Thursday, July 13, 2006

Singlish - the evolution to being a proper language

Derived from Wikipedia's entry from multilingualism

Bilingualism - can be rigidly defined as being native-like in two languages. It could also be loosely defined as being less than native-like but still able to communicate in two.

Being a POSES (Product Of the Singapore Education System), I have to agree that our education system has not quite delivered a bilingual education as promised. By the rigid definition - I am a "factory reject". By the loose definition - I am. But am I bilingual thanks to being a POSES, or bilingual thanks to a far-sighted policy my parents adopted from birth?

Reading further down the wikipedia entry,

Multilingual speakers have acquired and maintained at least one language during childhood, the so-called first language (L1). First languages (sometimes also referred to as mother tongue) are acquired without formal education, by mechanisms heavily disputed. Children acquiring two first languages since birth are called simultaneous bilinguals. Even in the case of simultaneous bilinguals one language usually dominates over the other.
My parent decided - the father would speak to the children in proper Mandarin, and the mother would use proper English. No Singlish (didn't really exist as a classification then either!)

The choice of language was probably forced upon by the limits of their own ability and training. However, it did lead me to grow up in a family of 2 languages. In terms of family policy, now that was a SMART policy. I am a "simultaneous bilingual" by the definition above - however, one language does dominate - English.

If the experts are right, and bilingualism or multi-lingualism is learnt outside formal education, then, maybe we are bashing the wrong target for failing to provide a bilingual education. The unevenness of language evolution within Singapore, and our attempts to educate using English (economically sensible decision), we now have a generation growing up in an environment of mixed languages - Manglish, Chinglish, Singlish, watever.

Take a walk around any hawker centre, or any public space, and try listening in to the language used in daily communication in families - Singlish dominates. Often, it may be eager parents, trying to help their children learn English vocabulary, but if we learn grammatical rules by osmosis and practice, then this ernest parenting actually detracts from learning English grammar, but does wonders for learning Singlish grammar.

I didn't know Singlish had its own grammar structure, but take a look at the Wiki entry for Singlish, and most Singaporeans will probably recognize that they didn't have to go to class to learn it. We chose English as our "1st language" in education policy. However, societally, we have chosen "Singlish as our 1st language".

Maybe its time to start treating the teaching of English as a "2nd language", ranked equal to other language classes such as Mandarin, Malay, French, or even Spanish. Go back to teaching English as a "learned language" rather than one that is treats all its students as 'native'.

Our native tongue is Singlish. Its not ENGLISH.

Evolve, or ossify.



Blogger John Riemann Soong said...

Singlish is a dialect of English, or a creole. It can be considered a semi-separate language ... but Singlish is certainly not "bad English" (patois). That would be like calling Hokkien "bad Chinese".

But I think most post-independence Singaporeans *are* native speakers of English, given the ability to code switch. And why shouldn't Singlish be spoken in the market? As I see it, most students generally when to use it and when not to. And if they use it in a formal setting it is often rebelliously intentional.

7:52 PM  
Blogger KiWeTO said...


in the eyes of our friendly govt, Singlish is BAD english. And they believe they have the final say over culture. hahaha. And we don't even have a Minister for Culture.

I agree that many younger Singaporeans can code-switch and that the use of Singlish is intentional, and usually to make a point that we are no longer another ENGLISH colony. However, many may not have the ability. Then again, who are we to claim purity in the English language when its ever evolving?

Only time will tell, what elements of Singlish will show up in the Oxford dictionary.


7:58 PM  
Blogger John Riemann Soong said...

True cosmopolitans are not constrained by standardised dictionaries.

6:41 AM  

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