SINGAPORE: An opinion piece on Singlish in the New York Times (NYT) makes light of the Singapore Government’s efforts to promote the mastery of standard English by Singaporeans, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s press secretary wrote.
In a letter published in the newspaper on Monday (May 23), Ms Chang Li Lin said the Government has a “serious reason” for its policy on standard English.
“Standard English is vital for Singaporeans to earn a living and be understood not just by other Singaporeans but also English speakers everywhere,” she said.
Singaporean poet and literary critic Gwee Li Sui wrote in the NYT piece, published on May 13, that “years of state efforts to quash Singlish have only made it flourish”.
“The more the state pushed its purist bilingual policy, the more the territory’s languages met and mingled in Singlish. Through playful, day-to-day conversations, the unofficial composite quickly became a formidable cultural phenomenon,” he said.
Calling the Government’s war on Singlish “doomed from the start”, Mr Gwee said even politicians and officials are now using it.
“Finally grasping that this language is irrepressible, our leaders have begun to use it publicly in recent years, often in strategic attempts to connect with the masses,” he wrote.
In her rebuttal letter, Ms Chang said using Singlish makes it harder for most Singaporeans to master the English language.
“English is not the mother tongue of most Singaporeans. For them, mastering the language requires extra effort. Using Singlish will make it harder for Singaporeans to learn and use standard English,” she wrote.
“Not everyone has a PhD in English Literature like Mr Gwee, who can code-switch effortlessly between Singlish and standard English, and extol the virtues of Singlish in an op-ed written in polished standard English.”