Singaporean Mandarin
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Singaporean Mandarin

Singaporean Mandarin
X?nji?p? Huáy?
Native speakers
1.2 million (2010 census)[1]
L2 speakers: 880,000 (1985)[2]
Simplified Chinese (Official)
Traditional Chinese
Official status
Official language in
Regulated byPromote Mandarin Council
Singapore Centre for Chinese Language
Language codes
huyu (Huayu)
Linguasphere79-AAA-bbb(=standard) or 79-AAA-bbd-(part)(=colloquial)
Singaporean Mandarin
Traditional Chinese
Simplified Chinese
Literal meaningSingapore Chinese Language

Singaporean Mandarin (simplified Chinese: ; traditional Chinese: ; pinyin: X?nji?p? Huáy?) is a variety of Mandarin Chinese widely spoken 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. These two dialects are easily distinguishable to a person proficient in Mandarin. Standard Singaporean Mandarin 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 Colloquial Singaporean Mandarin (Singdarin) is the form used by the general populace. They tend to infuse the language with many words from other Chinese dialects, Malay and English.

Singaporean Mandarin only became widely spoken by the Chinese community in Singapore after the Speak Mandarin Campaign 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 in Singapore today.[3] 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.[4] In 2010, there was an increase in the number of Singaporean population who know two or more languages.[5]

With increasing influx of mainland Chinese from mainland China to Singapore recently,[6] Singaporean Mandarin has gradually inclined itself towards Putonghua.[7] Currently, Singaporean Mandarin continues to develop itself with major influences coming from Putonghua, Taiwanese Mandarin and English.


Standard Singaporean Mandarin

The official standard of Mandarin of Republic of Singapore, known in Singapore as Huayu (), 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 P?t?nghuà ) and the Republic of China (Taiwan) (known there as Guóy? ). 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.

Colloquial Singaporean Mandarin

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.

Features of Singaporean Mandarin

Chinese textbook used in Singapore's Chinese school in 1911. The textbook came from Republic of China and was in Classical Chinese.[8]

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 (?; Guó y?n zìdi?n) and Vocabulary of National Pronunciation for Everyday Use (). 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" (). 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 school known as s?shú () 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.[9]

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 Guóy? (). 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 (), light tone (), and no sentences had the heavy or light accent () 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 sh?ng or ). 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 x?n kè () 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 (, i.e. National Language) to Huayu (, 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 () 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 () edited by Wang Huidi () listed 1560 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 (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 (, English 'market'). This explains the uniquely Singapore Mandarin words.

Chinese Characters Pinyin Definition
hóngmáod?n rambutan (a type of Southeast Asian fruit)
kuílóng kelong (a place for fishing)
g?nb?ng kampung (village)
sh?di? Satay (a type of Singaporean Malay food)
lu?r? Rojak (a type of Singaporean Malay food)
q?ngt?ng a type of dessert
gùb?n coupon. Also used for car parking
z?w? flat built by Housing Development Board
y?ngch?zhèng car ownership-license
? b?o jiàn ch? x? medisave (medical saving)
? zh?u mò yòng ch? Weekend Car (a classification of car ownership in Singapore)
cáilù "Giro" (a system of payment through direct bank account deduction in Singapore)
b?sh? "bazaar" or market or pasar (Malay)
mín zhòng jù lè bù
lián luò su?
community centre
l?s? laksa (a type of curry noodle)
l?j? chóng "litter-bug"; someone who violated the law for littering
páiw? terrace house
? 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
lè líng old people
l?o líng

nián zh?ng zh?
s?n wén zhì sandwich
s?n míng zhì
From English "sandwich" via Cantonese s?am màhn jih
déshì taxi

compare Cantonese d?k sih (from English "taxi").
huò guì container
jí zhu?ng xi?ng

huò guì
hu? huàn fire
hu? z?i

hu? j?ng
is also used in Singapore and Taiwan.
? nài durable/lasting
nài yòng

nài yòng
From classical Chinese. is also used in Singapore.
jià ch? drive a car
k?i ch?

k?i ch?
The word ? originates from classical Chinese. is also used in Singapore. has also found its way into Putonghua vocabulary.
sh?u gè first
dì y? gè
is also used in Singapore. has also found its way into Putonghua vocabulary.
g?ng zhòng public mass
qún zhòng

qún zhòng
has also found its way into Putonghua vocabulary. is also used in Singapore, as in ? (rally).
qún t? organized group
jí t?

