Singaporean Hokkien

Singapore Hokkien
(Sin-ka-pho Hok-kiàn-ōe)
Native toSingapore
Native speakers
1.2 million (2017)[1]
Latin (Pe̍h-ōe-jī)
Han characters (traditional or simplified)
Official status
Official language in
None, Lingua franca of the Chinese community in Singapore before 1979.
Regulated byNone
Language codes
ISO 639-3
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Singaporean Hokkien
Traditional Chinese新加坡福建話
Simplified Chinese新加坡福建话
Hokkien POJSin-ka-pho Hok-kiàn-ōe
Alternative Chinese name
Traditional Chinese新加坡閩南語
Simplified Chinese新加坡闽南语
Hokkien POJSin-ka-pho Bân-lâm-gu/Sin-ka-pho bân-lâm-gí
Second alternative Chinese name
Traditional Chinese新加坡閩南話
Simplified Chinese新加坡闽南话
Hokkien POJSin-ka-pho Bân-lâm-ōe

Singaporean Hokkien (simplified Chinese: 新加坡福建话; traditional Chinese: 新加坡福建話; Pe̍h-ōe-jī: Sin-ka-pho Hok-kiàn-ōe; Tâi-lô: Sin-ka-pho Hok-kiàn-uē) is a local variant of the Hokkien language spoken in Singapore. In Chinese academic circles, this dialect is known as Singaporean Ban-lam Gu (simplified Chinese: 新加坡闽南语; traditional Chinese: 新加坡閩南語; Pe̍h-ōe-jī: Sin-ka-pho Bân-lâm-gu). It is closely related to the Southern Malaysian Hokkien (南馬福建話) spoken in Southern Malaysia, as well as to Riau Hokkien (廖內福建話) spoken in the Indonesian province of Riau. It also closely resembles Amoy (厦门话; 廈門話) spoken in Amoy, People's Republic of China, and Taiwanese Hokkien which is spoken in Taiwan, Republic of China.[2]

Hokkien is the Min Nan pronunciation for the province of Fujian, and is generally the term used by the Chinese in South-East Asia to refer to the 'Banlam' dialect (閩南語). Singaporean Hokkien generally uses Amoy as its standard, and its accent is predominantly based on a mixture of Quanzhou and Zhangzhou speech, with a greater inclination towards the former.[citation needed]

Like many spoken languages in Singapore, Singaporean Hokkien is influenced by other languages or dialects spoken in Singapore. For instance, Singaporean Hokkien is influenced to a certain degree by Teochew, and is sometimes regarded as a combined Hokkien-Teochew speech (福潮話). In addition, it has many loanwords from Malay and English.

Nevertheless, the grammar and tones of Singaporean Hokkien are still largely based on Banlam. When compared to Taiwanese's prestige accent (臺語優勢腔) spoken in Tainan and Kaohsiung, the pronunciation of Singaporean Hokkien inclines toward the Quanzhou accent, which is also close to the pronunciation of Taipei and Amoy, and is less close to that of Tainan, which has a greater inclination towards the Zhangzhou accent (漳州腔).

A Singaporean would likely not have trouble conversing with Taiwanese speakers in Singaporean Hokkien, with the exception of some Japanese loanwords. Similarly, Singaporean Hokkien is understood by Taiwanese speakers, with the exception of some Malay and English loanwords.


From the 19th until the early half of the 20th century, there was a large influx of Chinese migrants from southern China into Singapore. This led to Chinese constituting almost 75% of Singapore's population. Of these Chinese, many originated from the regions of Quanzhou and Zhangzhou in Fujian province. They brought Min Nan to Singapore, which was then propagated throughout Singapore and Malaysia. As there was no formal Chinese name for Min Nan in the early 20th century, these migrants began to use their place of origin as the name of their speech, and thus called the dialect "Hokkien", referring to Fujian province.

During the 19th century, many traditional private Chinese schools in Singapore (referred to as 私塾仔; su-sio̍k-á) generally used Hokkien to teach Chinese classics and Classical Chinese.[citation needed] However, by the early 20th century, Mandarin began to replace Hokkien as the medium of instructions in Chinese schools after the founding of many Mandarin-medium schools.[citation needed]

During the 1950s and 1960s, many political speeches in Singapore were in Hokkien, in order to reach out to the Chinese community in Singapore. There was also a thriving Hokkien cultural scene that included Hokkien story-telling, opera, and media in Singapore.

After 1979, the Singapore government began to push for the use of Mandarin in Singapore, spearheaded by the Speak Mandarin Campaign. Following this, the Singapore government also began to employ a more stringent censorship, or ban, of Hokkien media in the Singaporean Chinese media. Consequently, all Hokkien-language media in Singapore had to be dubbed in Mandarin before being allowed to stream on national TV. In addition, the 1980s saw Chinese-medium education replaced by that in English, causing English to emerge as the most widely used language in Singapore. The emergence of the English language, coupled with heavy promotion of Mandarin, generally led Hokkien to decline in Singapore after 1979.

