After quite a long time away, Shaun’s back with a vengeance! In the vein of Peter’s Aiya! (#80) post comes another Asian colloquialism ““ known as the ‘Lah” particle.
This term ‘Lah” can most commonly be heard in South-East Asia, especially by (but not totally restricted to) Singaporeans, Malaysians and Indonesians. Having said that, people in certain parts of China use ‘lah” a great deal, which includes thoseÂ in Hong Kong and Taiwan. This is due in part to the emergence of Chinglish as a lingual force to be reckoned with. Unlike ‘Aiya”, which denotes frustration in some way, the term ‘Lah” itself has no meaning whatsoever. Used effectively, however, it simultaneously softens the force of an utterance and entices solidarity. Or more possibly, it is a term said subconsciously by reflex, used by those who just can’t help themselves ““ lah!
There are two possible theories to how the term ‘lah” became so prominent, especially with the South-East Asian crowd. Generally speaking, those in South-East Asian regions such as Singapore and Malaysia have reasonably strong English skills, but the problem is they often tend to mingle local Creole and regional dialects in with their English. Thus, the term ‘lah” among many other terms was born. The first theory relates back to the Chinese language ““ the character å•¦ (La! ) is effectively a fusion between two other characters äº† (Le) & å•Š (as in the ‘Ah” part in ‘Aiya”). Usually in Chinese, the characteräº† (Le) indicates a past event having occurred, and the character å•Š (pronounced ‘Ah”) denotes surprise. When meshed together, the ubiquitous term ‘Lah” or å•¦ (La! ) is formed!
The second theory to how ‘Lah” was coined is rooted in the Malay and Indonesian languages. The basic thought process here is that when adding the term ‘lah” to the end of a sentence (typically a verb or request) in Malay or Indonesian, it adds an extra layer of politeness to the request. This is done by softening the tone, particularly when regular usage of the verb may seem impolite in some circumstances. For example, to say ‘please” in Malay, one would say ‘Tolong”, but when saying it as ‘Tolonglah” it effectively becomes ‘pretty please”. (Well, not literally, but you get the point). Somehow, ‘lah” has seeped through the confines of that particular language, and through the rise in prominence of English in these countries as a ‘global language”, it has consequently seeped into South-East Asian dialects of English as well.
Basically, the gist behind using this wonderful particle is that after any sentence you tack the term ‘lah” on at the end. Confused? Well, it’s deceptively simple, really. Instead of saying: ‘I want to go to the library”, you should say ‘I want to go to the library LAH!” with extra slurring of the words together in the applicable accent to get the message across most effectively. Simple, isn’t it? Usually you can get away with tacking ‘Lah” onto any, and I mean ANY sentence ““ pretty much the more you say it, the more the locals will accept you as one of their own ““ lah! (Okay, okay, I’ll stop with that now, it does get somewhat annoying after a while!)
There are several other colloquialisms that go hand-in-hand with the term ‘lah”. Asians who use the ‘lah” particle will also be prone to subconsciously using seemingly gibberish terms such as ‘wan” ‘mah” ‘lor” ‘leh” ‘wat” & ‘meh” in conjunction with the almighty ‘lah” to emphasize one’s point. These particles are all influenced in some way by Asian dialects – usually various Chinese ones. They also possibly incorporate elements of local language and creoles ““ such as those shown above as possible explanations for the rise to prominence of the particle ‘lah”.
To those who do not believe there are those who actually speak like this, this author proposes you should head down to a place like Singapore and see these phrases in action for yourself. Singaporeans have essentially created their own language ““ Singlish, which is basically Singaporean-Creole English, influenced by both American and British English along with Malay, Tamil, and a variety of Chinese dialects including Mandarin, Cantonese, Hokkien, Teochew, Hakka and Shanghainese. That’s a mouthful, isn’t it? A foreigner should be able to comprehend what is being said to them. Just expect a whole lot of the aforementioned particles”¦ and of course when responding, remember to end each and every sentence with ‘lah”!
Just on an end note, try saying something like this (with deliberately exaggerated use of the local slang) to endear yourself to a native Singaporean”¦
‘Excuse me lah, can you help me wan? Okay loh, I need to go to this place mah, which way wan? Uh huh”¦ okay lah! That way very confusing leh. Meh, what to do, lah? Okay, take train then wat? Uh huh, so must walk too, wan? Wah kena, but very troublesome loh! What to do ah? No choice, no choice wan, okay can do lah! Thanks again lah! Buh-bye! (LAH!?! ““ optional)
In regular English, this pretty much means”¦
‘Excuse me, can you give me directions?” So just take the train then walk? Okay thanks!
Well, to be fair, us Asians have never been well-renown for our conciseness, brevity or succinctness, have we? (And yes, I am aware of the irony in gratuitously using 3 words to describe the same thing!)
Last 5 posts by Shaun
- Busting the Stereotype: All Asians are Intelligent - April 18th, 2009
- #114 World of Warcraft - April 10th, 2009
- #102 Being Modest about *** - December 3rd, 2008
- #99 MSG - November 12th, 2008
- #98 Studying Overseas - October 29th, 2008