The official standard of Mandarin of Republic of Singapore, known in Singapore as Huayu (华语), is based on the phonology of the Beijing dialect and the grammar of Vernacular Chinese, is almost identical to the standard of Mandarin used in the People's Republic of China (known there as Pǔtōnghuà 普通话) and the Republic of China (Taiwan) (known there as Guóyǔ 國語）. Standard Singaporean Mandarin, which is usually heard on Singaporean Mandarin-language TV and radio news broadcast, is generally similar to Guoyu in terms of phonology, and Putonghua in terms of vocabulary and grammar. Small differences only appear in the form of lexicon.
In terms of colloquial spoken Mandarin, Singaporean Mandarin is subjected to influence from the local historical, cultural and social influences of Singapore. As such, there are remarkable differences between colloquial Singaporean Mandarin and Putonghua. Owing to a common culture and history between the Chinese Singaporeans and Malaysian Chinese, Colloquial Singaporean Mandarin bears the closest resemblance with Colloquial Malaysian Mandarin.
Singaporean Mandarin had preserved the vocabulary and certain features of the Classical Chinese and early Vernacular Chinese (baihua) of the early 20th century. Because Singapore's Chinese schools adopted Chinese teaching materials from Republic of China in the early 20th century, Singapore's early Mandarin pronunciations was based on the Zhuyin in the Dictionary of National Pronunciation (國音字典; Guó yīn zìdiǎn) and Vocabulary of National Pronunciation for Everyday Use (國音常用字彙). As such, it had preserved the older forms of pronunciations. In addition, during its initial development, Singaporean Mandarin was also influenced by Chinese dialects of Singapore such as Hokkien, Teochew, Cantonese etc.
From 1949 to 1979, due to lack of contact between Singapore and People's Republic of China, Putonghua did not exert any form of influence on Singaporean Mandarin. On the contrary, the majority of Mandarin Chinese entertainment media, Chinese literature, books and reading materials in Singapore came mainly from Taiwan. Consequently, Singaporean Mandarin has been influenced by Taiwanese Mandarin to a certain degree. After the 1980s, along with China's Open Door Policy, there was increasing contact between Singapore and mainland China, thus increasing Putonghua's gradual influence on Singaporean Mandarin. These influences included the adoption of pinyin and the shift from usage of Traditional Chinese characters to Simplified Chinese characters. Much of the lexicon from Putonghua had also found its way into Singaporean Mandarin.
Historical sources indicated that before 1819 when Sir Stamford Raffles came to Singapore, there were already Chinese settlers in Singapore. After 1819 when Sir Stamford Raffles set foot on Singapore, many Peranakan from Malaysian and European merchants began to come to Singapore. Because they required large number of labourers, coolies were brought in from China to Singapore.
Large number of Chinese labourers came to Singapore after the Opium War. Chinese settlers who came to Singapore from China during the 19th and second half of the 20th century were known as "sinkeh" (新客). Amongst them were many contract labourers, including those who worked at the docks. Most of them came to Singapore to escape from poverty and to search for a better life, while others came to Singapore to escape from wars taking place in China during the first half of the 20th century. Most of them came from Southern Chinese provinces such as Fujian, Guangdong and Hainan.
Amongst these Sinkeh, there were many Hoklo (Hokkien), Teochew, Cantonese and Hainanese. They brought their own different native Chinese varieties to Singapore, including Hokkien, Teochew, Cantonese, Hakka and Hainanese. Because these varieties were mutually unintelligible, Chinese clans association were established based on their own ancestral home and dialect groups to help take care of their own people who speak the same dialect.
The use of Mandarin to serve as a lingua franca amongst the Chinese only began with the founding of Republic of China, which established Mandarin as the official tongue.
Before the 20th century, Old-style private Chinese school known as sīshú (私塾) in Singapore generally used Chinese dialects (such as Hokkien, Teochew, Cantonese, etc.) as their medium of instruction to teach the Chinese classics and Classical Chinese. Singapore's first Mandarin-medium classes appeared around 1898, but Chinese dialects school continued to exist till 1909.
After the May Fourth Movement in 1919, under the influence from the New Culture Movement in China, the local Old-style private Chinese school in Singapore began to follow the new education reform as advocated by China's reformist. Thus, the language of medium in school changed from other Chinese dialects to Mandarin Chinese or Guóyǔ (國語). This marked the beginning of the development of Singaporean Mandarin.
However, at that time, there was no colloquial Standard Mandarin which could be used as a basis for learning Mandarin. In addition, during the early 1900s, most Mandarin teachers in Singapore came from southern parts of China, and had strong southern Chinese accents. Thus, the pronunciations in Singaporean Mandarin were under heavy influence from China's southern Chinese dialects; for instance, there were no erhua (兒化), light tone (輕聲), and no sentences had the heavy or light accent (輕重音) etc.
