Apr 14, 2010

Singlish, English and the Way We Speak and Write

It started with my eight-year-old son using a couple of cuss words. He was having an argument with my daughter, and he used a few cuss words on her. My eyes opened wide and I asked him if he even knew what those words meant. He didn't. He had used the words, just because he had heard some other boys in school use them.

I sternly told him not to use that kind of language again. Still I wasn't too surprised that this had happened. He does attend an all-boys' school, after all. As a parent, I just have to learn to deal with it. Anyway, one day my son will be in the army and then he will inevitably acquire an even more colourful vocabulary.

But until then, I do not want him to develop any habit of using cuss words.

So I started to pay more attention generally to the way my son talks. When he realised that I was doing that, he stopped using his cuss words. However I couldn't help but notice that he now also speaks a lot of Singlish. This isn't exclusively the schools' fault - Mrs Wang and I also speak a lot of Singlish at home.

And then I also noticed that my daughter also speaks quite a lot of Singlish.

The difference between Mrs Wang and I, on one hand, and our two children, on the other hand, is that when Mrs Wang and I need to, we can easily switch out of the Singlish mode, and speak proper English. It's not so easy for the children to do it. So now, I'm putting some effort into training them to speak proper English again.

I've made it into a sort of a game at home. If anyone of us catches another family member speaking Singlish, we can go beeeeeep and the person has to correct himself or herself, and rephrase what he or she was saying, in proper English. So far, so good. The kids are seeing this as a fun thing.

I think that Singlish has a certain charm. It's part of our culture. It helps Singaporeans to relate to each other. Singlish has a number of highly expressive phrases, capable of conveying a wider range of emotions (in contrast, notice how flat and dull many Brits sound, when they speak proper English in the typically understated manner of the Brits). I wouldn't mind my children speaking Singlish, if they are also able to switch to proper English when they need to. But I think that first, they had better master proper English.

The odd thing is that both children write very well (for their respective ages). The boy is able to write a long essay, not only without any Singlish, but with almost no grammatical errors at all. In fact he writes with a remarkable resemblance to Enid Blyton.

This seems to indicate that different parts of the human brain process language in its written form, and language in its spoken form. The children have learned to write, based on what they read. But they have learned to speak, based on what they hear. That's why they write excellent proper English, but speak Singlish.

It's interesting, the way children learn language.

66 comments:

Anonymous said...

New York Times :
"Why Do Educated People Use Bad Words?"

Hat tip:
http://singaporedaily.net/2010/04/14/daily-sg-14-apr-2010/

Isabel Tan Cjinh Ping said...

"This seems to indicate that different parts of the human brain process language in its written form, and language in its spoken form. The children have learned to write, based on what they read. But they have learned to speak, based on what they hear. That's why they write excellent proper English, but speak Singlish."

---- not true la..... Mr Wang. I'm a speech therapist remember. I've studied this "phenomenon" before in University. Too complex to discuss online, or perhaps I'm too lazy to process the answer for you! :-D But if you're still interested in why this happens, do look for me on google chat!

Anonymous said...

I think that Singlish has a certain charm. It's part of our culture

No, Singlish has no charm, and no, it's not part of our culture.

Our culture - where "our" is defined as more than 50% of the population, as opposed to the 5% in ivory tower - is one of speaking and thinking in Chinese (be it Mandarin or some dialect)/ Malay/ Tamil, and adopting English only as a foreign working language meant for non-cultural, purely-economic purpose. Thus, we want to learn proper and grammatical English since that's essential to communicate with the western economic powers. For cultural purpose, we are very happy watching TV8 (or the Malay/Tamil TV and radio channel), where the 10th-ranking TV program ranks (much, much) higher than the 1st-ranked program on the English Channel!

Singlish has charm only among fake ang mohs who have abandoned their Chinese/ Malay/ Indian language, and yet do not feel at home with pure ang moh culture, and so they have to "bastardise" their own identity by adopting singlish - English with Chinese grammar and infused with some Chinese (be it dialect or mandarin)/ Malay/ Indian phrases - to become part of their new "culture". These are culturally-poor people. They do not feel at home in Chinese/ Malay/ Tamil, having abandoned these culture, and yet do not feel at home in pure English culture!

You ask them: "Are you Chinese Singaporean /Malay Singaporean /Indian Singaporean?". They will tell you: "No, (I have no ethnicity, only nationality.) I am a Singaporean. Period." You ask them: "Then are you Ang moh." They will tell you (in digust?) "No, don't insinuate that I am a banana! I am no Ang Moh!". So you ask them: ?"Then wtf are you, culture-wise?". And that's when the pathetic truth come out: "I am a Singlish-porean. I invent my own new "culture", my own new "language", which as mentioned, is nothing but a "bastardization" of their own original Chinese/ Malay/ Tamil roots and the ang moh language.

