Friday, July 21, 2006

Sri Lankanisms - Number 1 in an occasional series

Being born and bred in the UK to Sri Lankan parents has meant that I have experienced the pleasures and diversities of both British and Sri Lankan cultures for as long as I can remember.

I have been fortunate to taste and become accustomed to Sri Lankan food and British food. I can savour the delights of a good British sausage with a dash of mustard and I can tuck into a lamprais with the best of them. I can jiggle my arse to a good Baila as well as any of my Sri Lankan cousins and I can hate Coldplay as much as the next man. I can fly a St George's flag from my car yet still wear a sarong at night and I can do a 100 mile round trip in the UK without using my horn yet drive down Duplication Road and horn like a local. I can use "horn" as a verb, yet I can think that the plural of fruit is fruit, not fruits. It is a rich and joyful heritage and I wouldn't swap it for all the tea in, well, the Isle of Man.

There are so many English phrases that seem to be used by Sri Lankans in their everyday language and yet are hardly used in "English" English. I am sure that many of the UK Sri Lankan bloggers and readers will be familiar with some of these "Singlish" gems but I would like to start by introducing you to my Mother's favourite one:

"Are you mad?"

In "English" English it would be used in the following context:

"I went to a psychiatric clinic today" says chap A.

"Are you mad?" replies chap B.

"No, I'm a psychiatrist" responds chap A.

This is just about the only context in which I can imagine the question being used in normal spoken "English" English. Of course there is a long debate, which I will save for another time, about whether being a psychiatrist and being mad are mutually exclusive. There are some variations on the general theme, but they all exist along the lines of chap B asking chap A if he is really clinically insane.

Now, to apply it correctly in Singlish it must be thrown into a sentence, preferably in a rather forceful way, without warning. Use it when the victim is least expecting it and use it to respond to a totally innocuous comment. The word "mad" must be stretched to sound like "maaad". Don't expect any kind of answer as it is not really a question, more a statement about the sheer lunacy of the person in whose direction it is aimed.


"I'm going to buy some vegetable oil" says innocent party.

"Are you mad?" replies aggressive antogonizer.


"I'll take the car" says IP

"Are you mad?"


"I'll have some more rice"

"Are you mad?"

To any non Sri Lankans reading this I urge you not to be offended when your Sri Lankan mate says this to you. It is not meant to be taken literally. They are not really questioning your sanity, it's just a friendly way of saying "You what?"

There you have it, now practice using it in everyday conversation and next week we'll talk about the lakh.

Have a good weekend all.


Sam said...

Oh Yes. Not only in English – even in Sinhalese we use the similar term for exaggerate what is coming after that sentence.
“I want more rice”
“Are you mad? Look at this bread.. Eat some of that”
If there is no immediate following sentence – listener suppose to add a sentence like ‘don’t do that’ or ‘you are incorrect’.
It is something similar to the term Indians use ‘Ten-Thousand-Apologies’.

I don’t think any one take that in bad sprit in Sri Lanka.

childof25 said...

my favourite SL trait is the non-commital headshake...I love the confused looks I get from other people in meetings when they ask me a question and I waggle my head...

Savi said...

Loved the post!!

esp. the beginning where you compare the traits of the two countries and go 'I can do this, as well as that'. I just love that style. :)

Rhythmic Diaspora said...

Thanks a lot Savi. That's really kind of you to say.

rastiadu karaya said...

Another variation of using "are you mad?!" is when you're asking someone if they are actually indeed angry ;)

I think your mom and I have somewhat of an affinity for that term. Whenever I have spent an extended amount of time in SL i come back saying "are you mad?!" and "yeah mEn" a lot. (Not to be confused with "yeah mAn.") Somehow though I feel when those terms are not said with a bonafide Sri Lankan accent, they loose their charm. Like when an American says "bollocks."

Darwin said...

The use of the word 'bugger' is another interesting problem. I have now started using it in the more 'English' English sense rather than the Singlish way.

SmileyGirly said...

I think this is a wicked post! I totally have a lot of Thanglish phrases that I seem to have picked up off my parents and other members of my family!
Nice post. :-)

Rhythmic Diaspora said...

Thank you very much Smileygirly. I'll check out your blog too!

SmileyGirly said...

Thank you.. But I don't tend to blog as much as I'd like to. But please feel free to. :-)