Sunday, July 09, 2006


There has been an ongoing debate about the status and level of languages in Singapore recently and on the use of Chinglish.

I would like to get some facts right first. There is no such language as Chinese in a spoken form, only Mandarin, Cantonese, Hokkien etc. It would be more appropriate to call “Chinglish” “Mandglish” unless Hokkien or Cantonese also appears in that language. However I will refer to it as Chinglish here, as readers are generally more familiar with that term. “Chinese” will refer to the Chinese languages as a whole.

Secondly, it has been claimed that the profusion of languages in Singapore is the true cause of Singaporean’s inability to master 2 languages. This is utter rubbish. Unless Singaporeans’ general IQ levels are lower than say India or Continental Europe, this argument does not hold a single drop of water.

About Chinglish, some purists have been complaining about the erosion of both English and Mandarin, and their subsequent combination into Chinglish. This phenomenon however has been happening throughout history, notably in the language of our ex-colonial overlords.

The language of Shakespeare himself is a hybrid of Anglo-Saxon and Norman French, 2 languages belonging to 2 different language families. Thus now, English sounds like neither French or German, but its own distinctive sound, with its own grammar and a haphazard combination of Norman French and Anglo-Saxon vocabulary together with a sprinkling of Latin and Danish words.

So, for those lamenting the loss of language purity, please read up on your history before pontificating from culturally brainwashed minds.

As for language standards, it is important, at least from an economic point of view to be fluent in Mandarin and English at the very least. To call for Chinglish to be stamped out on cultural and linguistic reasons smacks of chauvinistic thinking. We should be promoting proper spoken English and Mandarin for the sole reason that the world should be able to understand us. The same argument can be said for Singlish.

Is our language policy a success? If the criterion is bilingualism, it can be said to be a qualified success. By and large most Singaporeans can get by in either Malay, Mandarin or Tamil and English. However, the collateral damage has been tremendous. For the majority of Chinese Singaporeans, our mother tongue has been lost, perhaps forever.

The question is, was it necessary to kill off our mother tongues only to achieve Chinglish? On a side note, the supplanting of our mother tongues by Mandarin has lead to the cultural colonization of Singapore by Taiwan.

Education wise, we should be stressing the importance of grammar in the case of English, and vocabulary in the case of Mandarin. Our education system should focus on these two aspects, instead of creative writing or other ideas.

The main problem Singaporeans have with English is not in vocabulary, but in grammar. Conversely, for Mandarin the problem lies more in vocabulary as Chinese grammar is relatively simpler.

The idea of encouraging students to take literature is a useful one, but while an increased knowledge of literature would improve English standards, it does not address the core problem of the declining English standard. Secondly, if literature is to be encouraged, which subject would be made to give way? Chemistry? Additional Mathematics?

The purpose of language education is to equip people with the means to express their ideas, not the expression of ideas per se.

Many of the arguments about language use and standards in Singapore are either irrelevant or inaccurate. For the future of our nation, lets get our focus, priorities and language use right.

Written by Milli Vanilli
Edited by at82


At 11:25 PM, August 02, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Informative and enjoyable read. A must read for all language purists.

One question, do you consider our Education system really bilingual given that except in SAP schools, English is the only medium of instruction for non-MTL subjects.


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