Singaporean Mandarin
Xīnjiāpō Huáyǔ
Native toSingapore
Native speakers
2.0 million (2016 census)[1]
L2 speakers: 880,000 (no date)[1]
Simplified Chinese characters (de jure)
Traditional Chinese characters
Official status
Official language in
Regulated byPromote Mandarin Council
Singapore Centre for Chinese Language
Language codes
ISO 639-3
ISO 639-6huyu (Huayu)
Linguasphere79-AAA-bbb(=standard) or 79-AAA-bbd-(part)(=colloquial)

Singaporean Mandarin
Traditional Chinese新加坡華語
Simplified Chinese新加坡华语
Literal meaningSingapore Chinese Language

Singaporean Mandarin (simplified Chinese: 新加坡华语; traditional Chinese: 新加坡華語; pinyin: Xīnjiāpō Huáyǔ) is a variety of Mandarin Chinese spoken natively in Singapore. It is one of the four official languages of Singapore along with English, Malay and Tamil.

Singaporean Mandarin can be classified into two distinct Mandarin dialects: Standard Singaporean Mandarin and Colloquial Singaporean Mandarin (Singdarin). These two dialects are easily distinguishable to a person proficient in Mandarin. The standard is the register of Mandarin used in more formal occasions in Singapore and can be heard on television and radio. It is also the form taught in all Singapore government schools, while the colloquial is the form used by the general populace in informal situations. Singaporean Mandarin has many unique loanwords from other Chinese dialects (such as Hokkien) as well as Singapore's other official languages of English, Malay and Tamil.

Singaporean Mandarin became widely spoken by the Chinese community in Singapore after the Speak Mandarin Campaign by the government in 1979. It is today considered to be the second most commonly spoken language in Singapore, after English. Due to its widespread usage, Singaporean Mandarin has replaced Singaporean Hokkien as the lingua franca of the Chinese community today.[2] Following the economic rise of China in the 21st century, Mandarin proficiency has been viewed with greater importance and has risen in terms of prominence in Singapore.[3] In 2010, there was an increase in the number of Singaporean population who know two or more languages.[4]

With increasing influx of mainland Chinese from mainland China to Singapore since the beginning of the 21st century,[5] Singaporean Mandarin has gradually inclined itself towards Standard Chinese, although there are unique differences that have been retained.[6] Currently, Singaporean Mandarin continues to develop, with major influences coming from Standard Chinese, Taiwanese Mandarin and English. Since the 2010s, the percentage of Singaporean Chinese speaking Mandarin at home has begun to decrease, in favour of Singaporean English.


Standard Singaporean Mandarin

Main articles: Standard Singaporean Mandarin and Standard Mandarin

The official standard of Mandarin of Republic of Singapore, known in Singapore as Huayu (華語/华语), is based on the phonology of the Beijing dialect and the grammar of Vernacular Chinese. It 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 more similar to Guoyu in terms of phonology, vocabulary and grammar than Putonghua. Small differences only appear in the form of lexicon.

Colloquial Singaporean Mandarin

Main article: Singdarin

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 (Singdarin) and Standard Chinese, and a non-Singaporean Chinese speaking individual may find it difficult to understand Singdarin.

Features of Singaporean Mandarin

Chinese textbook used in Singapore's Chinese school in 1911. The textbook came from the Republic of China and was in Classical Chinese.[7]

Singaporean Mandarin has preserved the vocabulary and certain other features from Classical Chinese and early Vernacular Chinese (早期白話; zǎoqī báihuà), dating back from the early 20th century. Since Singapore's Chinese medium 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 many older forms of pronunciations. In addition, during its initial development, Singaporean Mandarin was also influenced by the other Chinese varieties 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. As a result, 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 although not to a huge extent.



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 Malayan and European merchants began to come to Singapore. Because they required large number of labourers, coolies were brought in from China to Singapore.

Large numbers of Chinese labourers also 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.

Development of Mandarin in Singapore

Before the 20th century, old-style private Chinese schools, 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 dialect schools continued to exist up to 1909.[8]

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 reformists. 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.

The Kuomintang-led government of China sent teachers and textbooks to Singapore, strongly promoting the use of Mandarin despite British attempts to discourage Mandarin; by the 1920s, all Chinese schools in Singapore had switched to Mandarin.[9]

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 influenced from Putonghua, as well as Taiwanese Mandarin and Hong Kong's Cantonese.