These are the people who advocate Singlish! If you think I am talking cock, then go look hard at the cultural/language background of those who openly advocate Singlish, and who openly defend (vehemently too) Singlish on national scale, and who vigorously promote Singlish in their work of arts (mostly films, those pseudo artsy-fartsy nonsense that won awards.) I know of one who is now a non-practising lawyer in New York, with his wife, and who started a very popular singlish political satire website in Sg. Ie he Chinese, culturally speaking? If you ask him, I think he will say no. Is he Ang moh? If you ask him, I think he will deny too. So how? Culturally rootless? Of course not! He has his invented culture - singlish. lol

as above said...

So, a group of overseas Chinese Singaporeans get together for old time sake. Do they relieve their Singapore days by conversing to each other in Malay (our national language), or in Chinese - never mind dialect or mandarin?

No, they dont! They cannot speak Malay, quite unlike their Chinese grandparents. They also cannot speak Chinese - at least not at the level for sentimental purpose. But they don't want to speak in perfect English!!! They can do that, but they don't want to, because doing so would not fulfill their cultural needs, which is what the gathering is about.

And, so they all make the conscious effort to speak to each other in their specially invented "language" - pidgin English with Chinese grammar and infused with malay phrases. And so, instead of saying "你吃饱了吗?你有没有去" or "Have you eaten? Did you go?", they say "you eat already? You got go or not?"

Now they all feel at home. The English laugh at them for their ungrammatical English. The Chinese laugh at them, for wanting to abandon their own language vocab and yet still want to retain its grammar. The Malays laugh at them, for refusing to accept Malay as the national language, and yet still want to retain a few malay phrases. I think it's pathetic. A rootless culture-less people who is ashamed of their heritage, and yet who can never assimilate into their adopted new culture. Neither here nor there. Sad, isn't it?

Kaffein said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kaffein said...

I'm OK with the stand-up comedies in the Melbourne Comedy Festival. However I still dig the Singlish stand-up comedians/musicians found in YouTube like Kumar, Hossan Leong and Dick Lee. I actually laughed till I cried. Kumar is so funnee and 'dirty'. And his jokes hit home so easily. No offence to my Aussie friends, but Singlish rulez! As much as you had once disliked the Poms and changed tea to supper, chatting to gas-bagging slangs, etc

On a personal note, my daughter speaks good English with some Aussie accent. But she switches easily when she speaks with her Asian friends and at home including words like 'kena', 'salah', 'jialat' are often used. Perhaps it's a personal unqiue identity which separates us from our Western English speaking counterparts.

Sometimes we try too hard to be like others whom we are not.

Kaffein

7:10 said...

"including words like 'kena', 'salah', 'jialat' are often used."

Then why not speak in pure hokkien, where 'kena' and 'jialat" originates? Then why not speak in pure Malay (national language woh!!), where 'salah' originates?

Look down on own ethnic language (Chinese), and own national language (Malay) to the extent of not speaking it to one's kids (and thus the kids can rightly say that Chinese/Malay is not their mother tongue), and yet find no cultural solace in one's adopted language. So how? No problem! Invent a new language - English with Chinese grammar and Malay words! Like that, can find roots, can have culture, can have sense of belonging! Let's promote this new language as our national "heritage"(!!!???) when in truth, it is nothing but the product of a people who have betrayed their own true heritage, but who find no belonging in their adopted pure ang moh language!

P.S. Kaffein, I do not know of you or your daughter's particular situation. Am quoting you simply to illustrate the larger, more general picture. Not a personal attack.

Anonymous said...

"it's a personal unqiue identity which separates us from our Western English speaking counterparts"


It's also an (embarrassing) personal unique "identity" which separates us from our Asian counterparts - for, no other Asian (or for that matter, European) non-English speaking people has given up on its own language and adopted English as the new mother tongue and then find that English does not fill the cultural aspect (sense of belonging and roots), and then actively promote a new language comprising English words and their original mother tongue's grammar, to fill in this cultural void.

Uniquely Singapore indeed!

Mr Wang Says So said...

"Then why not speak in pure hokkien, where 'kena' and 'jialat" originates? Then why not speak in pure Malay (national language woh!!), where 'salah' originates?"

LOL, kena does not originate from Hokkien. You're never going to hear a Taiwanese speaking Hokkien say "kena".

Kena is a Malay word. As in "Awak semua kena hantam" etc.

It's only in Singapore that Hokkien has absorbed the word "kena" as seamlessly as Singlish has absorbed "kena" and "jialat". So seamlessly that you didn't even notice.