In 1919, a group of scholars in China published the Dictionary of National Pronunciation. This was one of the earliest dictionaries on modern Mandarin based on the Beijing dialect of Mandarin. However, the dictionary was a mix of northern Chinese sounds and southern Chinese rhymes, which included a 5th tone; the checked tone (rù shēng or 入聲). It wasn't until 1932 that a dictionary called the Vocabulary of National Pronunciation for Everyday Use, which was based truly on the Beijing dialect, was published. This dictionary standardized the form of Mandarin taught in Singapore's Chinese schools. During the 1930s and 1940s, new immigrants from China, known as xīn kè (新客) helped to established more Chinese schools in Singapore, increasing the propagation of Mandarin Chinese in Singapore. The name of Mandarin in Singapore was eventually changed from Guoyu (國語, i.e. National Language) to Huayu (華語, i.e. Chinese Language).
From the 1950s till 1970, as most of the Chinese books and literature came from Taiwan or Hong Kong, Singaporean Mandarin was subjected to influence from Taiwanese Mandarin. After the 1980s, due to the open door policy of mainland China, Singapore began to have greater contact with mainland China. Consequently, Singapore began to adopt Hanyu Pinyin and changed its writing system from Traditional Chinese characters to Simplified Chinese characters. After the Speak Mandarin Campaign in 1979, the Promote Mandarin Council started research on Mandarin standardization based on case studies in mainland China and Taiwan.
After the 1990s, due to greater contacts between Singapore and mainland China, there was a large influx of new Chinese migrants from mainland China. Consequently, much of the lexicon of Putonghua found its way into Singaporean Mandarin. Today's Singaporean Mandarin continues to be subjected to influence from Putonghua, Taiwanese Mandarin and Hong Kong's Cantonese.
Major differences between Singaporean Mandarin Huayu (华语) and Putonghua lie in the vocabulary used. A lack of contact between Singapore and China from 1949 to 1979 meant that Singaporean Mandarin had to invent its own new words to suit the local Singapore environment, as well as borrow certain words from Taiwanese Mandarin or some other Chinese dialects that were spoken in Singapore. As a result, new Mandarin words proprietary to Singapore were invented.
The Dictionary of Contemporary Singaporean Mandarin Vocabulary (时代新加坡特有词语词典) edited by Wang Huidi (汪惠迪) listed 1560 uniquely local Singaporean Mandarin words, which are not used in Mainland China or Taiwan.
There are many new terms that are specific to living in Singapore (though some also apply in neighbouring Malaysia). These words were either translated from Malay and Chinese dialects (or invented) as there were no equivalent words in Putonghua. Some of the words are taken from the Hokkien translation of Malay words. Words translated from Malay into Hokkien include kampung, pasar (巴刹, English 'market'). This explains the uniquely Singapore Mandarin words.
There are some words used in Singaporean Mandarin that have the same meaning with other words used in Putonghua or Taiwanese Mandarin:
There are certain similar words used in both Singaporean Mandarin and Putonghua, but have different meanings and usage.
There is quite a number of specific words used in Singaporean Mandarin that originate from other Chinese dialects such as Hokkien, Teochew, Cantonese etc. These dialects have also influenced the pronunciation in Singaporean Mandarin.
There is quite a number of specific words used in Singaporean Mandarin that originate or are transliterated from English. These words appear in written Singaporean Mandarin.
In terms of standard written Mandarin in Singapore, the Singaporean Mandarin grammar is almost similar to that of Putonghua. However, the grammar of colloquial Singaporean Mandarin can differ from that of Putonghua as a result of influence from other varieties of Chinese, classical Chinese and English. Some of the local Singaporean Mandarin writings do exhibit certain local Singaporean features.
