"Can lah!"

As promised, more Singaporean musings. 

You may have noticed (or not!) that I changed my blog title to Sarah’s Singapore Story, lah!  You may even be asking yourself, “What does this lah mean?  Sarah said they speak English in Singapore!”  Never fear, an explanation is near. 
Best little handbook ever!
First, you need to know how wrong I was.  They speak Singlish here, not English.  This means that standard English grammar conventions rarely apply!   Simply put, lah is an indispensable utterance sprinkled into what seems like every bit of the Singlish language.  It peppers all sorts of phrases.   More often than not you will hear this three-letter word tacked on to underline meaning or place emphasis.  Sound a bit confusing?  It can be.  Lah conveys acceptance, understanding, affection, lightness, jest and a medley of other positive feelings.  However, it also can have no particular meaning at all and simply gives a sing-song quality to the end of a sentence.  And mind you, lah is not to be confused with ah, leh, hah or meh.  Here are some examples:

          “Can lah.” – meaning ‘yes' and  'I can do it’.

          “Can lah?” – meaning ‘Can you do it?’

          “Cannot lah!” – meaning “I cannot do it!”

          “Don’t know what to do lah!”

          “Hurry up lah.”

          “I want to go home lah.”

          “I make u-turn.  Go back lah.”  - taxi driver communicating he’s going to turn                        around.

          “Where we go for makan today lah?” – ‘makan’ means ‘to eat’.

          “Okay, lah, I be more careful lah!”

Love this illustration!   
Now that you have a better understanding of lah, you should know that my blog title aims to convey to you, my reader, a sense of positivity and affection for this city-country that has been my home for 281 days.  Living in Singapore has forced me to experience the spectrum of emotions from extremely depressed and homesick to elated awe and thankfulness - sometimes within the span of a few hours!  But, while I will always miss my country, friends and family and even feel disappointed about graduate school dreams, I prefer to take the "Can lah!" approach when it comes to this international adventure.  

So.  More tomorrow lah.  :)


  1. Hi sarah. Nice blog. Fun stuff. I'd lke o humbly and respectfully (i'm not a native singlish speaker) disagree slightly. As I understand it, lah is a softener that comes from Mandarin. It is used to soften conversation where there is a chance that what you are saying could be misunderstood as having a sharp edge. Like if you want to reject someone, but you want to make it friendly, you say no lah instead of just no. You are right that connotes warmth and friendliness, but i think using it in the title the way you have, would not actually be natural. :)

  2. Eric, spot on with the usage of 'lah'. It's to soften a command or commonly used also to soften a negative response. Simply tacking lah onto the end of every other sentence is unnatural.