Awak tak faham bahasa melayu? Mr Wang pun boleh cakap, sikit sikit lah.

I have to say that your error makes your earlier comments about linguistic purity look somewhat ... ironic.

Anonymous said...

"Sometimes we try too hard to be like others whom we are not."


That started when we adopt English as our mother tongue. We are trying too hard to be like the Ang Moh, whom we are obviously not! Hence our current bizarre situation where we have to be half ang moh and half chinese in our language usage in order to be our unique self!

We should have simply retained our respective mother tongue be it Malay or Chinese or Tamil, and use English only as a working language, instead of trying too hard to be like Ang Moh, only to realise too late that we are obviously not!

Anonymous said...

"comments about linguistic purity look somewhat ... ironic."

I didn't comment on "linguistic purity" - not in the way you put it. There is nothing wrong about incorporating WORDS from foreign languages into another langauge. Eg. the English language has adopted many french WORDS. So what's wrong with the Malay WORD "kena" having become so much incorporated into Hokkien that some people regard it as part of Hokkien? Nothing wrong at all!

You are confusing WORDS with GRAMMAR. it is one thing to incorporate some foreign WORDS into another language, and another thing all together 1. inventing a new language (with words from language A and grammar from language B), in order to 2. have a sense of national rootedness, when 3. one could simply had retained the entire ethnic language B!

Anonymous said...

"Awak tak faham bahasa melayu? Mr Wang pun boleh cakap, sikit sikit lah."

Is this grammatical Malay, or Malay words with Chinese grammar? If the former, good for you - you know our national language! If the latter, well, that's not as impressive, but still not pathetic. The pathetic part is as and when you need to actively promote Malay with Chinese grammar, in order to feel a sense of unique identity, when you should not have given up on your Malay language to begin with!

Anonymous said...

The existence of Singlish is nothing unique or surprising.

Every part of the world evolves their variants of the English language. For example, Americans, Englishmen and Australians all have their own unique phrases.

Americans don't even spell their words in the same way as the English do. For example:

ageing -- aging
ass -- arse
cheque -- check
colour -- color
moustache -- mustache
optimise -- optimize
paedophile -- pedophile
programme -- program
pyjamas -- pajamas
speciality -- specialty
storey -- story
titbit -- tidbit
tyre -- tire

One could say that the Americans are culture-less, rootless and sad.

One could also just say that language is dynamic, evolving and always changing, in any part of the world.

(Incidentally, Mr Wang, I have noted that you are very British in the way you spell. You must have been reading the Famous Five & The Secret Seven as a kid, not Tom Sawyer or Huckleberry Finn ... LOL).

Anonymous said...

Insisting on linguistic purity is self-delusion at best, naive arrogance at worst. It suggests snobbery stemming from certain inferiority complex and an inability to come to terms with oneself.

Anonymous said...

Somehow this sounds a tad too harsh. After all, language is mainly about communication. So if we understand each other, why the big fuss? As long as we feel comfortable; not faking any accents or whatsoever, isnt the way we speak the most..natural?

Anonymous said...

"Hokkien has absorbed the word "kena" as seamlessly as Singlish has absorbed "kena" and "jialat". "


Is Singlish just about absorbing foreign WORDS? If so, I have no qualm against Singlish, since linguistic purity is not the issue. But we all know the truth:

Singlish is mostly about speaking English WORDS, while using Chinese GRAMMAR, so as to feel a sense of belonging and identity, for this unique group of people who has abandoned the Chinese language (be it Hokkien or Mandarin or Cantonese), and yet never felt they are really Ang Moh and so feel a sense of cultural loss when speaking grammatical English!

To anyhow dump several big issues (including sense of identity etc) to a simple one of "linguistic purity", well, i suppose that's a good way of arguing, honed by years of legal training :)

Anonymous said...

10:23 AM,
Thank you for your long list of how the SPELLINGS of English WORDS have changed in America. But... So? Did the Americans speak English WORDS using the GRAMMAR of a non-English language? If not, you are out of point.

10:29 AM,
You are right, which is why this is NOT about "linguistic purity". This is about speaking the WORDS of language A using the GRAMMAR of language B, by a group of people who has abandoned their own language B, and yet does not feel at home with the native speaker of language A. Are you one of those?

Anonymous said...

What is Singlish? Just English peppered with Malay, Indian and Chinese words? Just a natural evolving language?

No! No! Don't lie to ourselves.