Current status

Today, the lingua franca of the Chinese Community in Singapore is Mandarin. Although Hokkien is still spoken in Singapore today, particularly by the elderly Chinese population, it is not as widespread as before. The most common places to hear Hokkien spoken in Singapore are in hawker centres or kopi tiams.

Speaking ability varies amongst the different age groups of the Hokkien Singaporeans. The elderly are generally able to communicate effectively in Hokkien. On the other hand, the middle and younger generations have generally lost the ability to communicate as fluently. However, when it comes to using profanities, majority of the younger generation listed Hokkien as the first out of all languages and dialects. With the Speak Mandarin Campaign from the government, the Hokkien speaking population has declined greatly.

Revival through social media

There is, however, a minority group of Hokkien Singaporeans and Taiwanese living in Singapore working to help preserve, spread and revive the use of Hokkien Chinese in Singapore.[citation needed]

The ease of access to online Hokkien entertainment media and pop music from Taiwan helps to connect to the language and culture. Many Singaporeans are increasingly using online and social media platforms, such as Facebook and Meetup groups, to learn, discuss, meet, and interact with each other in Hokkien.

Some of the groups include:



Bilabial Alveolar Alveolo-palatal Velar Glottal
Voiceless Voiced Voiceless Voiced Voiceless Voiced Voiceless Voiced Voiceless
Nasal m [m]
名 (miâ)
n [n]
耐 (nāi)
ng [ŋ]
硬 (ngǐ/ngē)
Plosive Unaspirated p [p]
邊 (pian)
b [b][a]
文 (bûn)
t [t]
地 (tē)
d [d][b]
日 (di̍t)
k [k]
求 (kiû)
g [g][a]
牛 (gû)
ʔ [ʔ]
音 (im)
Aspirated ph [pʰ]
波 (pho)
th [tʰ]
他 (thaⁿ)
kh [kʰ]
去 (khì)
Affricate Unaspirated ch [ts]
曾 (chan)
j [dz]*
熱 (jua̍h)
chi [tɕ]
祝 (chiok)
ji [dʑ]*
入 (ji̍p)
Aspirated chh [tsʰ]
出 (chhut)
chhi [tɕʰ]
手 (chhiú)
Fricative s [s]
衫 (saⁿ)
si [ɕ]
心 (sim)
h [h]
火 (hé)
Lateral l [l]
柳 (liú)
Labialized w [w]
我 (wá)
  1. ^ a b The voiced plosives /b, ɡ/ are fricatized to [β] and [ɣ] respectively in certain phonetic contexts such as during fast speech.
  2. ^ Pronounced in some regional variations of Hokkien spoken in Singapore.
Bilabial Alveolar Velar Glottal
Nasal consonant -m [m]
心 (sim)
-n [n]
今 (kin)
-ng [ŋ]
興 (heng)
Stop consonant -p [p̚]
急 (kip)
-t [t̚]
越 (oa̍t)
-k [k̚]
速 (sok)
-h [ʔ]
物 (mih)
Syllabic consonant
Bilabial Velar
Nasal m [m̩]
ng [ŋ̍]



Regional accents and tones

When Singaporeans speak Hokkien, they do so with various accents and tones largely from Tong'an, Anxi, Nan'an, Kinmen as well as Yongchun, Jinjiang, Longhai City and Southern Zhangzhou accents. In practice, it is common for Singaporeans to mix English conjunctions such as "and" into a Hokkien sentence. Some would include hngo2 (an exclamatory remark in Jinjiang /Nan'an), in addition to the widely used Hokkien exclamatory particles lah () or lor ().

No distinction between literary and vernacular readings

In saying years or numbers, Singaporean Hokkien normally does not differentiate between literary (文讀音) or vernacular (白讀音) readings of Chinese characters. In Taiwan or Amoy, a distinction is usually made. For instance, the year 1980 would be said with a literary pronunciation (一九八空年; it kiú pat khòng nî); but in Singapore, no differentiation is made and is pronounced as otherwise vernacular it káu poeh khòng nî.

As another instance, Taiwanese would speak telephone numbers using literary readings, whereas Singaporeans would use vernacular ones instead. For example, the telephone number 98444678 will be pronounced in Taiwan as kiú pat sù sù sù lio̍k chhit pat, where in Singaporean Hokkien it would be pronounced as káu poeh sì-sì sì la̍k chhit poeh.

Influence from Southern Zhangzhou and Teochew Phonology

Vowel shift from ing to eng

In Singaporean Hokkien—as compared to Quanzhou (whose accent Hokkien usually inclines toward), Zhangzhou, Amoy or Taiwanese (all being standard Hokkien), which pronounce the vowel ing—there is a vowel change from ing (/iŋ/ or /iəŋ/) to eng (/eŋ/ or /ɛŋ/). This change is similar to pronunciation in regions south of Zhangzhou—Dongshan, Yunxiao, Zhangpu, Pinghe, Zhao'an counties (southern Zhangzhou accent)—and in Teochew and Cantonese.

