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Singapore's Unusual Language of Numbers: A Peek into the World of Hokkien Numerals

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Singapore, a small yet vibrant city-state, is renowned for its multicultural society, mouthwatering cuisine, and cutting-edge architecture. Among its numerous fascinating aspects, one lesser-known fact about Singaporeans is their unique use of Hokkien numerals, a colloquial system of number slang that adds a touch of local flavor to everyday conversations. In this article, we will delve into the origins, usage, and cultural significance of Hokkien numerals in Singapore.

Origins of Hokkien Numerals in Singapore

The roots of Hokkien numerals can be traced back to the Hokkien dialect, one of the Chinese languages spoken by a significant portion of Singapore's population. Originating from the Fujian province in China, Hokkien was brought to Singapore by early Chinese immigrants and has since become an integral part of the nation's linguistic landscape.

Hokkien numerals are formed by substituting words that sound similar to the standard Mandarin numbers, creating a unique system of number slang. This informal numeric language has been passed down through generations and is still widely used today, particularly among older Singaporeans and in casual settings.

Usage and Examples of Hokkien Numerals

The use of Hokkien numerals adds a touch of humor and local identity to everyday conversations in Singapore. While they may seem cryptic to the uninitiated, Singaporeans who are familiar with the Hokkien dialect can easily understand and appreciate the play on words.

Some examples of Hokkien numerals include:

  1. "Gor" (哥) - Replaces the standard Mandarin number "yi" (一) for one. "Gor" is a term of address for an older brother, and its pronunciation is similar to the Hokkien pronunciation of "one."

  2. "Ji" (猪) - Substitutes the standard Mandarin number "er" (二) for two. "Ji" means pig in Hokkien, and its pronunciation resembles the Hokkien pronunciation of "two."

  3. "Sa" (啥) - Replaces the standard Mandarin number "san" (三) for three. "Sa" is a colloquial Hokkien term for "what," and its pronunciation is similar to the Hokkien pronunciation of "three."

Cultural Significance of Hokkien Numerals

The use of Hokkien numerals in Singapore reflects the nation's rich linguistic diversity and its unique blend of cultures. As a form of colloquial slang, Hokkien numerals help foster a sense of camaraderie and shared identity among Singaporeans, particularly those with Hokkien heritage.

Moreover, Hokkien numerals serve as a reminder of Singapore's history and the vital role that early Chinese immigrants played in shaping the nation's cultural landscape. By preserving and continuing to use Hokkien numerals, Singaporeans pay homage to their roots and celebrate the traditions that have been passed down through generations.


The little-known fact about the use of Hokkien numerals in Singapore highlights an intriguing and playful aspect of the nation's linguistic culture. As a testament to Singapore's multicultural heritage and the enduring influence of its early Chinese settlers, Hokkien numerals add a distinctive touch to the everyday conversations of Singaporeans. By embracing this unique numeric language, Singaporeans showcase their appreciation for the diverse influences that have come together to create the rich tapestry of their nation's culture.