Sunday, July 26, 2009

Speak easy

I wonder why some people are still so hung up about speaking Good English in public, that there must only be one version of the language - the Queen's. A reader of Today was aghast to hear Singlish spoken and concluded that Singaporeans haven't progressed all that much, language wise.

Just the other day, I was having lunch at a just opened shopping mall. 2 teenage girls were sitting at the same 4-seater table with my companion and myself. One of the teenagers was a Caucasian. From her accent and tone of voice, I guess she was an American. The other teenager looked and dressed no differently from the typical Singapore Chinese teenager, except that when she opened her mouth, not for the food but to speak, she revealed a deeply accented American voice. They conversed in English, that much I could tell. But this Chinese girl's English was difficult to comprehend - I told my companion after they had left. It was heavily accented and she spoke so fast that it took all of my years of training in that language to understand what she was saying. Even then, I failed to understand her. Not that I wanted to eavesdrop, but you cannot not hear, you know, when you are seated next to each other in congested space. She was probably speaking 'well-formed' English, not Singlish. But you know, I would prefer Singlish any day. Language is about communication, and whatever and however it is done, so long as the message is conveyed, language has fulfilled its function.

This is not to say that 'standard' English has no place at all. Don't we all naturally switch to it when we need to address an audience in a formal setting, or when we converse with people whom we are not familiar with? We start off there, but when we become familiar with each other, we switch gear and converse in a manner that shows our affinity. I once tried to speak in full sentences all the time, but found that it formed a barrier to communication in some informal settings. So I have reverted to 'switching languages' as and when the occasion calls for it. Anyway, Singlish as a language has seen development over the last 50 years. We should embrace it and treasure it.

1 comment :

Zeus said...


Using Singlish in our daily conversation has its pros and cons.
There were times in which I had to use Singlish almost daily in my course of work to communicate with foreigners who are not well-versed in English.

The Pros - They are able to understand my intentions better in comparison with the use of 'standard' English or complete sentences.

The Cons - After using Singlish for a long period of time, your brain is so fine-tuned to it that you find it difficult to 'switch' back and converse using proper English.