Firstly, Singlish is much more than incorporating foreign words into English. It is ungrammatical English, specifically English with (mostly) Chinese grammar. Secondly, Singlish is not a natural evolving language. It is "artificially"/actively promoted and defended by a bunch of Singaporeans through films, arts etc. Which bunch? If you are honest, you will agree with me: that bunch of Chinese Singaporean who refused to acknowledge Chinese as their mother tongue (but who prefer to pit Mandarin against Hokkien against Cantonese, so that such "in-fighting" helps maintain English as the superior language), and yet after adopting English as mother tongue, somehow do not feel a sense of belonging among the ang mohs, and so have to promote SINGLISH - ENGLISH WORDS WITH CHINESE GRAMMAR - to fulfill their sense of cultural void!

So what linguistic purity are we talking about? ZZzzz

Anonymous said...

You think Singlish is bad? Wait till you hear Cockney English in the Cockney parts of the UK, LOL.

Sample sentence:

'Allo me old china - wot say we pop round the Jack. I'll stand you a pig and you can rabbit on about your teapots. We can 'ave some loop and tommy and be off before the dickory hits twelve.

And now, for the translation:

"Hello my old friend. Shall we go the bar? I'll buy you a beer and you can tell me about your children. We can have some soup and supper and leave before 12 o'clock."

Anonymous said...

"Last week, you got go school? Monday, I got go. Tuesday, I no go."

Does the above fulfill "linguistic purity", in the sense that Mr. Wang had used i.e. does not incorporate any foreign word? Of course! As pure as it can get - every word is English!

Is the above Singlish? Of course! We can recognise it from a mile away! It's English with Chinese Grammar: "上星期,你有上学吗?星期一,我有上。星期二,我没上" (of course singlish also involve Malay words and Hokkien phrases, but that's a small part compared to this big part of English words with Chinese grammar)

Do I speak like that? Why, of course! I am a Singaporean, just like all of you. Chinese is my mother tongue and sometimes, when I speak English in unofficial situation, I tend to speak it with Chinese grammar since it's easier to "translate" thoughts into words that way, and I will switch to grammatical English when I need to, as I am sure many Chinese Singapoereans do. That's no big deal.


Here come's the big deal:

Do I actively promote such a "bastardised" language eg via letters to ST, via making films and art performances etc? NO!!!!!!!!! Because I don't need to speak like that to feel a unique sense of identity or belonging! I have not abandoned my mother tongue - be it Mandarin, Hokkien, Cantonese etc (anyway, they are all written and read using the same script, in case anyone forgot. It's called the Chinese langauge script.) To me, English is just a working language, a tool, an economic tool. It is not the language from which I derive my sense of identity. Not so for some Chinese Singaporeans though. Having rejected their Chinese heritage for an English one ("We are Singaporeans, not Chinese Singaporeans! Got nationality, no ethnicity please!"), yet these poor fellas do not feel comfortable among the real ang mohs (especially when they eventually work/emigrate to ang moh countries). And so, they fight hard at every opportunity open to them, to speak ENGLISH WITH CHINESE GRAMMAR (peppered with Malay/Chinese words, but that's beside the point), as if somehow doing so will help them retain some sense of roots/culture/belongings, when all these would not have happened had they not tried to be fake ang mohs to begin with!

jun said...

as a linguistics major, i am amazed at what some commentors spout here. singlish is 'much more than incorporating foreign words into English. It is ungrammatical English, specifically English with (mostly) Chinese grammar. Secondly, Singlish is not a natural evolving language'???

all languages have grammar, the rules which speakers set so they can understand each other. even singlish, or how would speakers understand each other? it is a creole, and its grammar is so different from standard english that there is no point comparing it to standard english - like comparing apples to oranges.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Singlish

the section on 'further reading' includes some articles by my profs. if after this you still want to believe singlish is a basterdized ungrammatical language, it's up to you, but realize that your position is an uninformed one.

and yes, while i love singlish, i realize that it may not be appropriate at all times. but neither is standard english! so yes, codeswitching is equally important.

Parka said...

People can relate well enough to others without Singlish.

Anonymous said...

http://courses.nus.edu.sg/course/elltankw/history/NE.htm

from my prof's site. i hope he won't mind!

jun said...

http://courses.nus.edu.sg/course/elltankw/history/NE.htm

from my prof's site. i hope he won't mind!

Anonymous said...

"Do I actively promote such a "bastardised" language eg via letters to ST, via making films and art performances etc? NO!!!!!!!!!"

I think that the above statement is somewhat misconceived.

Singaporeans were speaking Singlish, long before we ever had our own local films (and also long before the National Arts Council ever existed).

I just want to remind everybody that local films featuring Singlish only started to appear around the mid or late 1990s.

Whereas Singaporeans have been speaking Singlish for as far back as i can remember (which would be around the 1970s).

