last month's rent, but she has refused unless I find a replacement for my lease. What rights do I have as a tenant?

There are no diplomatic clauses in my contract. I can send a copy to anyone who is interested to take a look and help. I cannot ask my agent because they are friends (I even once caught the agent taking a shower in my unit's common bathroom). Thank you very much.

Re:

Brah:
H"disrupt"*

*- disclaimer, I
Because "disruptive technology" has become so overused and is now trite?

Yes, every other startup is looking to
One more to add to the Trite List - or other such normal things.

Re: Married a Work Permit Holder

Confusedgal:
No ihavent been banned since i entered sg again last april an just recently last oct. Im now bk here in my country.
Havent done anything wrong to compromise my stay in sg as tourist. I only stayed with my fiancee helping him in interior designing his house renovation.

Re: Transferring money to Singapore bank account...

Jenn5000:
Great, thanks for the info!

Re: Project fare increases for Public Transport

ecureilx:
Cost of everything going up ..

And singapore doesn't believe in subsidizing public utilities

They rather subsidize the poor

Re: Chinese names - Gender?

nakatago:
Yes!

Usually names describing all the feminine beauty and/or virtues are for females whereas the males have names about prosperity, fitness, courage, loyalty, peace, etc.

Apart from some rare names, it is easy to tell the gender via the name.

If you already know enough Chinese* to know which words mean which, you would already know which names are female or male.




Re: Yahoo keeps hijacking my Chrome over Google

ecureilx:
Recall the last installed application .. that's the culprit mostly .. as zzm. Suggested

Re: Chinese names - Gender?

ecureilx:


It gets even odd

Was looking for a kevyn with Chinese surname

Assumed it was a male till I was told Kevyn is on maternity leave ...

Re purely Chinese name, Some names are easy to figure, most, not

Mei Ling is female, but when you hear Lim alone, that should give warning bells going and try not to guess

Re: Moving to Singapore - What to do with my wine?

CaptainBullus:
I guess it depends on how expensive the wine is...you will have to pay as follows...

* Formulae for computation of duty payable on liquors:

a) Formula
Duty = Total quantity in litre x $88.00 x % of alcoholic strength

b) Example : Importation of 100 litres of Port Wine with alcoholic strength of 19%
Duty = 100 x $88.00 x 0.19 = $1672.00

So unless it is really expensive booze i'd say it's probably best to drink the cheaper stuff and just bring in the really good stuff!