Source: Straits Times
Date Published: Feb 16, 2005
I REFER to the letters, ‘Singlish not bad English, it’s another language’ by Mr Nur Shahid Ahmad, and ‘English as it should be spoken’ by Dr Lee Siew Peng (ST, Feb 8).
I agree that Singlish should not be considered ‘bad English’, but it is not a separate language altogether.
Singlish is indeed derived from English, and it has undergone evolution until it now incorporates vocabulary and phrases from other local languages. But I would describe it as a dialect of English, rather than a language of its own.
Singlish may be ‘capable of transmitting ideas and thoughts effectively to other speakers of the same language’ – but only in speech. When it is put down on paper, its efficacy in communication breaks down completely.
Communication between people exists not only through speech, but in writing as well. So Singlish should be considered only as a dialect – an alternative form of an established language.
Speakers of Singlish should not be deemed to be of lower social status any more than should those who speak crisp and ‘correct’ English be seen as pretentious. The way a person chooses to speak should be respected by others.
Singaporeans should not be ashamed of Singlish; even author Melvyn Bragg observes in his book, The Adventure Of English, ‘it (Singlish) fits the tongues and the traditions and the vocal rhythms of the people of Singapore much better than official English’.
Dropping of past tenses (‘you go out already’), omitting the verb ‘to be’ (‘he so stupid’) and including vocabulary from other languages (‘wo men go shopping then go makan’) are characteristics of Singlish and may be appreciated fondly by locals able to differentiate between using it among family and friends, and using English as an official medium of communication in business and when abroad.
Unfortunately, our young may grow up with Singlish as the status quo, which may present problems.
The pressing underlying issue that warrants our attention has been identified by Dr Lee: Many code-switching speakers alternate between languages because they are unable to express themselves fully in a particular tongue.
As Singlish becomes the lingua franca that facilitates communication in multiracial Singapore, it also threatens to rob us of the ability to appreciate the richness of the English language – the Oxford English Dictionary has more than 600,000 entries; if we cannot find the appropriate words to express our meaning, then obviously our mastery of the language is not adequate.
If Singlish speakers are capable of conversing fluently in multiple tongues and mix them up only as a matter of choice, it is to their credit. If people are switching between tongues out of necessity, it becomes an urgent matter to be dealt with.
Tan Wei Min
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