Sunday, August 14, 2011

How Come You Never Call Me?

To many people in Singapore, Peppermint Patty must sound very Singaporean in the first panel.

For starters, how come? is widely believed to be a Singlish expression, but it is not, and is in fact very common in colloquial American English (Peanuts is, of course, American).

Furthermore, Peppermint Patty’s utterance differs from Singlish in two important respects.  First, as is obvious from the subsequent panels, she really means ‘Why do you never call me?’ whereas in Singlish never is often used as a simple negator, so the most obvious meaning to most Singaporeans would be ‘Why didn’t you call me?’ 

Second, Peppermint Patty would probably never drop you, whereas for most Singaporeans it is redundant and stylistically heavy since Singlish is a pro-drop (null subject) language and subject and object pronouns need not be expressed if their referents (here, Chuck and the speaker, Peppermint Patty) are understood or recoverable from context.  In other words, the most natural formulation of the sentence in Singlish would be Why never call?  (Call in Standard English may also be intransitive, in which case Why don’t you ever call? does not have a missing object pronoun, me.)

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