Below is a table illustrating the difference:

Hanzi Standard Hokkien (Amoy/Taiwanese) Singaporean Hokkien English
sing seng (Teochew) 'to live'
tshing cêng (Teochew) 'clear'
bîng bêng (Southern Zhangzhou) / mêng (Teochew) 'bright'
líng léng (Southern Zhangzhou/Teochew) 'cold'
ing eng (Southern Zhangzhou/Teochew) 'brave'
tsìng zèng (Teochew) 'political'

Pronunciation of 'I'

In standard Hokkien pronunciation, (lit. 'I/me') is pronounced as /ɡʊa˥˨/; but in Singapore, it is pronounced as /wa˥˨/, which is alleged by some to have been influenced by the Teochew pronunciation /ʊa˥˨/ although other dialects like Putianese and some regional Hokkien dialects also pronounce it as /ʊa˥˨/.


There are some differences between the sentence structure used by Singaporean Hokkien and by Standard Hokkien (Amoy/Taiwanese).

For instance, when asking a question "do you want to...?", Singaporean Hokkien typically uses the sentence structure 愛……莫? (ai…mài?), whereas Taiwan uses 欲……無? (beh…bô?). The word (ai) is commonly used in Singaporean Hokkien to mean "want to", but in standard Hokkien and Taiwan Hokkien, the word 欲/卜 (beh) (which means "want" in Hokkien) is used instead. (ai) in standard and Taiwanese Hokkien it typically means "love to" or "need to".

Also, unlike Taiwanese Hokkien—which typically uses the word (kám) (meaning "whether or not") when asking a question, which is more formal or polite—Singaporean Hokkien does not use the word (kám). Instead, it simply adds the word () at the end of the sentence to indicate that it is a question (similar to Mandarin's (ma) or adds a Cantonese intonation (me1) at the end. Adding the word () at the end of a sentence is also used in Taiwanese Hokkien, when one is asking a question in an informal way.

Differences in sentence structure
Singaporean Hokkien Amoy English
食飯 (ai chia̍h-pn̄g mài?) 食飯 (beh chia̍h-pn̄g bô?) Do you want to eat?
汝有睏飽 (lé ū khùn-pá bô?) 有睏飽? (lí kám ū khùn-pá?) Did you have enough sleep?


The following list shows the colloquial readings of the numerals used to count objects.

Hanzi Pe̍h-ōe-jī Value Notes
, lêng 0 is an informal way to represent zero
also (khòng)
chi̍t 1 also pronounced it
also (trad)/ (simp) (io) when used in phone numbers etc.
nn̄g 2 also (lī/jī)
saⁿ 3
la̍k 6
chhit 7
poeh 8
káu 9
cha̍p 10

Most ordinal numbers are formed by adding () in front of a cardinal number. In some cases, the literary reading of the number must then be used. For example, 第一 = tē-it, 第二 = tē-jī.

Differences from Standard Hokkien

There are minor differences between Singaporean Hokkien and Amoy or Taiwanese in terms of vocabulary, pronunciation, and grammar. Amoy and Taiwanese bear close resemblance, and are usually considered the standard in Hokkien, differing only in terms of vocabulary.

Unique vocabulary

Although Singaporean Hokkien is similar to Amoy or Taiwanese, there exist certain unique Singaporean Hokkien words, which are different from those two aforementioned dialects.

Singaporean Hokkien (Hanji) POJ Standard Definition
死景 sí-kéng 博物館 (phok-bu̍t-kóan) 'museum'
活景 o̍ah-kéng 動物園 (tōng-bu̍t-hn̂g) 'zoo'
掠無球 lia̍h-bô-kiû 毋捌 (m̄-bat) 'completely not understand' (lit. 'catch no balls')
假強 kê-khiàng 假𠢕 (ké-gâu) 'act "smart"' (overdo it; Singapore especially for women)
俏母 chhiò bú 水查某 (súi cha-bó͘) 'pretty'
督公 tok-kong (chàn) 'superb' (originated from Na Tuk Kong)

Same meaning, different words

Singaporean Hokkien Definition Compare Amoy/Taiwanese Notes
(ai) Want (beh) 愛(ài) in Amoy means "love" or "must". "欲" in Singaporean Hokkien can be classified as an auxiliary verb denoting volition of the following verb.

