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Of an Old GP Essay June 4, 2007

Posted by Ned Stark in Uncategorized.

A long long time ago, Ned Stark was asked to write a GP essay for perhaps the first time in his life; for throughout his secondary school years he had never ever touched any argumentative essay. Eventually because one has no choice in such matters the essay was written. Though the full essay question has long been forgotten the gist of the essay has not;namely it was on the use of Singlish and whether it was good or bad.

 The authorities stand on Singlish is rather clear; Singlish has been equated to bad english and is seen as a liability; thus all the “Speak Good English” Campaigns. Then you have those local people on television speaking with the american accent, which given the official disdain for Singlish, is rather ironic and bespeaks a colonial mindset. My stand however is not dissimilar to the stand i took in that GP essay a long time ago; more specifically I see nothing wrong whatsoever with Singlish; in fact I hold similar views as Aaron, namely that Singlish is something that can be said to be truly Uniquely Singapore and that rather treat it as a mark of shame the authorities should see it as a mark of Singapore’s much touted multicultural society.

Language is a medium for communication. As long as both sides are able to understand each other perfectly well, it makes no difference whether they communicate in Her Majesty’s English, Bush Jr’s English, among others. Furthermore as the above shows, there are various forms of English, to borrow from Piper’s post;

My position, then, is that while we must recognize the contextual appropriacy of different Englishes and teach students as many variants as possible …, it is equally important to teach students that any dialect has to be personally and communally appropriated to varying degrees in order to be meaningful and relevant for its users. (*Canagarajah, 1999: p 181)

Therefore, we have different forms of English, including but not limited to the Queen’s English, the Scots English, the American English, Indian English called Hinglish, and so on. Thus it is only logical that Singapore should have its own English (Singlish) given the fact that the authorities are ever so ready to tout Singapore’s First World Status. Being ashamed of Singlish belies a lack of confidence in one’s own culture and coupled with the promotion of Queen’s English and the American English through the mainstream media; it can be said to be tantamount to a colonial mindset.

Of course, there needs be the knowledge of when to and when not to use Singlish; for example, when drafting official documents, writing essays and so on. However educating people on the occasion to use Singlish is vastly different from actively frowning upon Singlish per say. Singlish is one of the few definitive points of the elusive Singapore Culture; it makes no sense to get rid of it and then import someone else’s culture in the hope that it will rub off.

*Canagarajah is an English Language professor. Read his thoughts on Singlish here.



1. Piper - June 4, 2007

Anne Pakir, I think, a Singaporean English Language prefessor once wrote that we were linguistically insecure since we always looked outwards for language standards. Even for Mandarin when we use China’s standards as a gauge and Malay when we use Malaysia’s standards.

2. Clarence - June 5, 2007

Well all i can say is that when I was overseas, the thing I can recognize that is uniquely Singapore is the Singlish. Singlish is one thing that unites all Singaporeans. Even if you’re a “potato” (a quitter, in the Govt’s lingo), you’ll still understand Singlish if you’ve been in the country for some time =)

So while I insist that we NEED to know proper English and be able to codeswitch, we should be proud of Singlish, because that’s who we are. I’m actively teaching my foreign friends OUR language. It’d be horrible one day to see all the foreigners trumping us and teaching us how to speak in our own country 😐 When that happens, I’m going off somewhere else. I don’t WANT to speak like a China Chinese, or a Brit (although I can).

3. Daniel - June 6, 2007

I think that one disadvantage of Singlish is that it’s close enough to Standard English that people cannot effectively codeswitch between the two. Most Singaporeans can’t write or speak well in standard English. When interviewing for jobs, giving technical presentations, or doing business abroad, Singaporeans who cannot conjugate verbs into the past tense or pronounce the “s” at the end of noun plurals are at a disadvantage. Others have characterized Singaporeans’ spoken English as sounding like children, since some aspects mimic the mistakes children in the UK or the US speak. Government officials must feel that efforts to educate Singaporeans in the use of standard English have failed, and that trying to impose it on us would help. Clearly that isn’t working either. All this talk of whether Singlish should be respected or not, or held up as an example of our oh-so-unique culture may not really matter much. I would think that having the American accents on TV may help alleviate the problem, wouldn’t it? I’m wondering what else could be done to help children codeswitch correctly.

4. YCK - June 10, 2007

Nothing a little social engineering cannot fix. Not too long back Speak Mandarin Campaign dispatched non-Manadrin Chinese languages.

Widely accepted views includes that they are low-class, uneducated, uncultured, bad economical sense to learn, and impedes language learning.

Hey, the reasons sound familiar. The last was used by Madam Jocelyn Lim Chieh Ying to slaughter the bilingual sacred cow in ST Forum.

Guess some people pick up the ropes faster than me.

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