When speaking of minutes, colloquial Singaporean Mandarin typically uses the word 字 (zì), which represents a unit of 5 minutes. When referring to a number of hours (duration), 钟头 (zhōngtóu) is used instead of 小时 (xiǎoshí). For instance:
5 minutes: 一个字 (yī gè zì)
10 minutes: 两个字 (liǎng gè zì)
15 minutes: 三个字 (sān gè zì)
45 minutes: 九个字 (jiǔ gè zì)
1 hour: 一个钟头 (yī gè zhōng tóu)
The use of zì (字) originates from Hokkien (jī or lī), Cantonese or Classical Chinese. Its origin came from the ancient Chinese units of measuring time. In ancient Chinese time measurement, hours were measured in terms of shíchén (时辰), equivalent to 2 hours while minutes were measured in terms of kè (刻), equivalent to 15 minutes. Each kè was in turn divided into 3 zì (equivalent to 5 minutes). For instance, 7:45 pm is:七 点 九 个 字
or 七 点 九
。 (Singaporean Mandarin)
七 点 四十 五 分
。 (Standard Mandarin)
As a result of Hokkien influence, colloquial Singaporean Mandarin typically uses the word "拜-" (bài) to refer to the days of the week, in lieu of Standard Mandarin "星期-" (xīngqí-). For instance:
Monday: 拜一 (bàiyī
) instead of 星期一 (xīngqíyī
Sunday: 礼拜天 (lǐbàitiān
) or simply 礼拜 (lǐbài
) instead of 星期日 (xīngqírì
A week: 一个礼拜 (yī gè lǐbài
) instead of the more formal 一个星期 (yī gè xīngqí
Both 拜 (bài) and 礼拜 (lǐbài) originate from Hokkien pài and lé-pài respectively.
In colloquial Singaporean Mandarin, 万 (wàn), referring to a "ten thousand" is often used but 十千 (shí qiān), referring to "ten thousands" is occasionally used too. This usage was influenced by English numbering system.
而已 (éryǐ) is more common in colloquial Singaporean Mandarin than in Standard Mandarin, which uses 罢了 (bàle). The same is true for Taiwanese Mandarin. While 而已 (éryǐ) is also used in colloquial Mandarin within Mainland China, but perhaps to a lesser extent as compared to Singapore or Taiwan. For example:
Translation: only like this / only this kind!这 样子 而已 啊
！ (Singaporean Mandarin)
这 样子 罢了
！ (Standard Mandarin)
In colloquial Singaporean Mandarin, the word "啊" is often used in response to a sentence as an affirmative. It is often pronounced as /ã/ (with a nasal tone) instead of 'ah' or 'a' (in Putonghua). Putonghua tends to use "是(的)/对啊/对呀" (shì (de)/duì a/duì ya)， "哦" (ó), "噢" (ō), "嗯" (en/ng) to mean "yes, it is".
In Singaporean Mandarin, there is a greater tendency to use the word cái "才" (then) in lieu of Standard Mandarin zài "再" (then), which indicates a future action after the completion of a prior action. For instance:
The tax declaration form has incidentally been used up, plan to obtain it on the plane and then fill it up
Don't say anything now; say it only after he's finished his meal
In Standard Mandarin, one typical way of turning certain nouns into adjectives, such as 兴趣 (xìngqù, 'interest'), 营养 (yíngyǎng, 'nutrition'), 礼貌 (lǐmào, 'politeness'), is to prefix the word "有" (yǒu) at the front of these nouns.
兴趣" (hěn yǒu
xìngqù - very interested
营养" (hěn yǒu
yíngyǎng - very nutritious
礼貌" (hěn yǒu
lǐmào - very polite
The word 有 (yǒu) is sometimes omitted in writing.
In Singaporean Mandarin, verbs preceding "一下" may be reduplicated, unlike in Putonghua. In Putonghua grammar, the use of the word "一下(儿)" (yīxià(r)) is often put at the back of a verb to indicate that the action (as indicated by the verb) is momentary.
For example:想 想 一下
"Think for a while."
研究 研究 一下
。 (Singaporean Mandarin)
"Research for a little while."
Singaporean colloquial Mandarin tends to use 被 (bèi) more commonly than Putonghua, mainly due to influence from English.
Compare the following:
"The road has been repaired"
马路 被 修好 了
马路 已 修好 了
Sometimes, colloquial Singaporean Mandarin might use intransitive verbs as transitive.
"進步" (improve) is an intransitive verb. But as influenced by the use of English, "I want to improve my Chinese" is sometimes said in Singaporean Mandarin as "我要進步我的華語". The standard Mandarin should be "我要讓我的華語進步"
The phonology and tones of Singaporean Mandarin are generally similar to that of Standard Mandarin. There are 4 tones similar to those in Standard Mandarin, but Erhua (-er finals) and the neutral tone (轻声, lit. 'light tone') are generally absent in Singaporean Mandarin.
The earliest development of Singaporean Mandarin includes the old Beijing phonology (老國音), followed by new Beijing phonology (新國音) and then finally Hanyu Pinyin of mainland China. In its initial development, Singaporean Mandarin was highly influenced by the Ru sheng 入声 (checked tones or "5th tones") from other Chinese varieties. As such, the 5th tone did appear in earlier Singaporean Mandarin. The characteristics of the 5th tone are as follows:It is a falling tone. The common tone letter is 51, but sometimes it is 53.