(beh) is sometimes written alternatively as (beh) or (beh)

(lí/lɯ2/lú) You (lí) "你 (lí)" (used in Amoy/Taiwanese) is also used in Singaporean Hokkien, originating from Amoy speech. The pronunciation of lɯ2 汝 originated from the Tâng-oann accent (同安音), or could be traced to Teochew, while lú 汝 came from the Ho-san accent (suburbs in Amoy Island) 禾山腔(廈門島郊區腔).
恁儂 or 恁人 (lín lâng) You-all (lín) The use of "儂/人 lâng" in Singaporean Hokkien pronoun (I, you, we) originated from Teochew grammar.
我儂 or 我人 (góa lâng) We (gún/guán) or (lán) "阮儂 or 阮人 gún lâng" and "咱/咱儂 lán/lán lâng" are also used in Singaporean Hokkien. Quanzhou and Zhangzhou uses (gún), whereas Amoy uses (gún/guán) in a manner similar to Taiwanese.
伊儂 (i lâng) They (亻因 /怹) (in) The addition of 儂 lâng originates from Teochew, and is also commonly used in Shanghainese.
chhò Wrong 毋著 m̄-tio̍h The Malay word "salah" is actually more commonly used to mean 'wrong' in Singaporean Hokkien. "毋著" (m̀-tio̍h) is also used in Singaporean Hokkien
舊早 kū-chá In the past 頂擺 (téng-mái) or 以前 í-chêng All variants are used in Amoy/Taiwanese
鬭跤手 tàu-kha-chhiú Help 鬭相共 tàu-saⁿ-kāng All variants are used in Amoy / Taiwanese
卽兜 chit-tâu This place 卽爿 chit-pêng or chiâ 卽爿 chit-pêng is also commonly used in Singapore, chiâ less so.

chit is sometimes written alternatively as or

按呢款 án-ne-khóan In this way, so 按呢 án-ne/án-ni khóan is not generally appended in Amoy / Taiwanese
幾鐳 (kui-lui) or 幾箍 kui khoo How much? 偌濟錢 jōa-chōe chîⁿ All variants are used in Amoy. Both "lui 鐳" and "chîⁿ 錢" are used in Minnan region today to mean "money". In Singapore however, "lui 鐳" is more commonly used to mean "money".

The word "lui 鐳" was previously thought to have originated from Malay. However, research indicated that the word "lui 鐳" is in fact a unique Hokkien word, originating from the unit of currency known as "銅鐳 tâng-lui" during the early Chinese Republican period.[citation needed] It actually means "bronze money". "銅鐳 tâng-lui" was commonly used in Minnan region and Chaoshan region during that time, and the term spread to Singapore then and remains in common use until today.

"lui 鐳" used to be used in Taiwan, but due to Japanese colonial rule, "lui 鐳" fell out of use. It was replaced by " chîⁿ" which is the normal term for "money" in Taiwan today.

轉厝 tńg-chhū (pron. tn̂g-chhū) Go home 倒去 to—khì 轉去 to—khì is used in Singapore as well, but with a more general meaning of "going back", not specifically home.
‘今仔’日 kiaⁿ-ji̍t Today 今仔日 kin-á-ji̍t Singapore ‘今仔’日 kiaⁿ-ji̍t is a concatenation of Amoy 今仔日 kin-á-ji̍t. 今日 (kin-ji̍t) is also heard in Singapore.
當今 tong-kim Nowadays 現此時 hián-chú-sî (pron. hiān-chū-sî) Both Singapore and Amoy /Taiwanese commonly use 這陣 chit-chūn to encompass the meaning of "nowadays". 現此時 hián-chú-sî is commonly used in Taiwanese.
即陣 chit-chūn Now 卽擺 chit-mái or 卽暫 chit-chām 卽陣 chit-chūn is also used in Amoy / Taiwanese
四散 sì-sōaⁿ (pron. sí-sóaⁿ) anyhow/casual/random 烏白 (o͘-pe̍h) E.g. 伊四散講 i sì-sōaⁿ kóng - He speaks casually (or nonsense). 四散 (sì-sōaⁿ) is sometimes also used in Amoy, and regularly used in Teochew.
定著 tiāⁿ-tio̍h surely 一定 it-tīng or 絕對 cho̍at-tùi (pron. chòat-tùi) 定著 tiāⁿ-tio̍h is sometimes also used in Taiwan. 一定 it-tīng is a loan from Mandarin.
驚輸 kiaⁿ-su Fear of losing out/failure - kiasu 驚失敗 (kiaⁿ sit-pāi)
公私 kong-si Share pun or 公家 kong-ke
chiā Very chin
siong Very tough or difficult 艱難/困難 kan-lân/khùn-lân " siong" literally means "injurious", but has become slang in Singapore for "tough" or "difficult"
heng Luckily, fortunately 好佳在 hó-kai-chài
食風 chia̍h-hong To go on holiday, or more generally to live in luxury 𨑨迌 tshit-thô In Amoy / Taiwanese, "食風 (chia̍h-hong)" is also used but means "facing the wind". In Singapore, 𨑨迌 tshit-thô means simply "to play" (as in children playing).

Same word, different pronunciation

There are some words used in Singaporean Hokkien that are the same in Taiwanese Hokkien, but are pronounced differently.

