Sunday, May 16, 2004

Much Ado About Nothing?

Today I shall take a small poke at Singlish, advertising and other recurring themes. As you can see at this late hour I am still online as I am all alone in the house. Pretty creepy though, with my wife in Penang and only my dog to accompany me. Anyway I shall focus on my blogs and not think that there is something or someone watching me at the back... *shivers*

Everyone I know (and don't know) seems to be talking about it... and most do it in Singlish. In the Straits Times, in Parliament, in schools and in the neighbourhood coffee shops. Oh, the evils of Singlish! Oh, the joys of Singlish. I sincerely Singlish should not be encouraged on TV vs it's a true blue Singaporean by-product to be proud of.

No offence to the English teachers, but the people who say that Singlish is bad English and want it stamped out are those that are obviously competent in English. The people that defend Singlish are just as competent in English (if not more so), but they value 'ploper" Singlish as much as proper English. So why is the camp divided? Are TCS programmes so boring or repetitive that we have to create our own mini-series, comedy (of errors) and talk show all rolled into one?

Of late, there has been a move to reduce the amount of Singlish broadcasted to TV screens all over Singapore (and JB... and some say Batam). I recognise that television makes an impact on the formative minds of our young: if they do not know what proper English is and only hear Singlish on TV, then they grow up thinking Singlish is English. Then teachers (especially those teaching English) get a big headache trying to right an ever growing wrong. But don't get me wrong! I do not think Singlish is all bad. I don't think that using proper English all the time is efficient*/appropriate either.

* If someone asked you whether you liked mr ng's blogs and you wanted to say yes emphatically, you could say in proper English, "Well, of course, my dear man/woman/undecided hybrid (delete where applicable)! I simply adore it for it's offbeat approach, skewed perspective and bracketed sentences. I absolutely love the subtly way that the message was delivered. The fact that it is so readily available is a boon too! Don't you just agree?" In Singlish, you could say, "Ah then?" or the now beloved "Ah-ber then?"

The man on the street or hawker who normally converses in a Chinese dialect/Malay gets by with some Singlish. (In fact, that may be all the "English" he/she knows.) Shenton Way types use it to spice up their lunch time banter ("Wah, dis wan dem shiok, man!") or give their water cooler gossip a splash of colour ("Eh, you seen the new girl or not? So hiao, one!). But when they go back to the board room full of bored people, they often revert to a better form of English... and in the process sound like American wannabes or Englishmen with mumps and swollen tongues.** But they try. Why try? Simply because they recognise that proper English is the language of commerce, of communicating with the rest of the world. Singlish is reserved for the home, the void deck, the staffroom, the hawker centre, even the National Stadium or the Padang on the 8th of August and sadly the school.

** By the way, have you noticed how often people from our part of the world adopt American/British accents when speaking to Yanks/Brits. Many visit the US/England, some only for a short holiday, and return home talking like they have marbles in their mouths. Some give the excuse that by doing so their foreign counterparts/bosses/friends will understand them better. I don't hear many Caucasians reverting to Singlish to communicate (except in jest). Are we that weak-willed or do we see ourselves as inferior? There is nothing wrong with the Singapore accent (this is not the same as Singlish), you just have to step down a gear or two so that your words are distinct and do not run into each other.

It's a simple case of "a place for everything and everything in it's place". I think that fact has to be recognised and while I think that it generally is in the minds of those who speak good English, there is a need to create an awareness among students that there is a time and place for Singlish and proper English. The importance of either cannot be underestimated nor should one be given an advantage over the other. Instead of pushing Singlish out of television or relegating it with the likes of bum boats and chewing gum, it should be recognised as being here to stay, necessary for day-to-day conversation and even contributing to nation building. Unfortunately creating an awareness is often not enough.

The measures that are taken to counter Singlish may seem extreme: sending teachers for re-training in English and moderating the Singlish/English in TV programmes. Which teachers? English teachers? Have you heard the teachers of other subjects speak in class?*** How about overhearing Math or Science teachers discussing formulae largely in Mandarin and the only English you hear are the numbers and certain terms or symbols? Do you still think that the measures are extreme? I can still remember my Add Maths teacher who keep telling us about the "tri-gor-nor-meh-tree lay-shio" and the ever classic "Pi-gor-rus Theorem"

*** A teacher I know related this incident. As she walked past a class, she heard a teacher ask a student for his homework. The student replied, "'Cher, I no bring come." In exasperation, the teacher screamed, "Why you no bring come?!"

But back to the original (and unrelated) questions. Are TV programmes that boring? An emphatic Yes. There is also a conspiracy (and Mediacorp and Mediaworks will deny all knowledge even though the truth is out there). Have you noticed how all the good shows have ended their runs lately and the way the different stations proudly announce their season finales? Then it plays re-runs of "the best/most popular episodes" like drawn out wakes at HDB void decks. It also shows re-runs of re-runs of re-runs, e.g. Mr Bean "specials" and various van Damme and Stallone movies****. Let just look at the TV guide and you see the re-re-runs of Lost in Space, "Nutty Professor" and "Ultimate bra". For someone who for once decided to rest his butt in foront of the television screen for a relaxing weekend night, these unpalatable programme is enough to drive me to my computer screen to give my 2 cents worth. Besides these, it also tries to keep us away from cinema halls by relentlessly showing movie trailers that reveal the entire storyline, punchlines and special effects. The thrill, suspense and "wonderment" fizzles out like a flat soda and soft popcorn when you finally haul your butt to the big screen.

**** Side track: ever notice how most of Stallone's movies have only 5 letters or/and 2 syllables: Rocky, Rambo, Cobra, Judge Dredd, De-Tox, Daylight, Copland?

But I digress as usual. The other question was why there were two main English speaking camps when both had the interest of English at heart. Well, everyone wants to give their two-cents worth every now and then don't they? I do, and just did... lah.

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