jí t?
has also found its way into Putonghua and Taiwanese Mandarin vocabulary. is also used in Singapore, more commonly as an adverb (en masse).
? dì y? shí ji?n immediately
lì kè

lì jí
Literally 'the first timing'. Both and are used in Singapore as well.
? y? tóu wù sh?i blurred and confused ?
y?n tóu zh?an xìang
hú l? hú tú
the idiom ? has also found its way into Putonghua vocabulary.
m? tóu dock
g?ng k?u

g?ng k?u
From Hokkien/Cantonese, Hokkien: bé-thâu, Cantonese: ma tau. ? may carry a neutral tone in Mandarin, thus the phrase becoming m?tou.
líng xiú leader
líng d?o

líng xiú
is sometimes used in Singapore, more commonly as a verb (to lead).
? sh?u tí diàn huà mobile phone
sh?u j?
xíng dòng diàn huà/sh?u j?
is also used in Singaporean Mandarin, although less frequently.
kè g?ng foreign worker
wài láo
also appears in some Singaporean Chinese writing (e.g. Lianhe Zaobao)
nóng f? farmer
nóng mín

xi?ng mín
was an older Chinese term used in China before 1949, but continues to be used in Singapore.
b? shì bus
g?ng ji?o ch?
g?ng ch?/b? shì
From Cantonese.
diàn d?n ch? motorcycle
mó tu? ch?

j? ch?
From Cantonese.
luó l? lorry
k? ch?

huò ch?
From English word "lorry".
ji?o tóu corner
ji?o luò

ji?o luò
From Hokkien kak-thâu. Note that in Putonghua, 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 ? ji?n (in between), ? nèi or ? l? (both mean 'in(side)').
s?n qián small change
líng qián

líng qián
Originates from classical Chinese. is also used in Putonghua, while 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
xi?o ji? Miss Prostitute or lady involved in sex trade is used to refer to a lady or waitress in restaurant in Singaporean Mandarin. However, in Putonghua, has negative connotation in the northern provinces, used mainly to refer to prostitutes. or tends to be more commonly used in Putonghua, instead of . In Taiwan it is used the same way as in Singapore.
duì fù fight against/counteract take action to deal with a person or problem 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.
? d?ng know understand ? is commonly used in Singaporean Mandarin to mean "know" instead of (Putonghua). ? means 'understand' in Putonghua.
jì suàn j? calculator computer is commonly used in Singaporean Mandarin to mean 'calculator'. In PRC, the word is used instead to refer to 'calculator'. means computer in PRC, although in the recent years, the word for computer has also become more popular in PRC.

Loanwords and influence from other Chinese dialects

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.

Chinese Characters Pinyin Definition Notes
? bìng g? soldiers originates from Hokkien "a-peng-ko"
pà sh? afraid to lose originates from Hokkien "kia?-su"
j? shí when? originates from Hokkien "kuí-sî" or Classical Chinese
? g?ng grandpa originates from Hokkien "a-kong"
? m? grandma originates from Hokkien "a-má"
? pó old lady originates from Hokkien "a-pô"
h?n xi?n very boring spoken colloquially in Singaporean Mandarin instead of /? (in Standard Mandarin). The word "xian ?" originates from Hokkien 'hián-sèng' ().
g?n g?n be brave/daring spoken colloquially in Singaporean Mandarin instead of (in Standard Mandarin). For instance, ?(dared to be a happy person - also the title for a Mediacorp Channel 8 sitcom). The word "" originates from Hokkien "ká?-ká?" (daring)
g? z?o ancient originates from Hokkien "kó?-chá". Appears in some Singaporean Chinese writing (e.g. Hawker Center) instead of (in Standard Mandarin).
zuò g?ng work originates from Hokkien "cho-kang", which means 'work'. is often spoken colloquially in Singaporean Mandarin instead of / (in Standard Mandarin). In Standard Mandarin, usually means doing work that involves manual hard labour.
? sh?o hot originates from Hokkien "sio", which means 'hot'. ? is often spoken colloquially in Singaporean Mandarin instead of ?/? (in Standard Mandarin).
? sh?n mè lái d? What is this? originates from Hokkien "siá?-mi?h lâi ê" (?). ? is often spoken colloquially in Singaporean Mandarin instead of the more formal ? (in Standard Mandarin)
q? jià price increase originates from Hokkien "khí-kè". is often spoken colloquially in Singaporean Mandarin instead of the more formal (in Standard Mandarin)
zuò mò Why? / Doing what? originates from Cantonese zou me. (or ) is often spoken colloquially in Singaporean Mandarin instead of the more formal / (in Standard Mandarin)
wà láo man! Corruption of a vulgar Hokkien word
shì mi? is it? The word ? m?h, more often rendered as ? (see above), originates from Cantonese and is used in colloquial Singaporean Mandarin. Compare Standard Mandarin shì ma.
dà ?r lóng loan shark originates from Cantonese. (compare Guoyu: ?)
d? kè passenger originates from Cantonese. (compare Putonghua: )
b?i w? lóng misunderstanding/make mistakes/confusion originates from Cantonese.
hào liàn boastful, likes to show off originates from Teochew (ho lien). 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, Guoyu?)
gu? tiáo a type of flat noodle originates from Teochew "kuey tiao". Compare Cantonese "hor fan" ()

