AUGUST 15 was a day for crossing cultures and bridging minds through languages.
The half-day forum, Crossing cultures and bridging minds: A role for Singapore's languages and literatures, organised by the Singapore Institute of Management University, brought together eminent speakers to discuss the intercultural issues that affect the development of the four official languages in Singapore, as well as their common spaces.
Senior Minister of State S. Iswaran was the guest of honour. In his speech, which addressed the role of language in nation building, he also provided background on the importance of Singapore's bilingual policy.
'As Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew wrote in his memoirs, '... if we are monolingual in our mother tongues, we would not make a living. Becoming monolingual in English would have been a setback. We would have lost our cultural identity, that quiet confidence about ourselves and our place in the world'.
'Bilingualism will give Singapore a competitive edge over any other Asian city for years to come. It gives us our distinctive identity as a people while we share a common cultural heritage with many of our neighbours in the region, we are unique in the cohesion and vibrancy of our multi-cultural society,' he said.
Professor Chitra Sankaran (above), the Tamil speaker at the forum, shared the history of the Tamil language, its place in a multilingual environment like Singapore and the ways in which it can be further developed. She highlighted some of the challenges faced by the language here.
For example, English learning is associated with prestige and upward mobility, unlike learning one's mother tongue which is often associated with tradition and cultural straitjacketing. Another challenge is the perceived level of difficulty in picking up Tamil - there is a big difference between written and spoken Tamil, so learning it is difficult.
To address these challenges, the Government, together with the Ministry of Education, has introduced various initiatives including giving spoken Tamil more importance and setting up the Tamil Language Curriculum and Pedagogy Review Committee in December 2004 and the Tamil Language Learning and Promotion Committee in July 2006.
According to Prof Sankaran, these committees were introduced as strategic initiatives by the Government to address the decline in the use of the language, particularly among the younger Indian community.