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Oxford Singlish makes it online

South China Morning Post. March 14, 2000

BY BARRY PORTER in Singapore

THE Oxford English Dictionary has finally given its blessing to some Singapore slang.

Rather embarrassingly, this comes days before Singapore launches a campaign aimed at wiping out "Singlish".

The first online version of the Oxford English Dictionary - which is being officially launched today - includes two popular Singlish words among its 60 million entries - "lah" and "sinseh", incorporating them into ordinary everyday English-language usage.

Singlish is a colourful but idiosyncratic mix of English with the odd phrase of Chinese, Malay and even Tamil. Most Singaporeans love it. The government does not.

The former British colony's Prime Minister, Goh Chok Tong, has told his countrymen they must speak "proper" English if the city-state is to make it as a leading international economic hub, while Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew has called Singlish a handicap.

It's no joking matter.

Scriptwriters for Singapore's leading sitcom, Phua Chu Kang Pte Ltd, have been told their lead character, an uncouth building contractor played by comic Gurmit Singh, is a bad role model and must change.

The Ministry of Education has unveiled an action plan to improve the language skills of teachers and pupils. A private sector-funded Speak Good English Movement will be launched next month.

Placing all 20 volumes of the dictionary on the Internet has enabled its compilers to begin its biggest overhaul since 1928.

Asian words and expressions are included in the online version from day one.

The popular Singlish and Malaysian expression "lah" has been defined as "a particle used with various kinds of pitch to convey the mood and attitude of the speaker", as in "Come with us, lah" to emphasise persuasion, and "Wrong, lah", demonstrating annoyance.

"Sinseh" has been defined as a traditional Chinese physician or herbalist.