One reason why Jack Neo's "Money No Enough" in 1998 was a commercial success among Singaporeans was precisely because
it was the first time Singaporeans could get to watch a film set in Singapore, where the characters in the movie actually spoke the way that Singaporeans genuinely speak in Singapore.

Before that, this simply wasn't allowed. Not only could you not hear Singlish in mass media, you could also not hear Hokkien or Teochoew or Cantonese or Hakka (no matter how purely spoken) in the mass media. It was all banned by the government. All you could hear was either Mandarin, or English, spoken in the accent officially taught by the speech trainers at SBC (now known as TCS).

Anonymous said...

"Insisting on linguistic purity is self-delusion at best, naive arrogance at worst. It suggests snobbery stemming from certain inferiority complex and an inability to come to terms with oneself."

I agrees with Anon comments above. Language, culture, humans are all evolving constantly. To accomodate the needs of the times. Why are we not speaking victorian style english then? Isn't then the Brits (internet lingo??) losing their roots as well.

As long as it can communicate to the other party your intention, the language is ok lah.

To a small extend, it may be benefitual as Singlish (in chinese sentence structuring) is easier to understand for Asia (Korean Japanese etc) which language originates from Chinese.

Diggo

Parka said...

Broken English is just broken English. Giving it a name 'Singlish' doesn't make a difference. It's still broken English.

Anonymous said...

As far as I know, Singlish came about because, a long time ago, the non-English (un)educated tried to speak English to keep up with the times. I believe they did not consciously try to invent another language/culture but that they would have liked to speak proper English if they could.

Somehow, it seems, the English educated found it novel and began popularising Singlish as a local original language by deliberately speaking in broken English even though they did not have to.

The academics then picked up this 'new language' trend and made their living out of expounding theories based on something novel.

Voila, Singlish has officially become a language 'with its own grammar'.

For me, it remains as a copycat 'language' and definitely isn't original or Singaporean. It's simply accidental rojak 'made good'.

Why can't we speak proper English, Chinese, Malay, etc. and still remain Asian? Do we need the affirmation of having our own language in order to feel unique?

Identity and culture should go beyond mere cosmetics/artificial 'originality'.

Anonymous said...

It's clear we would never tire of this debate!

Someone wrote: "Whereas Singaporeans have been speaking Singlish for as far back as i can remember (which would be around the 1970s)."

Singlish essentially came about because people never properly learnt the rules of standard English. My parents, who are in their early 60s, constantly correct my English despite them not coming from English-speaking homes. All they had were very strict English teachers and English grammar books which myself and my peers (I'm 34) never used in schools (and to their horror) presumably because many of us are from English-speaking homes...

While it's a fact that Singlish does not follow the standard rules, it's also a fact of life. However I really see no point in defending it at the expense of learning standard English. Or a good grasp of Mandarin or any other language.

Anonymous said...

Simply put, insisting that Singlish is a Singaporean original is like an Asian Ah Beng or Ah Huey donning western Chanel or Valentino, then going round strutting like a refined high class educated Singaporean while spouting broken European languages through his/her gold plated teeth, all the while digging his/her nose for booger.

Anonymous said...

I am an ordinary Singaporean. I rarely watch local movies and I do not go for plays, arts performances etc. So I do not think that they have had any influence on me.

When I speak, well, for better or worse, the lah's and lor's do come out. That's just how I am. I don't purposely try to speak like that, or invent any new language (eh hallo, where got time??). I just naturally speak Singlish, because that is how I grew up. I grew up in Singapore surrounded by people who speak Singlish.

It seems that some of you here would despise and insult me, because of the way I was raised and because of the way I speak. LOL, let me respond to you in proper English then.

FUCK YOU.

There, two proper English words, in perfect grammar.

Try to understand that there are people in the world who have better things to do than worry about your opinion about the state of my roots or culture.

jun said...

Anon 4.24 pm

Why can't we speak proper English, Chinese, Malay, etc. and still remain Asian? Do we need the affirmation of having our own language in order to feel unique?

-> if you want to speak proper english etc and still remain asian, be my guest. but don't impose your ideas on people who want to have their own unique tongue.

SMS said...

Singlish,... Singaporeans are without a culture. For the chinese ones like me, we are yellow (chinese) on the outside but white on the inside. When we think, we think in English.

We are messed up and cultureless .. all thanks to the garmen.

arctos said...

Why is there such a fierce debate going on in the first place?

I speak Singlish - at home or with friends. Basically people I'm familiar and comfortable with. Is that my culture? Sure feels like it, since I FEEL like I belong in the group.