Hokkien Words Definition Singaporean Hokkien Taiwanese Hokkien Notes
咖啡 Coffee ko-pi ka-pi ko-pi is a loan word from Malay word "kopi" which in turn is taken from the English word "coffee." The Mandarin word "Ka-fei" and the Taiwanese Hokkien "Ka-pi" are derived from the European continental version "Café" (French / Spanish / Portuguese) or "Kaffee" (German). As Hokkien does not have an f-sound, this turned into a p-sound. Filipino-Chinese Hokkien which is very close to the Taiwanese variety pronounces the word for "coffee" as "ka-peh" which derives from the Filipino pronunciation of the Spanish word "café" which is "kape."
按怎 How án-chóaⁿ án-nuá "án-chóaⁿ" is also commonly used in Taiwan. The pronunciation of "án-nuá" originates from Zhangzhou.
啥物/甚物 What si-mih/sim-mih siáⁿ-mi̍h "si-mih/sim-mih" is based on the word 甚物 (used in Amoy/Zhangzhou), whereas "siáⁿ-mi̍h" is based on the word 啥物 (used in Quanzhou). Taiwan typically uses "啥物 siáⁿ-mi̍h" more often, although "甚物 sim-mih" is also used. Singapore also uses "啥物 siáⁿ-mi̍h", though less often.

Influences from other local languages

Because Singapore is a multilingual country, Singaporean Hokkien has been influenced by many other languages spoken in Singapore. As a result, there are many non-Hokkien words that have been imported into Singaporean Hokkien, such as those from Malay, Teochew, Cantonese, and English.

Loanwords from other Chinese varieties

There are words in Singaporean Hokkien that originated from other Chinese variants spoken in Singapore.

Singaporean Hokkien Definition Amoy Notes
(phiⁿ) Cheap (sio̍k) (phiⁿ) originates from Teochew. (sio̍k) also used in Amoy/Quanzhou/Zhangzhou
死父(sî-bēh) Very (chin) or (chiok) Originated from Teochew word 死父 (si2-bê6). Interchangeably used in Singaporean Hokkien, which can coincide with the Hokkien pronunciation of 死爸(sí-pēh). The word 死爸(sí-pēh) in original Hokkien is a vulgar word that means "to the extent that your/my father dies".
山龜 (soāⁿ-ku) Country-bumpkin 土包仔 (thó͘-pau-á) Originated from Teochew, lit. "mountain tortoise"
無便 (bô-piàn) There is no way (nothing can be done) 無法度 (bô-hoat-tō) Originated from Teochew
做儛 (chò-bú), together 做伙 (chòe-he), 做陣(chòe-tīn) or 鬭陣 (tàu-tīn) Originated from Teochew
緊張 (gan tʂiong) Nervous 緊張 (kín-tiuⁿ) Originated from Cantonese

Malay loanwords

The following are the common Malay loanwords used in Singaporean Hokkien. Most of them are also used in Amoy.

Malay loanwords in Singaporean Hokkien Hanzi Definition Compare Original Amoy Notes
Su-ka (suka) 舒合 (su-kah) Like 合意 (kah-ì)
Sabun 雪文 (sap-bûn) Soap 茶箍 (tê-kho͘) 雪文 (sap-bûn) is also used in Taiwan. Amoy, Quanzhou and Zhangzhou also uses 雪文 (sap-bûn). Originates from old Portuguese "sabon" (modern Portuguese uses "sabão") which also gave Malay its word for soap. 茶箍/茶枯 (tê-kho͘) is also used in Amoy/Quanzhou/Zhangzhou.
Kah-win (kahwin) 交寅 (kau-ín) Marry 結婚 (kiat-hun) 交寅 (kau-ín) is also used in Amoy. Originates from Malay.
Ka-cau Disturb 攪擾 (kiáu-liáu)
Ba-Lu (baru) Recently 最近 (chòe-kīn)
Pa-sak (pasar) 巴刹 (pa-sat) Market 市場 (chhī-tiûⁿ) or 菜市 (chhài-chhī)
Ma-ta (mata-mata) Police 警察 (kéng-chhat) Mata literally means "eye" and is also used in Malaysia as a colloquial term for the police. 'mata-mata' may also be used to mean 'spy'.
Ga-duh Quarrel 冤家 (oan-ke)
Si-nang (senang) Easy 簡單 (kán-tan)
To-long Help 拜托 (pài-thok),幫忙 (pang-bâng) or 鬭相共 (tàu-saⁿ-kāng)
Sa-lah Offence, Wrong 犯法 (hōan-hoat)
Ta-pi (tetapi) But 但是 (tān-sī), 毋過 (m̄-koh/m-ku) or 猶毋過(iáu m̄-koh) 毋過 is also used in Amoy/Quanzhou/Zhangzhou. Quanzhou typically pronounces 毋過 as "m̄-ku", whereas Zhangzhou pronounces 毋過 as "m̄-koh".
Roti Bread 麪包 (mī-pau) or 'phang' (Japanese loanwords)
Pun (pun) Also 嘛是 (mā sī) or 也是 (iā-sī) E.g. 伊本是眞帥 (i pun-sī chin suí) - She is also very pretty
Saman summons (fine) 罰款 (ho̍at-khóan)
Agak Agak Guess/Estimate (ioh)
Kentang Potato 馬鈴薯 (má-lêng-chû)
Guli Marble 大理石 (tāi-lí-chio̍h)
Botak Bald 光頭 (kng-thâu) or 禿頭 (thut-thâu) 
Pakat 巴結 (pá-kat) Conspire 串通 (chhòan-thong)
Buaya 磨仔 (buá à) Crocodile 鱷魚 (kho̍k-hî)
Beh Ta-han 袂扙捍 Cannot tolerate 擋袂牢 (tòng bē tiâu) Formed by Hokkien word "beh 袂" and Malay word "tahan"
Mana Eh Sai Mana 會使 How can this be? 敢會使 (kam ē-sái) Formed by Malay word "mana" and Hokkien word "e-sai 會使"
Lokun 老君 Doctor 醫生 (i-seng) From Malay word "Dukun", which means shaman or medicine man. Alternatively, 老君 lo-kun is related to Taoist's deity Daode Tianzun, which is commonly known as Taishang Laojun (太上老君) "The Grand Supreme Elderly Lord". Many Chinese in Singapore practiced Taoism and visited Taoist temples to prescribe medicine to cure their disease. Naturally, the deity became like a doctor. Lokun 老君 can also mean a wise man.

