Sun, Oct 25, 2009
The Straits Times
Don't use culture as an excuse for Singlish

By Dudley Au

RECENTLY, there was a programme on television which discussed the standing of Singlish in view of the recent debate on using correct spoken English. One participant held the view that it was the country's culture which should not be eradicated - it was the flavour of Singapore.

If it is a cultural characteristic pertinent to Singapore, it must be at least more than 100 years old - which it is not.
When our forefathers came to Singapore from their homelands to find a better life, they had no education, or very little of it. Then, English was the lingua franca under the rule of the British. The immigrants were creative and resilient and learnt a few words of English to survive in an alien land. Their dialects were of no use except among themselves.

So, to survive, they had to use some English. From this was born pidgin English shorn of its grammar and sentence sequence.

The situation today is different - vastly different - and the need of our forefathers does not exist any more. Why then is there this tendency to cling to broken or fractured English?

Why must we take mistakes in semantics and elevate them into a culture? Is it because it is too much trouble to master correct usage of the English language and, like water, it is easier to flow down than up?

In the TV programme, Japan was cited as a country that did not speak English and did well, with translators at meetings. I have had business meetings in Japan, with Japanese CEOs who spoke impeccable English (without translators). And the same in China too, where the country's young are being groomed in correct English to make inroads into the English-speaking world.

If one can speak correct English, without translators, the one-on-one relationship gives an edge and develops a much stronger sense of rapport with the individual spoken to.

Our children must be given this edge and not be forced to rely on translators to decode their Singlish for the English- speaking world.

The choice has to be made now.

This article was first published in The Straits Times.

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