However, when speaking with China Chinese, or Americans/Europeans, I try (to the best of my ability) to speak with proper grammar and vocabulary in the respective language. They don't speak Singlish, and maybe even despise it, so I just try to avoid using it with them. (Especially if it's for official interactions.)

Does that mean I hate having Singlish promoted as a uniquely Singapore "culture"? No. On the contrary, I quite like it. We easily identify each other by the way we speak, regardless of skin color. It also sets us apart from the new citizens until they assimilate in, as oppose to us changing to accommodate them. Heck, some of the Westerners even try to learn and imitate Singlish (with largely comical effects) because it's so interesting!

Ultimately, who cares where or how Singlish originated? Or whether it is a culture or some linguistic mosaic junk? As long as it feels comfortable to us, is understandable to us, and builds a sense of camaraderie, it will likely be here to stay. =)

Anonymous said...

Wow, what a load of anger from the Singlish crowd, cuss words and all.

"-> if you want to speak proper english etc and still remain asian, be my guest. but don't impose your ideas on people who want to have their own unique tongue."

If you want to have your 'unique' tongue, by all means, keep it but do not claim that your 'unique' tongue is uniquely Singaporean because I, a Singaporean, do not appreciate you telling the world that your 'unique' tongue is Singaporean.

If you insist that it is, you are doing exactly what you accused others of - imposing your 'unique' tongue on others who do not appreciate or identify with it.

In fact, I would be ashamed to have to adulterate another people's language and call it my own just so that I can feel a sense of (false) identity. I am proud to be Singaporean without having to do that.

Anonymous said...

"Try to understand that there are people in the world who have better things to do than worry about your opinion about the state of my roots or culture."

Well if you have better things to do, then do those things; for the us of us who care, we can continue this debate here or wherever else it comes up :)

"Singlish,... Singaporeans are without a culture. For the chinese ones like me, we are yellow (chinese) on the outside but white on the inside. When we think, we think in English."

Nonsense! I'm Singaporean-Chinese and consider English my first language but by no means do I consider myself "white".

Anonymous said...

I would love to have a unique language for us Singaporeans to call our own, but I do not think Singlish is the answer because it is like Hanji and Kanji to the Koreans and Japanese. We don't hear them boasting about these as their own unique language.

If it is something that is Singapore's equivalent to the unique Hangeul or even Hiragana/Katakana, which are in essence Korean and Japanese respectively, I'd say go for it.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, Hanja, not Hanji.

Rada-Chisa-Rada said...

It's funny how language works, when a group of people know two different languages pretty fluently, they tend to get mixed.

My boyfriend's family is from India, so his parents speak both Hindi and English, and often they mix the two.

My friend is Korean and her family knows both, English not so fluently however, and often do the mixing of the two.

I know that Spanish has so many dialects because each area of South and Central America had it's own language and it's own natives, all of which were taken over by some for of either Spain or Portugal. When countries were finally formed and people needed to communicate, it could mix into a native-Spanish-Portuguese mixed tongue.

So yes, I understand what you mean when you say "culture". Maybe not the culture of your country, but maybe the culture of your family.

Kaffein said...

So pray tell me those who oppose Singlish, why did the Aussies use tea for supper? It's in their everyday life Aussie-speak.

Aww... did you get 'dirty'? Pun intended.

Kaffein

PS Dirty = to be angry (Aussie-speak)

Anonymous said...

I'm surprised that no one has noted that in some countries, local pidgin English has effectively evolved into a full-function language. In New Guinea, for example, this is the case, where the local pidgin has assumed the status of an official language.

I'm not advocating making Singlish a full-fledged official language, but it is useful to understand that the 'bastard' origins of a speech do not necessarily disqualify its becoming an official language. English itself, after all, has borrowed extensively from many languages around the world, including Indian, Chinese and Malay dialects.

However, for Singlish to assume official status it will need official support. There will need to be a standardised form of grammar, spellings and vocabulary. That is not likely to happen. 'Singlish' - or whatever the vernacular speech of Singapore might happen to be called - has changed drastically over time. The use of Malay words has declined, while National Service has probably played a major role in transforming it and also peppering it with acronyms and such.

Anonymous said...

The point is, there might be variations in the use of words in various western countries, but the variations remain the the same family of languages.

They do not go all out to trumpet their brand of English as a new language, as if it is something unique and different from the rest, just so to reinforce their identity as Australians, Americans etc.

The Aussies use tea, but tea is also English. It is a matter of interpretation. Singlish uses teh (tarik), which is not English. And with mere cosmetic additions, it would be an embarrassment to claim that Singlish is a new language.

Similar to designers who steal other designers' work, make a few alterations and then blatantly advertise it as their own original.