The tone does not last long. It feels more like an 'interrupted stop'.
The syllable which carries the tone had a glottal stop; sometimes the final sounds to be clear, but sometimes, it does not sound very clear. This glottal stop not only interrupts the lasting period of the tone, but also makes the start of consonant stronger, thus nearing itself more to a voiced consonant.
However, due to years of development, prevalence of the 5th tone in Singaporean Mandarin is declining. This means that the Singaporean Mandarin had inclined itself towards Standard Chinese.
Minor differences occur between the phonology (tones) of Standard Singaporean Mandarin and other forms of Standard Mandarin.
Just like any languages in Singapore, Singaporean Mandarin is subjected to influences from other languages spoken in Singapore.
Singaporean Hokkien is the largest non-Mandarin Chinese variety spoken in Singapore. The natural tendency of Hokkien-speakers to use the Hokkien way to speak Mandarin has influenced to a large degree the colloquial Mandarin spoken in Singapore. The colloquial Hokkien-style Singaporean Mandarin is commonly heard in Singapore, and can differ from Putonghua in terms of vocabulary, phonology and grammar.
Besides Singaporean Hokkien, Mandarin is also subjected to influence coming from other dialects such as Teochew, Cantonese, Hakka, and Hainanese, as well as English
In Singapore, simplified Chinese characters are the official standard used in all official publications as well as the government-controlled press. While simplified Chinese characters are taught exclusively in schools, the government does not officially discourage the use of traditional characters, as the government of the People's Republic of China does. Therefore, many shop signs continue to be written in traditional characters. Menus in hawker centres and coffeeshops are also usually written in simplified characters.
As there is no restriction on the use of traditional characters in the mass media, television programmes, books, magazines and music CDs that have been imported from Hong Kong or Taiwan are widely available, and these almost always use traditional characters. Most karaoke discs, being imported from Hong Kong or Taiwan, have song lyrics in traditional characters as well. While all official publications are in simplified characters, the government still allows parents to choose whether to have their child's Chinese name registered in simplified or traditional characters though most choose the former.
Singapore had undergone three successive rounds of character simplification, eventually arriving at the same set of simplified characters as mainland China. Before 1969, Singapore generally used traditional characters. From 1969 to 1976, the Ministry of education launched its own version of simplified characters, which differed from that of mainland China. But after 1976, Singapore fully adopted the simplified characters of mainland China.
Before the May Fourth Movement in 1919, Singapore Chinese writings were based on Classical Chinese. After the May Fourth Movement, under the influence from the New Culture Movement in China, the Chinese schools in Singapore began to follow the new education reform as advocated by China's reformist and changed the writing style to Vernacular Chinese.
Singapore's Chinese newspaper had witnessed this change from Classical Chinese to Vernacular Chinese. Lat Pau (叻報), one of the earliest Chinese newspaper, was still using Classical Chinese in 1890. By 1917, it continued to use Classical Chinese. But by 1925, it had changed to Vernacular Chinese. After this, all Chinese newspaper in Singapore used Vernacular Chinese.
Singaporean Chinese literature was once part of Malaysia Chinese literature. It originated from the New Culture Movement in China. In 1965, Singapore was expelled from Malaysia. Since then, Singaporean Chinese literature started to develop independently.
The development of the Singaporean Chinese literature reflected the history of immigrants in Singapore. When many Chinese writers from Southern China arrived in Singapore, they established Chinese schools, newspaper press etc. They contributed a lot to the development of Chinese literature in Singapore. In 1919, the New National Magazine 《新國民雜誌》 marked the birth of Malaysia Chinese literature. In those days, the migrant's mindset was still deeply entrenched. Many of the literary works were influenced by New Culture Movement. Most of the literary works that were published originated from the works of writers in China.
In 1925, the presence of literary supplements such as "Southern Wind" 《南風》, "Light of Singapore 《星光》" brought a new dimension to Malaysia Chinese literature. They differed from past magazine that relied on writers from China. It was at this time, that the thoughts of Nanyang began to surface the corner. In January 1927, the "Deserted Island" 《荒島》 published in the "New National Press" 《新國民日報》 clearly reflected the features of Nanyang in its literary work. The "localization" literary works mostly described the lifestyle in Nanyang, the people and their feelings in Nayang. The quality of Singaporean Chinese literature had greatly improved.
In 1937, the outbreak of Second Sino-Japanese War raised the anti-Japanese sentiment. The literature during these times reflected the missions of national salvation against the Japanese. This brought a halt to the localization movement and in turn re-enacted a sense of Chinese nationalism amongst the migrants in Singapore. From 1941 till 1945, during the Japanese occupation of Singapore, the activities for Malaysia Chinese literature was halted.
