Tuesday, 25 August 2015
GE15: Singlish good, English bad
[Single Mother watch]
So, the gauntlet has been thrown down. SG is up for grabs.
Trawling through some of the GE15 posts and videos I cannot help but notice that numerous comments have been made about the (British, clipped, etc) accent of a certain candidate.
In other videos other candidates spoke in perfectly grammatical English, also with a slightly "foreign" accent.
The last time I had anything published in the MSM and my blog about Singlish I was taken to task by Singlish supporters on some FB page. I don't know how far -- if at all -- that debate has moved on. At the recent SG50, I see that Singlish was being celebrated.
Was this a real recognition of Singlish as part of the Singapore identity or an acquiescence on the part of the G (previously known as “gahman”, I assume)?
I do not remember -- ever -- hearing the late great Mr Lee speak Singlish in public. His was a beautiful, carefully enunciated English, precise and crisp. A British accent? Maybe.
That is why I chuckled when ESM Goh said in Mr Lee’s eulogy: “But I believe Mr Lee would say, ‘What to do? This is life.’”
Mr Lee definitely, double-confirm, would not have said, “What to do?” Maybe “What can I do?” or even “What shall I do?” but definitely, definitely not “What to do?”
It was, for me, a ‘facepalm’ moment, feeling very paiseh that in front of all those dignitaries from around the world, my previous PM said, “What to do?”
(BUT, but I will always respect ESM Goh for giving us the vision for the “Swiss standard of living”. Don’t say I don’t say.)
Honestly, I wonder what Mr Lee would have said about the SG50 Singlish parade.
Back to GE2015: I am afraid that those candidates who speak good grammatical English and have acquired a slight accent due to their having lived and worked abroad for many years might now be painted/portrayed as being not Singaporean enough.
Note, too, that speaking with a, say, British/American/Puerto Rican, accent is not the same as speaking good grammatical English which is not the same as speaking Singlish.
You can’t really speak good Singlish without a particular rise and fall in tone. But you can speak grammatically correct English with its precise vocabulary, understood right around the world, and the accent will vary and it does not matter whether your accent is Dutch, Czech or Urdu.
I have not been able to get rid of my Singapore accent despite having lived in Britain for more than two decades, but that is OK. I don’t particularly want to get rid of my Singapore accent.
However there have been many times when I pronounced words or used sentence structures that my English-speaking colleagues/friends/husband/son could not understand. I have been teased many times for the way I do not speak English properly. I’ve had to change my way of speaking English (with specific focus on consonant clusters) so that I can be understood outside Singapore.
My point is: please do not hold it against those election candidates who speak an English which sounds a bit strange to our Singaporean ears.
Good Singlish might make us sound/look like we are "closer" to the people. Cabinet ministers and other politicians have to interact with their counterparts on a global basis.
Referencing the scenes from Animal Farm where the animals were (initially) chanting "Four legs good, two legs bad", please, hah: It is not a case of “Singlish good, English bad” (which is not to say that bad English is good Singlish, you know what I mean).