Differences from Standard Mandarin

Lexicon (Vocabulary)

Major differences between Singaporean Mandarin Huayu (華語) 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 new words to fit the local context, as well as borrow words from Taiwanese Mandarin or other Chinese varieties that were spoken in Singapore. As a result, new Mandarin words proprietary to Singapore were invented.

The Dictionary of Contemporary Singaporean Mandarin Vocabulary (時代新加坡特有詞語詞典) edited by Wang Huidi (汪惠迪) listed 1,560 uniquely local Singaporean Mandarin words, which are not used in mainland China or Taiwan.[10]

Unique Singaporean Mandarin words

There are many new terms that are specific to living in Singapore. 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.

Traditional Chinese Simplified Chinese Pinyin Definition
紅毛丹 红毛丹 hóngmáodān rambutan (a type of Southeast Asian fruit)
奎籠 奎笼 kuílóng kelong (a place for fishing)
甘榜 甘榜 gānbǎng kampung (village)
沙爹 沙爹 shādiē Satay (a type of Singaporean Malay food)
囉㘃/羅惹 罗惹 luōrě Rojak (a type of Singaporean Malay food)
清湯 清汤 qīngtāng clear soup or broth
固本 固本 gùběn coupon. Also used for car parking
組屋 组屋 zǔwū flat built by Housing Development Board
擁車證 拥车证 yōngchēzhèng car ownership-license
保健儲蓄 保健储蓄 bǎo jiàn chǔ xǜ medisave (medical saving)
周末用車 周末用车 zhōu mò yòng chē Weekend Car (a classification of car ownership in Singapore)
財路 财路 cáilù "Giro" (a system of payment through direct bank account deduction in Singapore)
巴刹 巴刹 bāshā "bazaar" or market or pasar (Malay)
民衆俱樂部 /
民众俱乐部 /
mín zhòng jù lè bù
lián luò suǒ
community centre
叻沙 叻沙 lāsā laksa (a type of curry noodle)
垃圾蟲 垃圾虫 lèsè chóng/lājī chóng "litter-bug"; someone who violated the law for littering
排屋 排屋 páiwū terrace house
建國一代 建国一代 jiàn guó yí dài Pioneer generation; to describe the early builders of Singapore

Same meaning, different words

There are some words used in Singaporean Mandarin that have the same meaning with other words used in Putonghua or Taiwanese Mandarin:

