Friday, December 11, 2009

The Kena Passive in Singapore English

In Standard English (StdE), passives are formed using a be passive auxiliary verb or a form of get.  By contrast, Singapore English (SgE), which does not have as complex a system of auxiliary and main verbs, uses kena (a word of Malay origin) to form the passive.  The SgE examples above may therefore be phrased in StdE as I was once fined, I got fined once, or If I was fined.  (The quote may be translated as ‘I was once fined for jaywalking. Quite embarrassing. If I’d been fined for speeding, then that would’ve been cool.’)

Interestingly, the SgE kena passive is what is known as an ‘adversative passive’ — one used for negative or undesirable outcomes.  Hence, The baby kena fed is all right if the baby had been fed poison, but not if it had been fed milk.  Likewise, if one were to say I kena appointed leader, it suggests the speaker did not want to be leader.


lovelyloey said...

I seem to feel there's two kinds of 'kena', or possibly only one kind which does not correspond directly to just an aux-passive.

"Haha, he kena, serve him right."

In this example there seems to be omission of the main V (if we analyze it based on the Aux+V grammar like StdE.)

So I'm not sure how we can deal with this form of "kena".

The Grammar Terrorist said...

Hi, Wanni

Oh yes, thanks for pointing this out to me! I agree it's a different use. I think it's a main verb in this case. We might also say things like 'Yesterday I really kena', and if we were to put tense marking, it would go on 'kena'.

Hope you're keeping well.

Anatango said...

Thanks for this useful blog about grammar ...
Grammar is an active sport of our minds...

The Grammar Terrorist said...

Many thanks, Anatango!