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
? módu?x?k? Motorcycle Both and are now more frequently used in Singaporean Mandarin
b?xi?n Percentage 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 ? (), which represents a unit of 5 minutes. When referring to a number of hours (duration), (zh?ngtóu) is used instead of (xi?oshí). For instance:

5 minutes: (y? gè zì)
10 minutes: (li?ng gè zì)
15 minutes: (s?n gè zì)
45 minutes: (ji? gè zì)
1 hour (y? gè zh?ng tóu)

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

?(q?) ?(di?n) ?(ji?) ?() ?() or ?(q?) ?(di?n) ?(ji?)? (Singaporean Mandarin)
?(q?) ?(di?n) (sìshí) ?(w?) ?(f?n)? (Standard Mandarin)

Days of the week

As a result of Hokkien influence, colloquial Singaporean Mandarin typically uses the word "?-" (bài) to refer to the days of the week, in lieu of Standard Mandarin "-" (x?ngqí-). For instance:

Monday? (bàiy?) instead of (x?ngqíy?)
Sunday: (l?bàiti?n) or simply (l?bài) instead of (x?ngqírì)
A week (y? gè l?bài) instead of the more formal ? (y? gè x?ngqí)

Both ? (bài) and (l?bài) originate from Hokkien pài and lé-pài respectively.

Large numbers

In colloquial Singaporean Mandarin, ? (wàn), referring to a "ten thousand" is often used, but (shí qi?n), 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.

The use of the word ""

(éry?) is more common in colloquial Singaporean Mandarin than in Standard Mandarin, which uses (bàle). The same is true for Taiwanese Mandarin. While (éry?) 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) (yàngzi) (éry?) ?(a)! (Singaporean Mandarin)
?(zhè) (yàngzi) (bàle)! (Standard Mandarin)

The use of the word "" ""

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

Use of the word "?" as an affirmative

In colloquial Singaporean Mandarin, the word "?" 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 "?(?)//" (shì (de)/duì a/duì ya), "?" (ó), "?" (?), "?" (en/ng) to mean "yes, it is".

Use of the word "?" instead of "?"

In Singaporean Mandarin, there is a greater tendency to use the word cái "?" (then) in lieu of Standard Mandarin zài "?" (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 "?"

In Standard Mandarin, one typical way of turning certain nouns into adjectives, such as (xìngqù, 'interest'), (yíngy?ng, 'nutrition'), (l?mào, 'politeness'), is to prefix the word "?" (y?u) at the front of these nouns.

For example:

"??" (h?n y?u xìngqù - very interested)
"??" (h?n y?u yíngy?ng - very nutritious)
"??" (h?n y?u l?mào - very polite).

The word ? (y?u) is sometimes omitted in writing.

Reduplication of verbs preceding ""

In Singaporean Mandarin, verbs preceding "" may be reduplicated, unlike in Putonghua. This practice is borrowed from Malay/Indonesian method of pluralizing words. In Putonghua grammar, the use of the word "(?)" (y?xià(r)) is often put at the back of a verb to indicate that the action (as indicated by the verb) is momentary.

For example:

?(xi?ng) ?(xi?ng) (y?xià) ?(Singaporean Mandarin)
?(xi?ng) (y?xià) ?(Standard Mandarin)
Think for a while.
(yánji?) (yánji?) (y?xià) ? (Singaporean Mandarin)
(yánji?) (y?xià) ?(Standard Mandarin)
Research for a little while.

Colloquial use of the word "?"

Singaporean colloquial Mandarin tends to use ? (bèi) more commonly than Putonghua, to express passive verb, mainly due to influence from English and/or Malay_grammar#Verbs|Malay]].

