Erlewine, Michael Yoshitaka, 2023. “A syntactic universal in a contact language: The story of Singlish already.”
Discourse Particles in Asian Languages, volume 2: Southeast Asia, pages 91–120. DOI: 10.4324/9781351057752-5

This paper investigates the syntax and semantics of Singlish (Colloquial Singapore English) sentence-final already and its development in the contact ecology of Singapore. Bao 2005 identifies the Mandarin Chinese perfective suffix -le and sentence-final particle le as two substrate sources for Singlish already. In this paper, I first argue instead that sentence-final le — together with its cognate liao/laa in other Chinese languages of Singapore — is the sole substrate source for the syntax and semantics of Singlish already. The various interpretational effects of already can be derived from a uniform semantics shared with its substrate cognate particles le/liau/laa, together with consideration of the telicity of the predicate. I furthermore show that the syntax of already differs subtly from that of its substrate cognates: Singlish sentence-final already unambiguously scopes over the entire clause, whereas its substrate cognate particles le/liau/laa are in a clause-medial position. I propose that this difference can be explained through a process of reanalysis forced by the interaction of a syntactic universal, the Final-over-Final Constraint, together with independent differences between Singlish and its substrate Chinese languages.