English loanwords

There are also many English loanwords used in Singaporean Hokkien. They are usually used when the speaker does not know the Hokkien equivalent. Some of these English terms are related to working and living in Singapore

English loanwords in Singaporean Hokkien Compare Taiwanese Hokkien
Shopping (kho-koe)
MRT 地鐵 (tē-thih)
But 但是 (tān-sī)
Toilet 廁所 (tshe-só͘)

Vocabulary from Old Chinese

Certain colloquial pronunciations of Singaporean Hokkien words are directly inherited from the consonant system of Old Chinese. Hokkien did not experience a great phonological change throughout the transition period from Old Chinese to Middle Chinese.

Singaporean Hokkien preserved a unique feature of Old Chinese: it does not have the consonant "f". For instance, the word "分" is not pronounced as fen, but rather as pun. This marks a major difference between Old Chinese and Middle Chinese. Singaporean Hokkien also preserved the nasal vowel and the sai vowel of Old Chinese.

Old Chinese Words in Singaporean Hokkien -including those that are not used in Standard Mandarin, but are preserved in Singaporean Hokkien
Old Chinese Words/Hokkien pronunciation (IPA) Meaning in Mandarin English Notes
汝/li/ or /lɯ/ You
伊/i/ 他/她/它 He/She
箸/ti/ 筷子 chopsticks
物件/mi-kiaⁿ/ 東西 Things
安呢/an-ni/ 這麼 Like this
按怎/an-tzua/ 怎麼 How?
老君/lo-kun/ 医生 Doctor
厝/tsu/ 房子 House
檨/suaiⁿ/ 芒果 Mango
枵/iao/ 肚子餓 Hungry Eg.我個腹肚眞枵。(My stomach is very hungry)
尻川/kha-tsəng/ 屁股 Buttock
骹/kha/ leg
塗骹/thɔ-kha/ 地上 Floor
鼎/tiaⁿ/ Wok
肉脞/ba-tsɔ 碎肉 Minced meat
蹛/tua/ 在/居住 Live E.g.:汝蹛底落? (Where do you live?)
佇/ti/ at E.g.:汝佇底落?(Where are you at?)
徛/khia/ 居住/站 live E.g.:我徛佇牛車水。(I live in Chinatown)
暗冥/am-mi/ 晚上 Night
晏/uaⁿ/ night
門骹口/məng-kha-khao/ 門口 Entrance
外口/gua-khao/ 外面 Outside
泅水/siu-tzui 游泳 swim
卽陣/tzit-tzun/ 現在 now
卽久/tzit-ku/ 現在 now
卽馬/tzit-ma/ 現在 now
現此時/hien-tsu-si/ 現在/現時 now
當今/tɔng-kim/ 現在 nowadays
眠牀/bin-tsəng/ 睡牀 bed
遘/kao/ get to e.g:我遘厝了(I've reached home.)
转/təng/ 回去 go back E.g.:我轉去學堂提物件。(I came back to get my things)
倒轉/to-təng/ 回去 go back
食/tzia/ Eat
還未/ia-bue/ 還沒 not yet E.g.:我還未食飯。(I've not yet eaten.)
趁錢/than-tziⁿ/ 賺錢 earn money

Cultural use

In religion

Hokkien Sutra
Extract from a Buddhist repentance sutra 「大悲懺法儀規」 (with Singapore-style Hokkien romanization) taken from a Buddhist temple in Singapore
Hokkien Sutra
A display outside Telok Ayer Chinese Methodist Church showing Hokkien Sunday Services (on the right side)

Hokkien Taoist priests are the largest group among Taoist clergy community in Singapore, they had always conduct their religious services in Hokkien and still continue to do so. Some of the Chinese Buddhist temples in Singapore continue to recite the Buddhist scriptures in Hokkien during their daily worship services. The scriptures contain Singapore-style Hokkien romanization to help in the recitation. There are also Hokkien Buddhist sermons CDs made available and distribute among Hokkien communities in Singapore and overseas. Some of the Chinese Christian churches in Singapore also have services conducted in Singaporean Hokkien.