Compare the following:

"The road has been repaired"
(m?lù) ?(bei) (xi?h?o) ?(le) (Singaporean Mandarin)
(m?lù) ?(y?) (xi?h?o) ?(le) (Putonghua)

Using adjective as verb

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

For instance

"" (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 "?". The standard Mandarin should be "?"

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 (-er finals) and the neutral tone (, lit. 'light tone') are generally absent in Singaporean Mandarin.

The earliest development of Singaporean Mandarin includes the old Beijing phonology (), followed by new Beijing phonology () and then finally Hanyu Pinyin of mainland China. In its initial development, Singaporean Mandarin was highly influenced by the Ru sheng (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:

  • 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.[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 xi? xi?xi xi? The character ? is pronounced with the 2nd tone in Standard Singaporean Mandarin, similar to that in Taiwan. In Mainland China, ? is pronounced as a light (neutral) tone (simplified Chinese: ; traditional Chinese: ; pinyin: q?ng sh?ng) instead.
Rubbish l?j? l?j? lèsè The pronunciation for is the same in Singapore and Mainland China. But in Taiwan, it has maintained the older pronunciation before 1949, which was influenced by Wu Chinese.
?? Role jué jué ji?osè/jué The pronunciation for is the same in Singapore and Mainland China. But in Taiwan, it has maintained the older pronunciation ji?osè before 1949. However, both juésè and ji?osè can be interchangeably used in the Chinese-speaking world.
?? Include b?okuò b?okuò b?ogu?/b?okuò The pronunciation for is the same in Singapore and Mainland China. But in Taiwan, the older pronunciation of "gu?" for ? before 1949 continued to be used, alongside the modern pronunciation of "kuò".

Influences from other languages in Singapore

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

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 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.

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 (), 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

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 ? 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" ?, "Light of Singapore ?" 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" ? published in the "New National Press" ? 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 (), Yao Zhi (), Zhao Rong (), Shu Shu () 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.

Arts and Entertainment


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 () 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.



TV Drama Serial


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

Television Channel Program Title Aired Status Duration
MediaCorp TV Channel 8 (8) Singapore Today (6) Monday until Sunday at 18:30 until 19:00 Live (?) 30-minutes
Channel 8 National News (?) Monday until Sunday at 22:00 until 22:30
MediaCorp TV Channel U (U) Monday until Sunday at 23:00 until 22:30 Rerun/Recorded (/?)



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.[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 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.

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]

See also



  1. ^ Mandarin Chinese (Singapore) at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. ^ Mandarin Chinese (Singapore) at Ethnologue (14th ed., 2000).
  3. ^ Leong Koon Chan. "Envisioning Chinese Identity and Multiracialism in Singapore". Retrieved 2011.
  4. ^ Reuters (16 September 2009). "RPT-FEATURE-Eyeing China, Singapore sees Mandarin as its future". Retrieved 2011.
  6. ^ (China News Site). ":(An insight into Singaporean and New Chinese immigrants: receiving and assimilation)" (in Chinese). Retrieved 2013.
  7. ^ (China News Site). "?:?(Lee Kuan Yew: Singaporean Mandarin should incline itself towards Putonghua)" (in Chinese). Retrieved 2013.
  8. ^ Bukit Brown: Our Roots,Our Heritage
  9. ^ (Hon Liande). "(Singapore's language policy)" (in Chinese). National Taiwan University. Retrieved 2013.
  10. ^ ? (Dictionary of Contemporary Singaporean Mandarin Vocabulary) (in Chinese). ?. 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. 1. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University. pp. 345-362.
  13. ^ Welch, Anthony R. Freebody, Peter. Knowledge, Culture and Power. Routledge Publishing. ISBN 1-85000-833-7.CS1 maint: Multiple names: authors list (link)
  14. ^ Wu Yuanhua. ""?"(About the political values of Mandarin)" (in Chinese). Retrieved 2013.
  15. ^ (Wu Yincheng). "? (Singapore's bilingual education and new opportunity)" (PDF) (in Chinese). Nanyang Technological University Institute of Education. Retrieved 2013.
  16. ^ (Wu Yingchen). "? (Singapore's Bilingual Policy and Opportunities)" (PDF) (in Chinese). Nanyang Technology University Institute of Education. Retrieved 2013.
  17. ^ (Chen Xue Yi). " (Language Policy and Children's Education)" (PDF) (in Chinese). National Taichung Institute of Education Research center for kids education. Retrieved 2013.

Chinese Books

Bibliography in Chinese

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Music Scenes