Chinese Characters Pinyin Definition Putonghua Guoyu Notes
樂齡 lè líng old people 老龄
lǎo líng
nián zhǎng zhě
三文治 sān wén zhì sandwich 三明治
sān míng zhì
From English "sandwich" via Cantonese 三文治 sāam màhn jih
德士 déshì taxi 出租车
compare Cantonese 的士 dīk sih (from English "taxi").
貨櫃 huò guì container 集装箱
jí zhuāng xiāng
huò guì
火患 huǒ huàn fire 火災
huǒ zāi
huǒ jǐng
火災 is also used in Singapore and Taiwan.
nài durable/lasting 耐用
nài yòng
nài yòng
From classical Chinese. 耐用 is also used in Singapore.
駕車 jià chē drive a car 开车
kāi chē
kāi chē
The word 駕 originates from classical Chinese. 開車 is also used in Singapore. 駕車 has also found its way into Putonghua vocabulary.
首介 shǒu gè first 第一个
dì yī gè
第一個 is also used in Singapore. 首介 has also found its way into Putonghua vocabulary.
公眾 gōng zhòng public mass 群众
qún zhòng
qún zhòng
公眾 has also found its way into Putonghua vocabulary. 群眾 is also used in Singapore, as in 群眾大會 (rally).
群體 qún tǐ organized group 集体
jí tǐ
jí tǐ
群体 has also found its way into Putonghua and Taiwanese Mandarin vocabulary. 集體 is also used in Singapore, more commonly as an adverb (en masse).
第一時間 dì yī shí jiān immediately 立刻
lì kè
lì jí
Literally 'the first timing'. Both 立刻 and 立即 are used in Singapore as well.
一頭霧水 yī tóu wù shǔi blurred and confused 晕头转向
yūn tóu zhǔan xìang
hú lǐ hú tú
the idiom 一頭霧水 has also found its way into Putonghua vocabulary.
碼頭 mǎ tóu dock 港口
gǎng kǒu
gǎng kǒu
From Hokkien/Cantonese, Hokkien: bé-thâu, Cantonese: ma tau. 頭 may carry a neutral tone in Mandarin, thus the phrase becoming mǎtou.
領袖 lǐng xiù leader 领导
lǐng dǎo
lǐng xiù
領袖 is sometimes used in Singapore, more commonly as a verb (to lead).
手提電話 shǒu tí diàn huà mobile phone 手机
shǒu jī
xíng dòng diàn huà/shǒu jī
手機 is also used in Singaporean Mandarin, although less frequently.
客工 kè gōng foreign worker 外勞
wài láo
外勞 also appears in some Singaporean Chinese writing (e.g. Lianhe Zaobao)
農夫 nóng fū farmer 农民
nóng mín
xiāng mín
農夫 was an older Chinese term used in China before 1949, but continues to be used in Singapore.
巴士 bā shì bus 公交车
gōng jiāo chē
gōng chē/bā shì
From Cantonese.
電單車 diàn dān chē motorcycle 摩托车
mó tuō chē
jī chē
From Cantonese.
羅裡 luó lǐ lorry 卡车
kǎ chē
huò chē
From English word "lorry".
角頭 jiǎo tóu corner 角落
jiǎo luò
jiǎo luò
From Hokkien kak-thâu. Note that in Putonghua, 角頭 actually means "chieftain of mafia/secret society" instead of "corner". Occasionally, the phrase carries the Putonghua meaning in Singaporean context, so the latter may be clarified with a postposition like 間 jiān (in between), 内 nèi or 里 (both mean 'in(side)').
散錢 sǎn qián small change 零钱
líng qián
líng qián
Originates from classical Chinese. 散錢 is also used in Putonghua, while 零錢 is sometimes used in Singapore, especially in writing.

Same word, different meanings

There are certain similar words used in both Singaporean Mandarin and Putonghua, but have different meanings and usage.

Chinese Characters Pinyin Meaning in Huayu Meaning in Putonghua Notes
小姐 xiǎo jiě Miss Prostitute or lady involved in sex trade 小姐 is used to refer to a lady or waitress in restaurant in Singaporean Mandarin. However, in Putonghua, 小姐 has negative connotation in the northern provinces, used mainly to refer to prostitutes. 女士 or 服务员 tends to be more commonly used in Putonghua, instead of 小姐. In Taiwan it is used the same way as in Singapore.
對付 duì fù fight against/counteract take action to deal with a person or problem 對付 is used to refer in negative connotation in Singaporean Mandarin to mean fight or counteract e.g. against a criminal or terrorist. But in Putonghua, it can have positive connotation to mean take action dealing with a person or problem.
dǒng know understand 懂 is commonly used in Singaporean Mandarin to mean "know" instead of 知道 (Putonghua). 懂 means 'understand' in Putonghua.
計算機 jì suàn jī calculator computer 計算機 is commonly used in Singaporean Mandarin to mean 'calculator'. In PRC, the word 计算器 is used instead to refer to 'calculator'. 計算機 means computer in PRC, although in the recent years, the word 电脑 for computer has also become more popular in PRC.

Loanwords and influence from other Sinitic languages

There is quite a number of specific words used in Singaporean Mandarin that originate from other Chinese varieties such as Hokkien, Teochew, Cantonese etc. These languages have also influenced the pronunciation in Singaporean Mandarin.

