Discourse particle lah

As mentioned earlier, lah has a wide array of functions ranging from solidarity to hostility and a two part function of lah proposed by Wee (2004) can help us understand the diverse range of pragmatic functions that lah possesses. The first part of the function of lah is to draw the hearer's attention to a particular mood or attitude that the speaker possesses, and the second part of the function of lah is to appeal to the hearer to accommodate to the speaker's current mood or attitude (Wee 2004). Examples (3) and (4) illustrate the way in which lah can be analyzed as serving two functions.

(3) A: For me, if your money spend. But okay lah, save a bit for the future lah,

but don’t like overly save, like, you know?

‘For me, if you have money spend it. But okay, I will save a bit for the future, but not save excessively, you know?’

B: Yeah, I mean you can't bring it when you die.

‘Yeah, I mean you can’t bring it with you when you die.’

(A = Malay Male, 28 years old; В = Chinese Male, 31 years old)

In Example (3), we see that speaker A uses lah to signal his attitude or perspective that it is alright for someone to spend his or her money as long as he or she saves some of it for the future. By using lah here, he also hopes that the hearer will accommodate or agree with his perspective. Additionally, he ends his mm with you blow to make sure that the hearer has understood his perspective. To agree with speaker A’s perspective speaker В says yeah and continues to say that money is something that is ephemeral and will not matter once a person passes away. This further confirms the fact that speaker В has understood speaker A’s perspective and fully supports his way of thinking.

(4) A: In JC (junior college) you can still can put everything aside until the

exams which I did lah.

В: I did that (too).

(A = Chinese Male, 24 years old; В = Chinese Male, 31 years old)

Similar to Example (3), speaker A in Example (4) uses lah to signal his attitude or perspective that it is alright for someone to procrastinate up till the exams. The use of lah here suggests that he hopes the hearer will accommodate or agree with his perspective. To agree with speaker A's perspective, speaker В says that he did the same thing too. This signals to speaker A that speaker В has understood his perspective and fully agrees with his way of thinking.

Discourse particle leh

According to Wee (2004), discourse particle leh functions as a pragmatic softener by marking an assertion or request as tentative. Examples (5) and (6) exemplify the way in which discourse particle leh can function as a pragmatic softener.

(5) A: So you’ve taken photos of historical building or?

B: Historical building ah? No leh.

(A = Chinese Male, 31 years old; В = Chinese Male, 28 years old)

In Example (5), speaker A asks speaker B, a freelance photographer, if he has taken photos of historical buildings in Singapore. Speaker В replies that he has not taken photos by saying no. However, a straight out no may seem impolite, hence speaker В uses a pragmatic softener like leh to soften the tone.

(6) A: Which cities have you been to?

B: Have I been? I went to a lot leh.

(A = Chinese Male, 31 years old; В = Chinese Female, 22 years old)

In Example (6), speaker A asks speaker В which cities in the US she has been to. Speaker В replies that she has been to many cities in the US. However, to not sound like she is bragging, speaker В uses discourse particle leh to make it sound less assertive.

Discourse particle lor

The main function of discourse particle lor is described by Wee (2004) as indicating that an utterance is a direct observation or an obvious inference. Examples

  • (7) and (8) show the way in which discourse particle lor can express a sense of obviousness.
  • (7) Then, yeah. Newspapers. Job ad. So I call lor, they ask me to go for interview.

‘Then, yeah. I looked at newspapers, job advertisements in newspapers. So I called them and they asked me to go over for an interview.’

(Chinese Female, 56 years old)

In Example (7), the speaker is answering the question of how she managed to get a position at her current workplace. Since calling the contact number shown in job advertisements is part of the world knowledge of most people, the speaker marks so I call (them) with lor as it is easily inferable from someone’s prior knowledge about how a typical job search works.

(8) She has motivation to understand what’s the lyrics about so she sings lor.

‘She has the motivation to understand what the lyrics are saying so she likes to sing (Korean) songs.’

(Chinese Female, 22 years old)

In Example (8) the speaker is talking about a friend who likes to sing Korean songs. She tells the interviewer that her friend is motivated to learn what the song lyrics mean and proceeds to say that she likes to sing Korean songs. Since song lyrics are meant to be sung, it is easily inferable from the previous information that she provided that her friend would also like to sing Korean songs. As such, the speaker marks so she sings with lor to express a sense of obviousness.

Additionally, an analysis of the sociolinguistic interview data shows that lor can co-occur with English yeah to form yah lor. Unlike lor when it appears alone, yah lor has its own discourse functions that are similar to how Chinese learners use yah when they speak in English (Bu 2013). The discourse functions of yah lor can be categorized into two types: 1) expressing agreement; and 2) discourse structuring.

Expressing agreement

Like yeah in Standard English, discourse particle yah lor can be used to indicate agreement with something that an interlocutor had mentioned previously.

(9) A: They always cheer until sore throat, then no more voice.

‘They always cheer until their throats are sore and they lose their voice’ B: Yah lor. That’s why.

(A = Chinese Male, 31 years old; В = Chinese Female, 18 years old)

In Example (9), speakers A and В are talking about why excessive cheering is meaningless. Speaker В uses yah lor to indicate that she agrees with speaker A’s statement about overzealous students cheering until their throats are sore, so much so that they lose their voice.

Discourse structuring

Similar to the way in which Chinese learners use yah when speaking English, Colloquial Singapore English yah lor can also “mark transitions, to confirm, to elaborate or to comment on preceding utterances” (Bu 2013: 45^16). Example

  • (10) shows how yah lor can be used to elaborate further on a previous point, and Example (11) demonstrates how yah lor can mark the end of a speaker’s turn or the transition from one speaker to another.
  • (10) Then like now, yah lah, but all of them change already lah. Yah lor. Some of them become er ... become normal working adult.

‘Now, all of them have already changed. Some of them have become regular working adults.’

(Chinese Male, 28 years old)

In Example (10), the speaker talks about the way in which his friends have changed now and uses yah lor to indicate that he is going to elaborate more; after which he gives an example of how his friends have changed, i.e. they have become regular working adults.

(11) A: So did you do well in the end?

B: Quite well, I think. Yah lor.

A: Then which secondary school did you go to?

(A = Chinese Male, 31 years old; В = Chinese Female, 18 years old)

In Example (11), speaker A asks how well speaker В did in her exams and speaker В says she did quite well and uses yah lor at the end of her answer to indicate that it is the end of her conversational turn, and she has nothing further to add. Understanding that speaker B’s turn had ended, speaker A subsequently follows up with a new question.

 
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