Every language has unique metaphors. The phrases are grounded in stories that are well known among the community. In using the words and phrases, individuals remind a community of the shared stories that bind it together. In Singapore, the metaphors are captured in a unique form of English. The simple description is that the language that sounds foreign to traditional English speakers is not English at all; it is Singlish.
Initially, I thought that Singish was a mixture of English and local slang. In many ways it is and yet it is so much more. The non-English words are often grounded in Malay, Chinese, and Tamil. One might be temped to translate the words literally however this would miss the particular nuances of how the average person uses the language.
The reality is that the story behind the story allows individuals to make a point or ask a rhetorical question with ease. It is helpful to remember that this is not unique to Singapore in today’s age. Centuries ago, when Paul was confronted his response was captured in a story that his audience understood. “Is it just Barnabas and I who have to go it alone and pay our own way? Are soldiers self-employed?” (1 Corinthians 9.6)
You and I share a unique language together. It is one framed by shared experiences, events, and memories. It can be used to build a shared understanding or divide.
I find that when I am in a conversation it is easy to presume I understand. Singlish reminds me that asking is always a good idea. Hearing the story behind the story gives me the opportunity to understand with greater clarity. I know that I do not know in this context. The presumption that I know is an invitation to conflict.
Today a new conversation begins. How I listen will change what follows. It can be an opportunity to build if I am willing to slow down and hear what the other has to say. Knowing the story behind the story changes everything. I want more. I want something better.