After the war, people in Singapore began to have a sense of belonging to this piece of land, and they also had a desire for freedom and democracy. During this times, Malaysia Chinese literature was inclined towards Anti-colonialism. With new arts and thoughts, between 1947 - 1948, there was a debate between "Unique Malaysian Literary Art" and "literary thoughts of migrants". The results from these debated led to a conclusion that the Malaysia Chinese literature was going to develop on its own independently. The "localization" clearly marked the mature development of Malaysia Chinese literature.
During the 1950s, writers from Malaysia and Singapore drew their literary works mostly from the local lifestyle and events that reflected the lifestyle from all areas of the society. They also included many Chinese-dialect proverbs in their works. They created unique works of literature. Writers including Miao Xiu (苗秀), Yao Zhi (姚紫), Zhao Rong (趙戎), Shu Shu (絮絮) etc. represented the writers of "localization" works.
On 9 August 1965, Singapore became independent. Malaysia Chinese literature was now divided into Malaysian Chinese literature and Singaporean Chinese literature.
From 1960 to 1970, the number of literary works published began to increase. Locally-born and locally bred Singaporean writers became the new writers in the stage of Singaporean Chinese literature. Their works were mainly based on the views of Singaporeans towards issues or context happening in Singapore. They continued the "localization" movement and brought the Singaporean Chinese literature to a new dimension.
After the Speak Mandarin Campaign in 1979, all Chinese TV programs using other Chinese varieties were replaced by Mandarin programs. Singapore also started to broadcast Mandopop. The birth of Xinyao during the 1980s injected a new life to the creation of lyrics for Mandopop in Singapore. Singapore radios also began to have Singapore Billboards (新加坡龍虎榜) for Mandopop. This allowed Singapore to be developed into a major center for Mandopop in South East Asia. There were also many Mandopop artist coming from Singapore such as Stefanie Sun, JJ Lin, Tanya Chua, etc.
At the moment, there are 2 television channels with news bulletin programmes in Chinese.
Language plays an important role in Singapore politics. Up to today, it is still important for politicians in Singapore to be able to speak their mother tongue (and even other dialects) fluently in order to reach out to the multilingual community in Singapore.
According to observation, if an election candidate is able to speak fluent Mandarin, his chance of winning an election is higher during the election campaign. As such, most election candidates will try to use Mandarin in campaign speeches in order to attract Mandarin-speaking voters.
Some Chinese elites in Singapore had criticized that the Mandarin standard of Chinese Singaporean has dropped greatly due to the closure or subsequent conversion of Chinese-medium schools to English-medium schools in the 1980s. Others attributed the drop in standard to the lack of learning Chinese literature in schools.
Ever since 1965 when Singapore became independent, bilingual policy has become the pillar of Singapore's education. The first language of Singapore was English, while Mandarin was chosen as the "mother tongue" of Chinese Singaporean. Generally, most Chinese Singaporean can speak Mandarin fluently, but are usually weaker in writing Chinese.
In recent years, with the subsequent economic rise of mainland China and a transition from a world factory to a world market, Mandarin has become the 2nd most influential language after English. Besides transmitting Chinese culture values, many people began to realize the economic values of Mandarin, which has raised the interests of local and working professionals in learning Mandarin.
The original mother tongue of Chinese Singaporeans other Chinese varieties, such as Hokkien, Teochew or Cantonese. This was certainly true when southern Chinese migrants came to Singapore. However, with the Speak Mandarin campaign, the Chinese Singaporean's home language experienced a change from these other varieties to Mandarin, and later from Mandarin to English. Mandarin was designated as the mother tongue of Chinese Singaporean in Singapore.
In recent years, there has been an increasing awareness of dialect preservation, due to the great decline in the use of other Chinese dialects in Singapore. Most young Chinese Singaporeans were unable to speak these Chinese dialects effectively and were thus unable to communicate with their grandparents, who are more used to speaking these dialects. This has caused a generation gap. As such, there is a minority of Singaporeans working to help preserve or spread these Chinese dialects in Singapore.
Under the bilingual policy of Singapore, Chinese Singaporeans had a greater chance to speak and use English especially in school and at work. But this can cause a relative limitation in the use of mother tongue. Generally speaking, most Chinese Singaporeans are able to speak Mandarin, and also read newspapers in it, but only a minority is able to use it at a professional level such as academic research, literary writing etc. In the endeavor to use English, some Chinese Singaporeans even distanced themselves from the mother tongue culture, resulting in the erosion of Chinese culture in Singapore.