Saturday 23 April 2016

Ramblings from Saudi: How to Speak English (the Saudi Way)

Okay, so this is not an English lesson. God knows that English language is not in the least bit my specialty, let alone my forte, so I wouldn't even dare to attempt to write something on how to speak the language.

This is however about how the locals speak the language. I mean, if Malaysians have Manglish (a.k.a. Malaysian English-speak) and the little island down south of the Malaysian peninsular have their Singlish, the people here – whether or not they realise it yet themselves – also have their own version of English. Maybe it should be called Saudi Arabian English. After all, I'm not talking about how the Arabs speak the language, it's about how the Saudis speak the language. Okay, maybe not. Even saying it is how Saudis speak the language would be too much of a generalisation.

But whatever. Let's just call it Sanglish then.

So where do we start? Let's begin with the difference between Manglish and Sanglish to put things in a better perspective. Unlike Manglish, which is the result of Malaysians using bits and pieces of the local languages (i.e. Malay language, various Chinese & Indian dialects) to spice up their English to express themselves better, English language does not suffer the same level of butchery here in Saudi. The only Arabic words that have been used rather unsparingly in conversations that I have had so far with the locals here are wallahi, ya'ani and la.


I believe wallahi can roughly be translated into English as "by God" or "swear to God". Chances are you will find this word mentioned in almost every other statement made by a Saudi. It is used by the speaker generally to imply that he/ she is being frank and telling you the truth whatever the statements may be, and this may include statements of low value or importance that most of us do not think or even require the speaker to actually swear by God's name to prove that he/ she is telling the truth. E.g. "Wallahi, I'm already full", "Wallahi, that's the lowest price I can offer", "Wallahi, this week I'm going to be really busy", etc. You can also use wallahi as a question to confirm the truth of what you have just been told, e.g. "Wallahi?", and the answer would invariably be wallahi as well. I don't know the reason why wallahi is used in almost every other statement that a speaker makes. There could be some religious views on the significance of saying it. Or it could have been because the word itself has been culturally embedded into most Saudis' every day life, so much so that it pops up naturally in almost every other statement that they make.

Whatever the reasons, wallahi, I don't know.


Ya'ani, as some Malaysians would have noted, is the same word as ya'ani that has now become entrenched in the classic Malay language, with its possible equivalent in the modern Malay language, "iaitu" or "that is" in the English language. At times, as I understand it, ya'ani can also be used to mean "meaning", depending on the context of the sentence. So now you know what it means when your Saudi colleague says, "We have to do it this way, ya'ani… blah blah blah" or when your Saudi boss says, "We have to have the report ready first thing tomorrow morning, ya'ani… you have to give it to me for review before lunch today because I have to leave office for the day by then…".

Do you get it? Ya'ani, do you get the meaning of ya'ani and how to use it yet?


La is an Arabic word that literally means "no" in English but no, it does not necessarily mean "no" when it is used in a conversation that is conducted in English with a Saudi. Neither it is the same as la nor lah, which are unashamedly used in Manglish whenever a Malaysian speaker would like to stress his/ her point. Really, it's not like that-lah. Instead it is used when the speaker is at a loss and groping for words that he/ she could or should use in the conversation. The word la is usually repeated a few times, very much like "urm… urm… urm…", until the speaker finally manages to find the correct word to use.

So until then, you should just wait and enjoy the (rather flat) singing tone when the speaker goes "la… la… la…".


I didn't mention about the fourth word, inshaAllah, at the beginning of this blog post above mostly because it's a given. Anyone who has ever interacted with any Saudis would have noted the word, which literally means 'God Willing'. This is usually said when the speaker promises/plans on doing something some time in the future, and as the "future is unknown", the speaker still needs to rely on God's will for that 'something' to happen. For Muslims, you can plan and work towards something but if God doesn't will it to happen, it won't happen. And that's the underlying reason for inshaAllah. "I'll see you tomorrow, inshaAllah", "I'll be home this weekend, inshaAllah", "I'm going on my honeymoon in Paris, inshaAllah". Wallahi, honeymoon in Paris, ya habibi?!

However, inshaAllah has also become a way to escape oneself from making any promises or a commitment, somewhat in a polite way. "InshaAllah, I'll come" and when you don't turn up and later get asked why, you could always say, "Wallahi, I wanted to but I completely forgot about it, ya'ani, la la la (enter your excuse here)".

- - - - - - -

Wallahi, I'm not done yet. Ya'ani there'll be part 2. Soon. Or whenever. InshaAllah. :)

This is the ninth blog entry under 'Ramblings from Saudi' series.

'Ramblings from Saudi' is a series of blog entries originally written when I was living in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia for one year from 2007 to 2008. While the entries under this series are not exactly travel entries, (I hope that) they tell stories about life in Saudi Arabia in general as I personally experienced them.

For other 'Ramblings from Saudi' entries, click here.


Comments and feedback are always appreciated. So do leave one or two if you have the time. Thank you!

  1. Okey..saya terhibur dgn entry ni haha..what about "aiwa"? Selalu guna tak?. Dulu i pernah ambik class bahasa arab (keperluan universiti utk grad hee) my ustaz selalu guna "aiwa" bila kami dapat cakap arab dgn baik or jawab soalan betul..

    1. Wallahi, terhibur? Heheh! Right, aiwa! Diorg selalu guna juga tapi saya tak reti2 nak guna sebab jadi macam "ewaaaahhh", hahaha!

  2. Replies
    1. It sounds simple and fitting, most of the time, doesn't it? Now imagine org cakap Melayu, selang satu ayat cakap "Sumpah, demi Allah". Rasa macam tak proper langsung.

  3. Hey kenapa potong nak hanimun ke Paris? Hahahh..
    I kenot speak korek inglish when talk to fre

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