Chinese Characters Pinyin Definition Notes
阿兵哥 ā bìng gē soldiers originates from Hokkien "a-peng-ko"
怕輸 pà shū afraid to lose originates from Hokkien "kiaⁿ-su" (驚輸)
几時 jǐ shí when? originates from Hokkien "kuí-sî" (幾時) or Classical Chinese
阿公 ā gōng grandpa originates from Hokkien "a-kong"
阿嬷 ā mā grandma originates from Hokkien "a-má" (阿嬤).
阿婆 ā pó old lady originates from Hokkien "a-pô"
很顯 hěn xiǎn very boring spoken colloquially in Singaporean Mandarin instead of 無聊/ (in Standard Mandarin). The word "xian 顯" originates from Hokkien 'hián-sèng' (顯聖).
敢敢 gǎn gǎn be brave/daring spoken colloquially in Singaporean Mandarin instead of 勇敢 (in Standard Mandarin). For instance, 敢敢做介開心人(dared to be a happy person – also the title for a Mediacorp Channel 8 sitcom). The word "敢敢" originates from Hokkien "káⁿ-káⁿ" (daring)
古早 gǔ zǎo ancient originates from Hokkien "kó͘-chá". Appears in some Singaporean Chinese writing (e.g. Hawker Centre) instead of 古時候 (in Standard Mandarin).
做工 zuò gōng work originates from Hokkien "cho-kang", which means 'work'. 做工 is often spoken colloquially in Singaporean Mandarin instead of 工作/上班 (in Standard Mandarin). In Standard Mandarin, 做工 usually means doing work that involves manual hard labour.
shāo hot originates from Hokkien "sio", which means 'hot'. 燒 is often spoken colloquially in Singaporean Mandarin instead of 热/燙 (in Standard Mandarin).
什麼來的 shěn mè lái dě What is this? originates from Hokkien "siáⁿ-mi̍h lâi ê" (啥物來的). 什麼來的 is often spoken colloquially in Singaporean Mandarin instead of the more formal 這是什麼 (in Standard Mandarin)
起價 qǐ jià price increase originates from Hokkien "khí-kè". 起價 is often spoken colloquially in Singaporean Mandarin instead of the more formal 漲價 (in Standard Mandarin)
做莫 zuò mò Why? / Doing what? originates from Cantonese 做咩 zou me. 做莫 (or 做麼) is often spoken colloquially in Singaporean Mandarin instead of the more formal 爲什麽/做什麽 (in Standard Mandarin)
哇佬 wà láo man! Corruption of a vulgar Hokkien word
是乜 shì miē is it? The word 乜 mēh, more often rendered as 咩 (see above), originates from Cantonese and is used in colloquial Singaporean Mandarin. Compare Standard Mandarin 是嗎 shì ma.
大耳窿 dà ěr lóng loan shark originates from Cantonese. (compare Guoyu: 地下錢莊)
搭客 dā kè passenger originates from Cantonese. (compare Putonghua: 乘客)
擺烏龍 bǎi wū lóng misunderstanding/make mistakes/confusion originates from Cantonese.
好臉 hào liàn boastful, likes to show off originates from Teochew "ho lien" (好臉). Other than "likes to show off", the term can also describes someone who has a strong pride, i.e. cares about not losing face. (compare Putonghua: 爱出风头, Guoyu: 愛現)
粿条 guǒ tiáo a type of flat noodle originates from Teochew "kuey tiao" (粿條). Compare Cantonese "hor fan" (河粉)

Loanwords and English influences

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.

Chinese Characters Pinyin Definition Notes
摩多西卡 móduōxīkǎ Motorcycle Both 電單車 and 摩托車 are now more frequently used in Singaporean Mandarin
巴仙 bāxiān Percentage 百分比 is standard


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 (), which represents a unit of 5 minutes. When referring to a number of hours (duration), 鐘頭 (zhōngtóu) is used instead of 小時 (xiǎoshí). For instance:

5 minutes: 一個字 (yī gè zì)
10 minutes: 兩個字 (liǎng gè zì)
15 minutes: 三個字 (sān gè zì)
45 minutes: 九個字 (jiǔ gè zì)
1 hour: 一個鐘頭 (yī gè zhōng tóu)

The use of (字) originates from Hokkien ( or ), 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 (時辰), equivalent to 2 hours while minutes were measured in terms of (刻), equivalent to 15 minutes. Each was in turn divided into 3 (equivalent to 5 minutes). For instance, 7:45 pm is:

() (diǎn) (jiǔ) () () or () (diǎn) (jiǔ)。 (Singaporean Mandarin)
() (diǎn) 四十(sìshí) () (fēn)。 (Standard Mandarin)

Days of the week

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: 一個禮拜 (yī gè lǐbài) instead of the more formal 一個星期 (yī gè xīngqí)

Both 拜 (bài) and 禮拜 (lǐbài) originate from Hokkien pài and lé-pài respectively.