And please, do not make Singlish official. That will be the day I'll have second thoughts about being proud of my nationality.

Anonymous said...

The Taiwanese do not claim Chinese (characters) as their unique language, neither do the Hong Kongers. Even when they speak Cantonese extensively, they do not add salt and pepper and call it a new dish. They are still distinctly Taiwanese and Hong Kongers.

Singaporeans are capable of being confident about ourselves without shouting out loud about our uniqueness too. There is no need to force a contrived identity on us.

As for academics and linguists, they study languages but by no means are authoritative on how or what we should speak.

Kaffein said...

"Singaporeans are capable of being confident about ourselves without shouting out loud about our uniqueness too. There is no need to force a contrived identity on us."

Exactly. We aren't trying to create an identity for ourselves. It just happened. Call it hand me downs from our forefathers who spoke stammering English, Chinese and Malay. But hey it got the job done. And no one's fussing about it.

It... just... kinda... happened. (sorry 'kinda' is not an English word. Hope nobody is offended :P)

I'm not advocating Singlish but the language and the slangs evolved through generations. Even English is not pure English in its purest form with Greek, French, Italian words thrown in. So I'm not sure where you are coming from if we can say we are speaking Queen's English.

"As for academics and linguists, they study languages but by no means are authoritative on how or what we should speak."

Exactly. Keep academics to where it's kept. Keep common conversation in which we can easily understand each other without going into elaborates simple.

Nobody is saying Singlish is official, neither am I saying Aussie-speak is English. But hey, nobody is going to get 'dirty' (angry for Anssie-speak) about it.

One of these days when I come back to Singapore, I'll give you a 'shout'!

Kaffein

PS 'Shout' in Aussie = buy you a drink, not yell at you.

Anonymous said...

"Nobody is saying Singlish is official..."

Good, as long as you keep it that way, enjoy your hand-me-downs. As long as you do not pretend that Singlish is a unique language of all Singaporeans, you are welcome to feel at home with it, love.

Whatever makes you feel fashionable and noticed overseas, mate.

Opps, don't get me wrong, Australians use 'love' and 'mate' even on strangers.

Anonymous said...

Australians do speak English. It's their national language. Australian English may be characterized by local intricacies, but they do not call it Australish. Same for Americans. No Americlish, but American English.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Australia#Language

I am fine with Singapore English, not Singlish.

Anonymous said...

At this point, I may as well point out that languages frequently absorb words from each other. Yet no one says, for example, that English is not English just because it has absorbed words from French or Malay; or that Malay is not Malay just because it has absorbed words from English.

Anyway, here's a list of Malay words, and their meanings in English (just in case you couldn't guess):

bas - bus

oren - orange

epal - apple

orang utan - orang utan

sains - science

doktor - doctor

komputer - computer

televisyen - television

satay - satay

amok - amok

bapa - papa

robot - robot

universiti - university

politik - politics

parlimen - parliament

bisnes - business

polis - police

rekreasi - recreation

blog - blog

legenda - legend

fotografi - photography

klip video - video clip

flash - flash

definisi - definition

teknologi - technology

kamera - camera

efektif - effective

praktikal - practical

sensitiviti - sensitivity

skandal - scandal

telefon - telephone

instrument - instrument

produk - product

strategi - strategy

Anonymous said...

Yup, precisely.

On a related note, there is a of trend languages adapting common English (or other) words into their vocabulary by reproducing the sounds using their own alphabets.

In this case, I reckon the Malay language has adopted the sounds in the English language by reproducing them in Malay language phonetics. The Koreans have done the same thing with their own alphabets.

So perhaps if we wish to have our own original Singaporean language, we will need to have at least a set of original phonetic symbols/alphabet to begin with.

Really?!? said...

On the subject of "mother tongue", since when is Mandarin ever a mother tongue to the local Chinese? This is a PAPian construct which attempts to impose its own political paradigm on the local Chinese population. A Singaporean Chinese is either a Hokkien, a Teochew, a Cantonese, a Shanghainese, yes even a migrant from Beijing (i.e. a native speaker of Mandarin), or some other permutations. Unless you originate from Beijing or its precincts don't fool yourself by thinking your mother tongue is Mandarin, or even to think that "Chinese" is your mother tongue - there is no such thing. Many dialects of Chinese are mutually unintelligible, and are as different as German is from French. They may share the same written form but that's another matter.

Anonymous said...

I think the "mother tongue" itself is the real PAP construct. Since when in Singapore must Dad marry a woman from the same dialect group? I suppose many mothers (and fathers) speak English and Mandarin at home nowadays and equally conversant with grandparents in their respective dialects.

The said...

///Anonymous said...

