13 September 2007

Singlish...Uniquely Singaporean

Saw tis girl helping out at the coffee stall and totally clueless at the way we ordered our drinks. She's an FT from China, can speak very good mandarin and fairly good in english but simply cannot understand what we ordered...I was queuing behind 3 people who happened to be an Indian, Malay and local Chinese...

"Teh susu, please...not so thick"

"Teh tarik satu, kopi kosong satu"

the order from the Indian and Malay was still quite simple and direct. It became challenging when the Chinese place his order,

"Kopi si puay, yat pui dai pui, tak kiew sua, teh kosong gao"

A language (or slang for those who prefers it that way) that we use so commonly and taken for granted can be totally alien to the uniniated. Allow me to dissect the orders placed.

The most common hot beverages we have in a typical kopitiam (coffeeshop) are coffee and tea. In Singlish, these are known as kopi and teh respectively. Even a simple "teh" can sound a bit different if spoken by a Chinese or a Malay or Indian. Now, let's take it a bit further... we can have coffee/tea with milk or without milk. Normally, if you ask for kopi/teh, you'll be served with coffee/tea with milk. If you don't want milk, you should say kopi/teh Oh... I'm not exactly certain but I guess Oh comes from hokkien Or which means black. Now, let's come back to the Indian's order "Teh susu, please...not so thick!" Susu is a Malay word for milk. The Indian could have just asked for Teh but he added susu as confirmation that he wanted tea with milk. The addition of susu is more often used by non-Chinese or ang mor educated Chinese (I'll tell you more about the usage of "ang mor" or "ang moh" in another posting).

Now, let's explore the order placed by the Malay - "Teh tarik satu, kopi kosong satu". Remember? Teh is tea...with milk, right? So what is tarik? It is a malay word for "pull". I don't know who invented teh tarik but I got the impression that it originated from Indian-Muslim sarabat stall). It is tea (with milk) with lots of foam on its surface like...cuppacino. The foam is created by pouring the tea to and fro the cup and the mug several times, thus creating the frothy top. The process of pouring requires the "pourer" to increase the distance between cup and mug, giving an impression that he is "stretching" or pulling the tea. (Good thing that the stall owners do not adopt the method from cuppacino or we might see him placing a straw into your tea and starts blowing bubbles into it :P ) Back to the topic, the Malay also mentioned satu which means one. So what she actually ordered was one tea-with-milk-with-frothy-top. Now, she also ordered kopi kosong satu. By now, you should know what is kopi and satu but what the heck is kosong? Kosong is a malay word for zero or none (correct me if I'm wrong, my friends). What she meant was she wanted black coffee without sugar...

is coffee with milk and sugar, Kopi Oh is black coffee with sugar and Kopi kosong is black coffee without milk and sugar.

Now, the real challenge came from the Chinese because his statement consists of malay, hokkien and cantonese...and some kopitiam code. It's not that he was trying to be difficult but that's how Singlish is spoken sometimes, especially when you're involved in a conversation with people from different races and backgrounds. Now, let's dissect it piece by piece...

"Kopi si puay..."
- a malay word for coffee
- hokkien for the number four. One, two, three, four - jit, neng, sa, si (hold on a second here, hokkien and teochew has many similarities yet there could be several variations of saying the same thing such as for the number one, it can be jit or yeo, or yoh...)
puay - hokkien for cup

"yat pui dai pui..."
yat pui -
is one cup in cantonese.... and dai pui is "big cup" (yes, we have regular size coffee and large size coffee like any fastfood restaurants. This time round, he had switched to cantonese because his cantonese friend had requested for a bigger cup of coffee...with milk. That distraction cause to to temporary switch to cantonese mode)

"tak kiew sua..." -
Basically this is in hokkien (although I dun know the origin of sua, perhaps comes from jit lang jit puah, kum jeng beh suay) and this is one of the many coffeeshop "codes". Tak kiew in hokkien means "kick ball". It originates from the beverage Milo because of it's TV advertisement showing footballers drinking milo! (Do you recall? "It's marvelous what milo can do for you!) and sua indicates that he wanted two cups.

"teh kosong gao
" I hope you haven't forgotten what is teh kosong? So what is "gao"? A hokkien term that means "thick"...no sugar, no milk but thick tea...like espresso, only it's tea.

Phew...I'm a bit lost myself. There's a lot more to Singlish and I've only touched on the tip of the ice-berge. At least, I hope you'll not fret should you need to get your morning cup of coffee at our local coffeeshop..."Aunty! Kopi Oh jit phuay!"

P/S Teh tarik, cappuccino and kopiccino are all different drinks....ever tried "dinosauar"?


ras said...

Master K, the si is not for 4 cups. It's a term to indicate they want carnation milk. :P

khirsah said...

It is si for 4 cups because he said "Kopi si puay"... if he had said "kopi si" and nothing else, then it means he had wanted coffee with evaporated milk (carnation milk).
If he had asked for "kopi si...si puay", it means he wanted 4 cups of kopi with evaporated milk :P

ras said...

You left out tiau yi.

khirsah said...

yeap...yeap...there's a lot more. but i suppose this should be enough for those FTs to get by the kopitiam challenges...:P

I need my kopi now...kept yawning

little_gecko said...

Oh wise ape.... Wad is siew dai? Wads da literal translation??

khirsah said...

I've been asking the same question all these while. I know that "siew dai" means less sugar but where it originates? Which dialect? Most of the folks tell me "siew dai" is cantonese. Well I know "siew" in cantonese means little or small...but "dai" is not sugar. Sugar in cantonese is "tong"...so i've no idea where did "dai" come from...*scratchx2*

Well, juz remember siew dai means less sugar.

Well, since I'm on this, might as well explain "diao herh" (it's fishing in hokkien). With the introduction of tea bags like Lipton and Boh...well, the teh lover will hold the string and shake shake shake the bag...like fishing, so "diao herh" mean you specifically requested for tea that uses tea bags.

Well, gotta pluck some leaves and do some dry cleaning now. good nite :)

ras said...

I think is siew nai - less milk. Bcos condensed milk is very sweet, siew nai will make it less sweet.

khirsah said...

nah...I'm certain it's siew dai...cos it is less sugar and not milk. Perhaps you're be right...it could have started as siew nai then people say siew dai then people meant less sugar instead of milk.

The Frog Prince said...

Its interesting with so many terms around in a coffeeshop har. Gotta really respect fully those older uncles and aunties who can remember so many of these terms without getting confused.

Other than those mentioned. We also have, not forgetting, yuan yang or yuen yong.. and dai ga ho. I bet you guys/gals know what these 2 are.

I think there are one or two more.. but couldn't remember exactly..

khirsah said...

Ooh ooh, wifey and I was just talking about dai ga ho the other day...
Ya, must really respect these aunties and uncles... not only they can remember, they can even be tested. When I was younger, we ka jiao ka jiao...instead of kopi-O, we order O-kopi, susu teh, peng milo..wah! The aunty can remember...so good so good *clap clap*