Large numbers

In colloquial Singaporean Mandarin, 萬 (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 and also Chinese Indonesian who frequently uses large Indonesian currency, Rp10000 (0.71 USD) and above.

Use of the word "先"

The word "先" (xiān) is often used at the end of a sentence in colloquial Singaporean Mandarin (instead of after a subject, as in Standard Mandarin), as a result of influence from Cantonese grammar. For example, take the sentence "You walk first":

() (zǒu) (xiān)。 (Singaporean Mandarin)
() (xiān) (zǒu)。 (Standard Mandarin)
(nei) (jau) (sin)。 (Cantonese)
(Note that the reverse, "你先走," is ungrammatical in spoken Cantonese.)

The use of the word "而已"

而已 (éryǐ) is more common in colloquial Singaporean Mandarin than in Standard Mandarin, which uses 罢了 (bàle). 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!

(zhè) 樣子(yàngzi) 而已(éryǐ) (a)! (Singaporean Mandarin)
(zhè) 样子(yàngzi) 罢了(bàle)! (Standard Mandarin)
(zhè) 樣子(yàngzi) 算了(suànle) (ba)! (Taiwanese Mandarin)

The use of the word "大只" "小只"

When people describe the size of animals, for example, chicken, these are used to mean 'small' 'large'. Putonghua tends to use "肥""瘦" instead. These two words are used to refer to the body frame of a person. "大只" refers to people who appear to be tall, masculine or with a large body build. "小只" is used to describe people with a small built, tiny frame.

Use of the word "啊" as an affirmative

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".

Use of the word "才" instead of "再"

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 forms have all been used up, will have to get a form on the plane then and fill it out.
Don't say anything now; say it only after he has finished his meal.

The use of the word "有"

In Standard Mandarin, one typical way of turning certain nouns into adjectives, such as 興趣 (xìngqù, 'interest'), 營養 (yíngyǎng, 'nutrition'), 禮貌 (lǐmào, 'politeness'), is to prefix the word "有" (yǒu) at the front of these nouns.

For example:

"很興趣" (hěn yǒu xìngqù – very interested)
"很營養" (hěn yǒu yíngyǎng – very nutritious)
"很禮貌" (hěn yǒu lǐmào – very polite).

The word 有 (yǒu) is sometimes omitted in writing.

Reduplication of verbs preceding "一下"

In Singaporean Mandarin, verbs preceding "一下" may be reduplicated, unlike in Putonghua. This practice is borrowed from the Malay and Indonesian method of pluralizing words. 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:

(xiǎng) (xiǎng) 一下(yīxià) 。(Singaporean Mandarin)
(xiǎng) 一下(yīxià) 。(Standard Mandarin)
Think for a while.
研究(yánjiū) 研究(yánjiū) 一下(yīxià) 。 (Singaporean Mandarin)
研究(yánjiū) 一下(yīxià) 。(Standard Mandarin)
Research for a little while.

Colloquial use of the word "被"

Singaporean Colloquial Mandarin tends to use 被 (bèi) more often than Putonghua, due to influence from English and/or Malay. It is used to express a passive verb.

Compare the following:

"The road has been repaired"
馬路(mǎlù) (bei) 修好(xiūhǎo) (le) (Singaporean Mandarin)
马路(mǎlù) () 修好(xiūhǎo) (le) (Putonghua)

Using adjective as verb

Sometimes, colloquial Singaporean Mandarin might use intransitive verbs as transitive.

For instance

"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"

Phonology and tones

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 (兒化, -er finals) and the neutral tone (輕聲, 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 (入聲, checked tones or "5th tones") from other Chinese varieties. As such, the 5th tone did appear in earlier Singaporean Mandarin.[11] The characteristics of the 5th tone are as follows:

However, due to years of putonghua influence, prevalence of the 5th tone in Singaporean Mandarin is declining.[12] 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.

