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Nov 5, 2008

A Lorong is not a Street: Taxonomy of the Singapore Road Name


Given the plethora of online resources and services, do you still use the paper street directory?

While people are flocking to Google Map and SLA Map, there is a reason why I still hug my street directory book and even bought the latest edition recently.

There are things that you just cannot find on the paperless version. The road index is an example. Gone are the days you have to scan the index for your road, the online version like SLA Map provides a search box for that purpose.

The street directory from a certain publisher contains a real gem - their road index is in dual language. This, I thought, is a good chance to brush up my Chinese. Yeah right! Actually I'm lying. My English is the one to be brushed up, as far as the taxonomy of road name is concerned. You can't fault me for this - I had English and Chinese as first language in school and now with really talented Mainlanders working under with me, my working language is by and large Mandarin.

Disclaimer: My Chinese is by no means fantastic. What follows is a hodgepodge of guesswork.

If you do a classification on the road index, you'd realize there are more than two dozens ways we name the Singapore road. The list is shocking, you never thought Boat Quay and Boat Quay Lane are different roads in the index.

Taxonomy of the Singapore road name. Here are 22 most common and more interesting ones. The full list could be double the number.

There is no one-to-one translation between the English and Chinese road name. Is this any surprising? There is a sociopolitical reason behind this and I shall not elaborate. There is also the linguistic reason English "borrows" heavily from its cousins across the Channel.

Take Boulevard for instance. The word is suspiciously French and I never bothered to check the meaning from the dictionary. It sounds cool with the usual French airs. Of course it is only cool if you enunciate the French way, the same with 'reservoir' and 'rendezvous'. My ignorance disappeared after seeing the Chinese translation - 林荫道. Chey, so it is just a road lined with and shaded by trees. In fact the dictionary definition is:

a broad avenue in a city, usually having areas at the sides or center for trees, grass, or flowers.

And the translation for Avenue happens to be 道. Now I know why Orchard Road looks so different from Orchard Boulevard.

The mixing and matching leads to better understanding. A Way is a Big Avenue, so Boon Lay Way is wider than Boon Lay Avenue. A Track is a Rural Avenue. An Alley is a Small Lane. A Grande is supposed to be a Majestic Avenue, but looking at Tampines Grande I'm not so sure. A Path is a smaller version of a Walk. And of course, a Lorong is not a Street.

The Chinese translation reveals other information. I didn't know Buona Vista means "good view" in Italian until I blogged about it here. If only I read the road index more carefully a few years before, as Vista and View are pretty synonymous in the road index. I didn't know also that Vale is a kind of valley. You can call the Chinese an uncreative bunch for naming every valley a valley. That's why the Grand Canyon is called 大峡谷, just as the Dragon Girl in the Jinyong (金庸) story fell into 绝情谷.

24 comments:

Adelin Lok said...

this is a very interesting post!!! I thank you for sharing this precious info with us!

I also bought the latest edition of the st directory, sometimes, it's just more comfy to hold something in your hand and read it from there. :)

(Saves electricity switching on the pc too)

Icemoon said...

Glad that you like it.

By the way, you guys notice the Lorong 106-110 Changi in my topic illustration? I wonder what happened to Lorong 1-100 Changi? (the numbering starts from 100, check your street directory)

JonL said...

Hmm I noticed that Lorong is transliterated 罗弄 in Changi instead of being translated 巷 as in Geylang. Another oddity, eh? I wonder how many other inconsistent translation/transliteration pairs exist…

Icemoon said...

Johnny, I think when there is a suffix like Lorong 106, the second translation is used. These lorongs are really lanes in the sense. Others like Lorong Chuan are more like roads.

Lam Chun See said...

Wtih so many condos coming up in Spore, I find the names even more uncreative. Everything is either a 'ville' or a 'lodge'.

Victor said...

I noticed that "Rise" as in
"Telok Blangah Rise" is not listed. Do you know what the Chinese name should be? 坡?

ordinady guy said...

With the ever changing landscape of Singapore and the naming of new roads when, it's pretty hard to remember...especially for taxi drivers who may end up bring you somewhere which is not your intended destination.

Icemoon said...

Victor is right. Haha, the full list is pretty long and some are boring - Bedok North Interchange, Bedok Central etc.

A few simply cannot be classified. Like Bishopgate, Bishopwalk. The latter takes its name after the condo? on the site - Bishop Walk. Don't know why the road has the name joined. Shouldn't it be the other way round?

Icemoon said...

ordinary guy's comment gave me an idea. Maybe I should test the cabbie by going to Tampines Grande and 1st Street. Too bad there's no 77th Street.

Btw, anybody knows why there's no Ang Mo Kio Ave 7?

Lam Chun See said...

Why there is no AMK Ave 7? Becos 5 is already the highest odd no. The main avenues in AMK are arranged in a matrix, with the odd nos runing in west-east direction and the even nos running in a north-south direction. The highest in the odd no. series is 5. After that is Yio Chu Kang Rd.

Icemoon said...

But Chun See, there is Ave. 9 leh. It is the road beside the police DIV HQ and the stadium.

Lam Chun See said...

Really? I always thot that was just a 'street'. Malu man.

This calls for some detective work liao.

Victor said...

There's even an Ang Mo Kio Avenue 10.

Icemoon said...

Time to test the cabbie again.

"Uncle, bring me to AMK Ave.7, you can find it between Ave.5 and Ave.9."

呵呵.

Lam Chun See said...

Ave 10 is different becos there is Ave 8 and no Ave 12.

Adelin Lok said...

If I were to any-o-how guess, my idea of having 100 and onwards of the Lorong numbering is to make the mailing and transporting easier.

You know, it's like numbering system.. Better to write '001' instead of '1' as it can be misread as some other stuff (bad handwriting or whatever). So, might as well use 100 onwards.

Aiyah, pai seh, I'm quite bad at explaining. Hope you get what I mean. >.<

Adelin Lok said...

Maybe , somehow, out of the blue, they are going to create an Ave 7 in AMK. Just, somehow. You know what I mean. HAHAHAHAHA.

Kelly said...

Hey.. wondering if you knw if any listing on the web that shows all Singapore's Road and Street names? Thks!

Joey

Icemoon said...

Yes Joey, you can try this:

http://www.singaporepropertylisting.com/singapore_street_directory.htm#street

Kelly said...

Hey Thks.. have been to this sites..but some new estate that was quite sometime back are not here.. like.. fernvale, punggolfield, edgedale etc.. hence.. dun think this is the most updated one leh..

Cheers

Icemoon said...

Oh dear, should have checked first. You know streetdirectory.com has a super detailed street listing? But it is just too detailed and not in one list.

The most updated should be from SLA. I was tempted to start 'hacking' it already. But my web skills rusty and I suspect I will hit the wall eventually.

If you do find one, tell me. :)

Anonymous said...

I would really like to know why there is no Lorong A through F in Telok Kurau, but there is Lorong G through N. Weird!

Icemoon said...

good question. I like to know too. I will note this irregularity down, thanks.

Anonymous said...

After lots of frustrating research, finally I have discovered that there used to be "Lorong A East Coast" through "Lorong F East Coast", but these were renamed for people and fruit in 1934. Also there was a "Lorong P Telok Kurau" which is now Saint Patrick's Road.