t Double Yellow's Musings: Speak Good English Movement = Don’t Speak Singlish Movement
The warped mind of Double Yellow craves for humor everyday. His daily dose comes from The Straits Times, The Sunday Times, Today, Channelnewsasia, etc. He also thinks that because of this preamble, this blog will never get featured in the local media. And of course, please read the Disclaimer before embarking on the journey.

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Speak Good English Movement = Don’t Speak Singlish Movement

Lah, Lah, Lah, Lah…….Lah Lah…..
Lah, Lah, Lah, Lah…….Lah Lah…..

Before you even think that I am defying the new Speak Good English Movement, let me clarify that the lah’s only signify how I sing songs for which I don’t know the lyrics.

The Speak Good English Movement is a bit of a misnomer…. it should rightly be called the Don’t Speak Singlish Movement. Think about it….the majority of the suggestions on how we can speak good English comes from examples of how we speak ‘bad’ English or Singlish. Drop the lah’s, Leh’s, hor’s, kiasu’s. Don’t say things like ‘wair gaw?’ and ‘oow caaayn?’. Watch the Singlish accent, Singlish pronunciation, Singlish this, Singlish that…

I can imagine a one-sided conversation that we might be having once we correct our English (still struggling with some words) and talk to an angmoh…oops sorry, a westerner.

Yo mate….how are you doing? Can you sense the difference in my pronunciation and accent? Yeah…it does sound better, does it not? My gahmen said that if I talk like this, I can communicate with you better. That’s correct, they said that you will now understand me better. I thought since we now understand each other better, we could hang out and go for a beer?

[At the pub when they are having beer] - You know what, when my gahmen pushed the Speak Good English Movement, I was a bit skeptical. But then I saw the rationale. We are having the Olympic Council Meeting as well as IMF and World Bank meetings here…so when you come up to me and ask where you can get pirated CDs and fake watches, I should reply in a manner you will understand. And that’s not all….we are not the only ones doing it. China, South Korea and Thailand also have similar campaigns. So I feel good about not being the only one out there where the gahmen wants their people to speak better English.

Sadly, we assume that the West owns English. For some weird reason, we believe that the way they speak English is ‘correct’ and ours in ‘wrong’. Before you perfect English evangelists get agitated, I hope you realize that the Scotts, Welsh, Londoners, Americans and Australians all don’t understand each other perfectly. That is because their accents are different and have much local slang. How are we to make ourselves understandable to the Scotts AND Welsh AND Londoners AND Americans AND Australians all the same time.

But fret not, we are Singaporeans….we WILL correct our English well before the Olympic Council Meeting in July and don’t be surprised if our paper runs a report on how the visitors were so impressed with our impeccable English.

I put up this post in a hardwarezone forum and from the responses there, I had a few more additional thoughts...

I am not advocating that the Speak Good English Movement is a bad thing. For sure, to speak good and clear English has its advantages. All I'm saying is that Singlish is NOT unimportant. In other words, speak good English by all means.....just that it need not come at the expense of Singlish. Why has it come to a point where we are ashamed of Singlish? We seem to very content in keeping it private discourse. Among the economic imperatives of learning good English, there has been a mention that local sitcoms like Phua Chu Kang would have made it big in overseas markets if they had used good English. But what is usually forgotten is that the very reason why these sitcoms are popular is because of Singlish...PCK would not have been half as funny if it were made in 'good' English.

The response by looking around in the forum was particularly instructive...thought i should reproduce it here.

...I think the government confronts a dilemma here. As much as they would like to retain Singlish for its cultural value, there are many people who have only mastered Singlish, necessarily at the expense of proper English usage. I think there in no issue with individuals who can interchange between the two with ease, for eg. you could say "how can you lydat" to your singaporean friend, but appropriately switch to "how could you do this" if speaking to someone conversant only in standard english. The unfortunate thing is that many Singaporeans are attached to Singlish usage that they are unable to make such a switch, either by habit or inability. If there is a choice to be made here, i think the government is choosing for the people to be understood by the outside world instead of fostering closer bonds among singaporeans.
based on the choice the govt has made (where they seem to have decided to slaughter Singlish as the sacrificial lamb), I think they view the application of proper English as a matter of economic imperative. However, this may not necessarily mean that they do not cherish the value of Singlish, but perhaps are willing to put it on the backburner where it could later be revived at a more suitable time (where circumstances permit, ie when ppl start speaking proper english, and singlish could be inducted as a national dialect). Of course detractors may argue it may be too late by then.


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