To Use or Not to Use Singlish “Aiyah! so Headache!”

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Victoria University of Wellington
School of Linguistics and Applied Languages Studies

WRIT 101 – Writing English

Assignment 2 – Persuasion

Due Date: 20 September 2004

Name of Student: Chor Teck Daryl Toy

To Use or Not To Use Singlish
“Aiyah! So Headache!”

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In recent years, there has been much concern on how Singaporeans use English. While some consider Singapore Colloquial English or Singlish as an undeniable part of being a Singaporean, others including the Government, deem it inferior, even condemn it, and support the use of Singapore Standard English almost relentlessly (Tan 2002). I shall attempt to address the following question, “Should Singlish be accepted and used or be abandoned?” I believe we need to use both Singlish and Standard English in order to be effective life-long communicators. We shall look into this argument in the context of education, the sociolinguistic understanding of diglossia and code-switching, and the role of teachers in guiding students in the language acquisition process.

Firstly, let us look at the development of English that eventually led to this language controversy in Singapore. English is one of the four official languages recognised in Singapore. It is the language medium used in education, in administration, and in the workforce, and is often used at home nowadays, along with the other ‘mother tongues’. Some, especially the younger families, have adopted English as their first language. Out of this multi-lingual background comes Singlish, which blends English with the other local languages, accents, dialects and slang. Singlish is used in informal occasions, especially among children, adolescents, and the less-educated. If we were to spend some time mingling with Singaporeans and listening to the way we converse with each other, we may catch colloquial phrases like, “Why you so like dat?”

“Eeee! You so kiasu one!”
“Dun play-play with me!”
“Do your work lah!”
Such familiar terms can also be detected in local television programmes, like Under One Roof and Phua Chu Kang Pte Ltd, and in local films, like Army Daze, Money No Enough and I Not Stupid. Indeed, Singlish has become an unofficial Singaporean icon, which I think, our friends from other countries can use to identify and differentiate who we are from other Asians!

While Singlish is widely used in Singapore, it is often treated with disgust, even disdain and aversion, especially by the highly-educated and ‘language-purity’ advocates. Singlish is viewed as an embarrassing reflection of Singaporeans being ‘uncouth’ and ‘uneducated’, as contrast with Standard English. As former Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong once commented, "Poor English reflects badly on us … and makes us seem less intelligent or competent." (Tan 2002) As Singlish is seen as ‘poor English’, attempts, such as the government-supported “Speak Good English Movement”, are set to propagate the proper use of the language among Singaporeans, mainly through the education system.

Despite the various efforts made in condemning and even banning the use of Singlish in Singapore, there is no denying that using this locally-conceived language is very much a part of being a true-blue Singaporean. We use it in our daily lives with our families, friends and even at work in our conversations. Linguists have noted that most children in Singapore would acquire Singlish first from their homes or in kindergartens, rather than Standard English (Gupta 2001, Deterding 1998). In some studies conducted on language acquisition, it is observed that adults used the low variety of a language to communicate with their children, who in turn use it to communicate with their peers (Ferguson 1959). In accordance to the language phenomenon of diglossia, it is argued that children would acquire language initially through its non-standard, colloquial, low variety, before learning its standard high variety through formal education.

In line with the...
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