At this point, I may as well point out that languages frequently absorb words from each other. Yet no one says, for example, that English is not English just because it has absorbed words from French or Malay; or that Malay is not Malay just because it has absorbed words from English.

Anyway, here's a list of Malay words, and their meanings in English (just in case you couldn't guess):

bas - bus ///

Anon - there is a huge difference between adopting certain words into another language and copying wholesale.

The English language has adopted "kowtow" from Chinese, "amok" from Malay, "entrepreneur" from French, etc.

How, the Malay language is quite "young" and totally inadequate. I am not even talking about scientific terms and internet terminology here. It is the wholesale copying that make it a mockery.

Tradition - tradisi
Action - acksi
Telephone - talipon

In fact, the whole list provided by you just showed that it is English disguised as Malay.

Anonymous said...

Looks like the Malay Language has also been affected by loanwords and co-switching, giving rise to its own version of Singlish - Bahasa Rojak.

On another note, I have a feeling that our culture could have been much richer had we been allowed to speak our own dialects instead of our 'mother tongue'.

Maybe then, we would not have to resort to Singlish to feel at home with our family and friends.

Anonymous said...

Pardon me, 'loanwords' and code-switching.....

Anonymous said...

> On another note, I have a feeling that our culture could have been much richer had we been allowed to speak our own dialects instead of our 'mother tongue'.

Are you out of your mind? This will give MIW more excuse to import more "Chinese talents" from you-know-where. Even Hongkies are envious we can speak our 'mother tongue'.

When you are at the cross-road 30 years ago, please look 30 years into the future.

Anonymous said...

We must stress the importance of good English. If not, we will have problems finding good jobs due to poor command of the language or not being articulate enough. Years ago, I was appalled when a department manager (local SME) with an NTU degree sought out the help of an admin exec with only 'O' Levels on how to wrte an email to a foreign supplier.

Anonymous said...

"Are you out of your mind? This will give MIW more excuse to import more "Chinese talents" from you-know-where. Even Hongkies are envious we can speak our 'mother tongue'."

No, you are. Must be the side effects of xenophobia.

Whether we speak dialects or 'our mother' tongue, they will continue to stream in as long as the gates are open wide. If you have not noticed, the immigrants are extremely adaptable as long as there is money to be made. And the gates will be open, as long as they are useful in helping us make more money. Yellow, black, brown, white, etc. All are welcome, dialects or no dialects.

In case you don't know, it's the language of money.

Anonymous said...

And the gates will be open, as long as they are useful in helping us make more money.

So it is true they are a 'tool' to help us - you and me - make more money. If we cannot tap onto them, time to make ourselves more competitive.

Anonymous said...

That FTs are a 'tool' to help us make money is common knowledge. Whether or not this tool is available, we have to be competitive. No excuse for slacking.

The argument that allowing dialects will give the government another excuse to import FTs is therefore irrelevant because, even if we do not give them any reason, they will still come up with their own excuses as long as it keeps the money coming.

They have got scholars to help churn out the best spins, remember?

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Anonymous said...

The fact that your children know when to say 'beeeep' tells me they recognise the difference between Singlish and English already...

Kaffein said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kaffein said...

Have fun reading an article I have written a few years back about Singapore. Read here.

Maybe be painful for a few but most will probably enjoy. Take it with a pinch of salt.

Winking Doll said...

I agree with Anon at April 21, 2010 6:47 PM.

Given their parents' background, I believe that your children will not have problem speaking British English when needed.

However, if your children are to fit into the Singaporean social life, it is important that your children are able to speak Singlish too.

Just to my experience. I had good English teachers from Primary 6 onwards, including local, British, and New Zealander teachers. Without realising it, I spoke the local version of "Queen's English" at work. It was ok at my first job back in the early 90's at a British MNC. However, when I switched job to an American MNC, my local colleagues thought I was stuck-up simply because I did not speak Singlish. Anyway, I learnt to switch between the 2 and made wonderful lifelong friends from work.

I think Ruby Pan's performance at Indignation 2006 provides a comic perspective on the above issue.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FvhldHVJEHE

Anonymous said...

First of all, can all of you agree on definition of Singlish, is it broken English (as in grammar) or is it localised English (just like American English, British English, Aussie English but with proper grammar)?

Anonymous said...

To me, Singlish is both broken and/or localized English.

Singapore English is English with local loanwords.

We do not have to speak Singlish in order to fit in local social life. If I speak proper English but not Singlish and is regarded as snobbish, it is not my problem.

I do not have problem mixing with those who speak Singapore English or Singlish, and they do not dictate that I speak the way they do.

Those who call proper English speakers snobs probably have a chip on their shoulders.

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