There exist Singaporean Hokkien writings, folk adages, and ballads written by early Chinese immigrants to Singapore.

Amongst the folk ballads, a few outstanding writings tell of the history and hardship of early Chinese immigrants to Singapore.

There are 18 sections in the poetry ballad "行船歌" (Hâng-chûn-koa) ("Songs of traveling on a boat"), which talks about how early immigrants migrated to Singapore.

There is another ballad called "砰嘭水中流" (Pin-pong-chúi-tiong-lâu) ("Flow in the midst of water"):


kih kok bo̍k ūi tsiu


pin pong chúi tiong lâu


mn̂g-siang u̍ih-hiúⁿ


si suit kàu chôan-chiu

An example of a folk love ballad is "雪梅思君" (Soat-m̂-su-kun) ("Snow and plum thinking of a gentlemen"), on the loyalty and chastity of love.[3]

An example of love poetry is "針線情" (Chiam-sòaⁿ-chiâⁿ) ("The emotions of needle and thread"):


lí sī chiam , góa sī sòaⁿ ,chiam-sòaⁿ éng-óan liâm siòng óa


lâng kóng chiam pó͘ chiam hiam tio̍h sòaⁿ, ūi-hô pàng gún leh ko͘-toaⁿ


Ah, lí góa pún sī tâng phōe-toaⁿ, chóaⁿ-iūⁿ lâi thiah-sòaⁿ


ū chiam bô sòaⁿ kiò gún ài an-chóaⁿ, su-liām sim-chiâⁿ bô-tè khòaⁿ


Singapore also held Getai during traditional Chinese festivals, for instance the Zhong Yuan Festival. During the Getai event, it is common to speak a number of Chinese dialects, including Hokkien, Teochew, and Cantonese. During the 1960s, Hokkien song was particularly popular. The Singapore Hokkien star Chen Jin Lang (陳金浪) was once the compere and main singer during the Hungry Ghost Festival. His famous song "10 levels of Hades" ("十殿閻君") was especially popular.

In opera

Early Singaporean Hokkien opera had its origins in Gaojia opera, which was brought from Quanzhou to Singapore during the late 19th century. In 1927, the Taiwanese Gezai opera spread to Singapore. Because its lyrics and singing style were easier to understand, it made a great impact on Singapore. Consequently, by the mid 20th century, it had replaced Gaojia opera to become the mainstream Hokkien opera in Singapore.

Currently, Singapore Hokkien opera is performed by two older troupes—Sin Sai Hong Hokkien Opera Troupe (新賽風閩劇團) and Xiao Kee Lin Hokkien Opera Troupe (筱麒麟閩劇團)—and three newer troupes—Sio Gek Leng Hokkien Opera Troupe (筱玉隆閩劇團), Ai Xin Hokkien Opera Troupe (愛心歌仔戲團), and Do Opera [Hokkien] (延戲[福建歌仔戲]), which is the newest.

A Singapore Chinese opera school nurtures talents in opera, including Hokkien opera.

In movies

Singapore Hokkien movies began to appear in the late 1990s, notably by dubbing in Hokkien mainstream Chinese movies made in Singapore. Amongst these, movies directed by Jack Neo, such as I Not Stupid and Money No Enough were popular. They reflected the social environment of local Singaporeans.

In radio

Although Singapore radios started to ban Hokkien in the 1980s, Rediffusion Singapore continued to broadcast in Hokkien and greatly contributed to the culture of Singapore. For instance, the Hokkien story-telling program Amoy folks story (廈語民間故事), by Xu Shumei (許淑梅), was very popular.


Nanyin (Southern Music) first spread to Singapore in 1901.[4] Many immigrants from Quanzhou began to establish various Nanyin organizations.

Those which survive include the Siong Leng Musical Association, which was established in 1941. It was responsible for promoting Nanyin, as well as Liyuan opera. In 1977, the then chairman of the association, Ting Ma Cheng (丁馬成), advocated for the ASEAN Nanyin Performance (亞細安南樂大會奏), which helped to revive Nanyin. In addition, in order to educate young people about this performance art, he also published two books on Nanyin and Liyuan opera.[5]

Currently, the Siong Leng Musical Association is led by Ding Honghai (丁宏海), and it continues to promote Nanyin in Singapore.