Chinese character Definition Singapore Mainland China Taiwan Notes
Take a rest xiū xiūxi xiū The character 息 is pronounced with the 2nd tone in Standard Singaporean Mandarin, same as that in Taiwan. In mainland China, 息 is pronounced with a neutral tone instead.
垃圾 Rubbish lèsè/lājī lājī lèsè The pronunciation for 垃圾, which was influenced by Wu Chinese, is the same in Singapore and Taiwan where the pronunciation from before 1949 is maintained. However, due to influence from mainland China, the pronunciation is inclining itself towards Standard Chinese.
Role jiǎo jué jiǎosè/jué The pronunciation for 角色 is the same in Singapore and Taiwan where the pronunciation jiǎosè from before 1949 has been maintained. However, both juésè and jiǎosè can be used interchangeably in the Chinese-speaking world.
Include bāokuò bāokuò bāoguā/bāokuò The pronunciation for 包括 is the same in Singapore and mainland China.
血液 Blood xuěyì xuèyè/xuěyè xiěyì/xiěyè Singapore and Taiwan uses the literary pronunciation of both characters xuěyì from before 1949.

Influences from other languages in Singapore

Main article: Hokkien influence on Singaporean 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 Chinese dialects such as Teochew, Cantonese, Hakka, and Hainanese, as well as English and Malay.

Writing system

Main article: Singapore Chinese Characters

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. Therefore, many shop signs continue to use Traditional 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 the People's Republic of 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.

Chinese writing style and literature

Chinese writing style

Lat Pau 28 August 1890, used Classical Chinese
Lat Pau 8 March 1917, used Classical Chinese
Lat Pau 6 January 1925, changed to vernacular Chinese

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 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

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 Singaporean 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 Singaporean 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 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, Singaporean Chinese literature was inclined towards Anti-colonialism. With new arts and thoughts, between 1947 – 1948, there was a debate between "Unique Singaporean Literary Art" and "literary thoughts of migrants". The results from these debated led to a conclusion that the Singaporean Chinese literature was going to develop on its own independently. The "localization" clearly marked the mature development of Singaporean Chinese literature.

During the 1950s, writers from 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.

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.

Arts and entertainment


Main article: Xinyao

After the Speak Mandarin Campaign in 1979, all Chinese TV programs using other Chinese varieties were replaced by Mandarin programs.[13] 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.


Main article: Peking opera


Main article: List of films set in Singapore


Main article: Channel 8 (Singaporean TV channel)


At the moment, there are 2 television channels with news bulletin programmes in Chinese.

News Programs Aired Timing
Morning Express
Weekdays; 9.00am – 9.30am
News 8 at 1
Weekdays; 1.00pm – 1.30pm
Singapore Today
Weekends; 6.30pm – 7.00pm [Singapore:Asia]
Hello Singapore
Weekdays; 6.30pm – 7.30pm
Highlights edition: Weekdays; 7.30am – 8.00am
News Tonight
Daily; 10.00pm – 10.30pm (Channel 8, live)
Daily; 11.00pm – 11.30pm (Channel U, recorded)
Daily; 7.00am – 7.30am (Channel 8, encore)
Runtime may be extended by at least 15 minutes due to Parliament highlights or special events such as the Olympics
Former News Programs Replaced Programs
News Club @ 7 週末新聞俱樂部
News Jab @ 9 9点新闻
News 8 at 10 10點新聞
News World @ 11 11點新聞
News Tonight 晚間新聞
Good Morning Singapore 早安您好 Morning Express 晨光第一線



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, an election candidate who is able to speak fluent Mandarin has a higher chance of winning an election. As such, most election candidates will try to use Mandarin in campaign speeches in order to attract Mandarin-speaking voters.[14]

Singaporean Mandarin Standard

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.[15]

Influence of Mainland China's economic rise on Singapore

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.[16]

Changes in mother tongue and dialect preservation

The native mother tongue of Chinese Singaporeans are of various non-mandarin 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, Chinese Singaporeans were encouraged to change their home language from these other varieties to Mandarin, and then later from Mandarin to English. Mandarin was designated as the "mother tongue" of all Chinese Singaporeans in Singapore and all other native Chinese varieties were reduced to the "dialect" status, with no official recognition as a proper language.

In recent years, however, there has been an increasing awareness of topolect preservation, due to the great decline in the use of other Chinese varieties in Singapore. Most young Chinese Singaporeans were unable to speak these languages effectively and were thus unable to communicate with their grandparents, who are more fluent in them. This has caused a language barrier between generations. As such, there is a minority of Singaporeans working to help preserve or spread these forgotten languages in Singapore.

