From ‘New CC’s name not easy to pronounce’, 29 Oct 2013, ST Forum
(Edwin Feng): I READ with interest that the new Ci Yuan Community Club used to be called Kebun Ubi Community Centre in the 1970s (“New CC in Hougang first to have a hawker centre”; Oct 20). Ci Yuan is not an easy name for Singaporeans who are unfamiliar with hanyu pinyin to pronounce.
It is ironic that a community centre meant for bonding Singaporeans of different races would change its original Malay name to a “pinyinised” one that even some Chinese Singaporeans have difficulty pronouncing. Besides, why is it named Ci Yuan when it does not seem to have any link to either its old name (Kebun Ubi) or its present location?
Unlike Kebun Ubi (Malay for tapioca garden or farm), the new name does not seem to reflect the rich history of the place, where tapioca and other staple crops were once cultivated by our forefathers, who lived in the villages there.
The opening of the new community club in a few years’ time will be a good opportunity for the centre’s old name to be reinstated. Perhaps a gallery could be set up to educate younger constituents on the history of the place.
Romanised Mandarin, or ‘pinyinisation’, was once the scourge of language and history lovers everywhere. In 1987, there were calls to abolish Hanyu Pinyin names of places like Simei and Guifei. Thankfully, Simei remains in use today, but isn’t pronounced the way it’s intended to be. Most of us, including the Chinese-speaking, pronounce Simei as ‘xi (ee-sound) mei’, rather than the correct, sharper ‘si (as in ‘4’) mei’, an example of a HYPY name that has evolved into something all Singaporeans can agree upon even though technically it’s wrong. ‘Hougang’ is a mixed bag, some say ‘Ow-Gang’ with the silent ‘h’, while others pronounce it as (correctly), ‘Hoe’-Gang. Till this day we remain wishy-washy over Yishun (the town) and Nee Soon (the army camp).
HYPY, the devil spawn of the Speak Mandarin Campaign, threatened to screw with our food culture in the early eighties. Imagine if chye tau kuey was renamed ‘Luo bo Gao’, or ‘Char Quay Teow’ as ‘Chao Guo Tiao’. Doesn’t sound as appetising in HYPY does it. In school, compulsory HYPY names wrecked havoc on our kids’ sense of identity, some confused over the two versions, while those without dialect names, like Eurasian kids, were ‘pinyinised’ with silly soundalike translations. If I were to introduce my full name to a Westerner I’d prefer my dialect name than my HYPY one, which comes with a troublesome ‘Qu’ couplet. Not everyone has an effortless HYPY name like Lee Wei Ming. Some of us have HYPY names that look and sound as complicated as a blockbuster drug with an X, Z and Y in it. Take Zhuo Xue Yan, for example. Anyone unfamilar with HYPY would be wondering if you’re an actual person or some ancient Mexican pyramid.
I doubt non-Chinese have any problems pronouncing Fengshan, Bishan, Yishun or Yuhua though, just like non-Malays can easily enunciate Geylang, Eunos of Pasir Panjang. An example of a HYPY experiment gone wrong was the renaming of Tekka Centre to ZHUJIAO Centre in the eighties, which was then reverted back to Tekka in 2000 as it better reflected the history of the place, and a better tourist draw. Other town-naming fails include the suggestion to change Tiong Bahru to ‘Hong Shan‘ and ‘Bukit Panjang’ to ‘Zhenghua’. Like Zhujiao, ‘Ci Yuan’ is tricky to pronounce considering that in standard English the C takes on an ‘S’ sound in words like ‘cider’ or ‘cistern’, even though it makes references to tapioca and sweet potato planting, according to the CC chairman Koh Hock Seng (Residents to be consulted on new CC’s name, 2 Nov 2013, ST Forum). Hopefully we’ll all get used to the tongue-twisting confusion of HYPY, and before you know it saying ‘Ci Yuan’ will be as easy as ‘Gong Xi Gong Xi’.