Footprints of Pe̍h-ōe-jī

Provided by descendant of Tan Boon Hak, 陳文學, a cousin of Tan Kah Kee, who donated it to the Brownies for the exhibition

There are some letters written in Pe̍h-ōe-jī from early Hokkien migrants in Singapore.

An example was provided by the descendant of Tan Book Hak, a cousin of Tan Kah Kee.[6]

POJ Letter (in romanized Hokkien) Hàn-jī transcription

12 ge̍h 26 ji̍t

Ha̍k-ḿ siu

Tī bô phah-sǹg ê tiong-kan chih-tio̍h lâi phoe chit hong, lāi-bīn só kóng long chai siông-sè, lūn lín Hiân-chek ê sin-khu, kūn lāi ū khah ióng, lín bián khoà-lū, lūn jī á nā-sī khah kín tò-lâi pó khah hó. Nā tò-lâi chia, ū sî iā thang hō͘ in hiân-chek khah I kàu-hùn, bián-lē. sǹg hiân-sî nî-hè iáu chió, bē bián tit-siū ín-iń, ng-bāng nî-hè kàu gia̍h i chiū ē bat siūⁿ . lí m̄-thang khoà-lū. lūn chhin-chiâⁿ goá ta̍k lé-pài lo̍h khì Ē-Mn̄g thām thiā, long boē hó-sè. Tā-chiah chia bān-bān koh chhōe, goá iā chin tì-ì . lūn su-chē hiân-chai bô tī the, iā thang chai ié ī-sū. Lái heⁿ lun̄ mā ái kóng hó, chiaⁿ-ge̍h chiah beh tò-lâi. Lūn chō sō ê seng-khu ū ióng-ióng á-bô. Chin siàu-liân ǹg-bāng mê-nî ē long tò-lâi, koh $100.00 kho ě sū. Suá bô ti-teh thēng hāu-lâi,góa chiah mn̄g I ê siông-sè, chit ê kì-hō,lí chai āu-pái m̄-thang kià kòe lâi sàng góa, ū chōe chōe êhùi khì. Chhéng an put it.

Ông pheh lîm


學姆 收

佇無拍算的中間,接著來批一封,內面所講攏知詳細。論恁賢叔的身軀,近來有較勇,恁免掛慮。論兒仔若是較緊倒来保較好,若倒來遮,有時也通予(亻因) 賢叔共伊教訓、勉勵。算現時年歲猶少,袂免得受引誘,向望年歲夠額 伊就會捌想,汝毋通掛慮。論親情,我逐禮拜落去廈門探聽,攏袂好勢,踮遮則慢慢閣揣,我也真致意。論師姐現在無佇咧,也無通知伊的意思,來衡論嘛愛講好,正月才欲倒來。論做嫂用身軀有勇勇抑無?真少年,向望明年會攏倒來,閣$100.00箍的事。師也無佇咧,聽後來,我才問伊的詳細,這個記號,汝知後擺汝毋通寄過來送我,有濟濟的費氣。請安不一。


Places in Singapore

Singapore's Chinese name "新加坡" (sin-ka-pho) originated from Hokkien's transliteration of "Singapore". In addition, there are many other place names in Singapore that originated from Hokkien: Ang Mo Kio and Toa Payoh, for instance.

See also


  1. ^ Ethnologue. "Languages of Singapore - Ethnologue 2017". Retrieved 2017-07-14.
  2. ^ "Podcast Transcript | Hokkien: How Do You Say "How Are You?"". Learn Dialect Singapore. Retrieved 1 June 2020.
  3. ^ "閩江茶座——周長楫敎授談閩南話在新加坡" (in Chinese). 國際在線.
  4. ^ "Siong Leng Musical Association". Lukechua.
  5. ^ "新加坡湘靈音樂社訪臺文化藝術交流音樂會" (in Chinese). rimhncfta.
  6. ^ Bukit Brown: Our Roots, Our Heritage

Further reading

  • Chua, B. H. (2000). Taiwan's present/Singapore's past mediated by Hokkien language. Singapore: Dept. of Sociology, National University of Singapore. ISBN 981-3033-43-6.
  • The Rev. Carstairs Douglas (1899). Chinese-English Dictionary of the Vernacular or Spoken Language of Amoy, with the Principal Variations of the Chang-chew and Chin-chew Dialects. London: Publishing Office of the Presbyterian Church of England. ISBN 1-86210-068-3.
  • 周长楫、周清海 (2002). 新加坡闽南话词典 [Singaporean Hokkien Dictionary] (in Chinese). Beijing: China Social Sciences Press. ISBN 7-5004-3530-4.
  • 周长楫、周清海 (2000). 新加坡闽南话概说 [Survey of Singaporean Hokkien] (in Chinese). Xiamen: Xiamen University Press. ISBN 7-5615-1692-4.
  • 周长楫、周清海 (2003). 新加坡闽南话俗语歌谣选 [Hokkien Folks Songs of Singapore] (in Chinese). Xiamen: Xiamen University Press. ISBN 7-5615-2158-8.

External links

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