On Singlish

I dedicate this post to Soh Ee.

I walked past the television in my living room some time last week and came across a program on Channel News Asia which my sister was watching. I paused to listen a little as I could recognise some Thai words being used, despite my sister telling me that the program is on Burma. (Yes Soh Ee, I may be mistaken yet again huh :D but… could be Thai-speaking Burmese or a dialect blending both because of language and cultural influences :D)


Regardless of the actual content of the program, be it on the Thais or on the Burmese, it reminded me of two things:

  1. Bangkok-ian Thai
  2. The conversation I had with my General Paper tutor in Junior College on the use of Singlish.

Pertaining to the former, there must a certain reason why there is a need for such distinction. Assuming Bangkok-centric, the variations of the Thai language are but dialects, possibly thought of as impure.

Moving on to the latter, I understood, or at least I thought I did, the ineffectiveness of Singlish when she brought out the popular sitcom Phua Chu Kang as an example. She ascertained my understanding of the effectiveness of language when I related that despite the lack of grammar in military lingo, or even the omission of verbal communication entirely, soldiers could understand each other by communicating via sign language.

Then I heard on Gold 90 fm, also some time last week, reporting Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew saying that Singaporeans should focus on learning Mandarin well. To that I argue, at least at face value that even in one of our national universities, the National University of Singapore, most Chinese students’ preference of language is Mandarin, or should I say Singlish that tends towards Mandarin. And I am sure. It is important to note that fluency in English does not equate it to being a language of preference. Sorry Sir, for most in Singapore, regardless of the race or ethnicity, our mother tongue is not English. But I get what you mean.

Putting the three scenarios above together, there is a recurring theme. Be it Bangkok-ian Thai, “perfect English”, Beijing Mandarin or “bu tong hua”, or whichever variation is perceived by relevant authorities to be the “standard”, they point towards the notion of official business language. It suddenly occurred to me that Singlish and variations of Thai are but “dialects” that have perhaps not yet gained sufficient importance to be the official business language. Singlish may be ineffective elsewhere but it really is effective on Singapore soil.

Singapore in sum, is important on the global platform today. Coupled with our endless hunger to be the best in the world, let us just sit back and wait for our time to come.

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