Language policy and culture

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.[17]



Frequency (FM) TRP (kW) Station RDS Language Genre Opening date
93.3 MHz 6 Mediacorp YES 933 YES_933_ Mandarin Chinese Top 40 (CHR) (Mandopop/K-pop) 1 January 1990; 34 years ago (1 January 1990)
95.8 MHz 10 Mediacorp Capital 958 CAPTL958 Mandarin Chinese Classic hits (C-pop)
1 March 1937; 86 years ago (1 March 1937) (under British Malaya Broadcasting Corporation)
97.2 MHz 6 Mediacorp Love 972 LOVE_972 Mandarin Chinese Adult contemporary (Mandopop)
23 September 1994; 29 years ago (23 September 1994)

See also



  1. ^ a b Mandarin Chinese (Singapore) at Ethnologue (25th ed., 2022) Closed access icon
  2. ^ Leong Koon Chan. "Envisioning Chinese Identity and Multiracialism in Singapore". Retrieved 14 February 2011.
  3. ^ "RPT-FEATURE-Eyeing China, Singapore sees Mandarin as its future". Reuters. 16 September 2009. Retrieved 14 February 2011.
  5. ^ 中国新闻网 (China News Site). "探讨新加坡人与中国新移民:接纳与融入间的对视(An insight into Singaporean and New Chinese immigrants: receiving and assimilation)" (in Chinese). Retrieved 15 August 2013.
  6. ^ 中国新闻网(China News Site). "新加坡内阁资政:新加坡华语尽量向普通话靠拢(Lee Kuan Yew: Singaporean Mandarin should incline itself towards Putonghua)" (in Chinese). Retrieved 15 August 2013.
  7. ^ Bukit Brown: Our Roots, Our Heritage
  8. ^ 洪鎌德◎台大國發所教授 (Hon Liande). "新加坡的語言政策(Singapore's language policy)" (in Chinese). National Taiwan University. Retrieved 21 August 2013.
  9. ^ Henning Klöter, Mårten Söderblom Saarela (2020). Language Diversity in the Sinophone World Historical Trajectories, Language Planning, and Multilingual Practices. Routledge. p. 211. ISBN 9781003049890.
  10. ^ 《时代新加坡特有词语词典》 (Dictionary of Contemporary Singaporean Mandarin Vocabulary) (in Chinese). 新加坡联邦出版社出版. 1999.
  11. ^ Chen, Chung-Yu (January 1983). "A Fifth Tone in the Mandarin spoken in Singapore". Journal of Chinese Linguistics. Chinese University Press. 11 (1): 92–119. JSTOR 23757822.
  12. ^ Lee, Leslie (2010). "The Tonal System of Singapore Mandarin" (PDF). In Lauren Eby Clemens and Chi-Ming Louis Liu (ed.). Proceedings of the 22nd North American Conference on Chinese Linguistics and the 18th International Conference on Chinese Linguistics. Vol. 1. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University. pp. 345–362.
  13. ^ Welch, Anthony R. Freebody, Peter. (1993). Knowledge, Culture and Power. Routledge Publishing. ISBN 1-85000-833-7.((cite book)): CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  14. ^ 吴元华 Wu Yuanhua. "论新加坡华语文的"政治价值"(About the political values of Mandarin)" (in Chinese). Retrieved 28 August 2013.
  15. ^ 吳英成 (Wu Yincheng). "新加坡雙語教育政策的沿革與新機遇 (Singapore's bilingual education and new opportunity)" (PDF) (in Chinese). Nanyang Technological University Institute of Education. Retrieved 28 August 2013.
  16. ^ 吳英成 (Wu Yingchen). "新加坡雙語教育政策的沿革與新機遇 (Singapore's Bilingual Policy and Opportunities)" (PDF) (in Chinese). Nanyang Technology University Institute of Education. Retrieved 28 August 2013.
  17. ^ 陳學怡(Chen Xue Yi). "語言政策與幼兒教育 (Language Policy and Children's Education)" (PDF) (in Chinese). National Taichung Institute of Education Research center for kids education. Retrieved 2 September 2013.

Chinese books

Bibliography in Chinese