It’s much more fun to say ‘raining cats and dogs’

From’ Time to improve standard of English here’, 2 Oct 2017, ST Forum

(Joe Teo Kok Seah): In my interactions with my fellow Singaporeans, I have come to realise that, by and large, people are adamant about using Singlish and are not accustomed to conversing in proper standard English.

They feel that Singlish is far more intimate and effective.

It is not uncommon to find people confusing expressions like the “first floor” with the second storey. The first floor or the first storey is the ground floor.

I have also been met with stunned and perplexed countenances when I use phrases like “a quarter to five” or “a quarter past five” instead of 4.45pm and 5.15pm.

Singaporeans have been exposed to crude English for decades. It is time for us to start speaking proper English. One way to do this is by tuning in to BBC news programmes.

I also learnt many useful English phrases from the British sitcom Mind Your Language, which was telecast in Singapore in the 1980s.

One can learn much better when the process is intermingled with humour and is stress-free. We should endeavour to use more English idioms as part of our daily interactions.

Idioms add life and verve to speech and writing. Without them, the English language would be very bland. For example, describing the weather as “raining cats and dogs” is much more fun than saying that it is “raining heavily”.

Having a good working knowledge of the more common English idioms is essential and critical for effective communication.

Blimey, this old chap thinks our English is ‘half-past six’. One can imagine him ‘running for the hills’ when conversation with the lay Singaporean isn’t as hoity-toity as he’d hoped. Or perchance he’s just making ‘a mountain out of a molehill’.

There is a fine line between idiom and cliche, and saying raining cats and dogs doesn’t make you a more vivacious speaker of the language than someone who says it’s raining heavily, or better still – The rain outside is heavy AF. English Idioms are as old as the bible and dotards. Modern slang is hip, dynamic and gets you connected.

I, too, grew up on Mind Your Language, though what most people remember it by is not Mr Brown’s essential lessons on nouns, verbs and prepositions, but the racist stereotypes that would draw uncomfortable laughs by today’s standards. A thousand apologies (head bobbing) comes to mind. Sleazy Italian? Flirty French? Commie Chinese? Check.

As for first floor vs ground floor, this is a case of Singaporeans switching unwittingly between American and British English. This phenomenon was observed by English professors even way back in the early eighties, when admittedly it is ‘impossible to maintain a British standard of lexicon and syntax’ because of the influence of American pop culture. People still say sidewalk instead of pavement. Eggplant Aubergine. Ass vs arse. And don’t get me started on the pronunciation of words such as ‘lieutenant’. Even Brits and getting corrupted by their American counterparts as we speak, and vice versa.

What English needs to be is clear, simple and concise. Why use ‘stunned and perplexed countenance’ when you could say ‘confused faces’. Or waste mental arithmetic deciding if it’s quarter to 4 or ten to 7? Or ‘by and large’ instead of ‘generally’?

To each his own. Not every nail that sticks up must be hammered down. Let’s not push the envelope but let sleeping dogs lie.

 

 

 

Advertisements

Singaporeans debasing the English language

From ‘Why debase English?’, 18 March 2017, ST Forum

(Manoraj Rajathurai): In the 50s, 60s and 70s, Singaporeans spoke proper English.

Today, they don’t, and they take refuge in something called Singlish.

It is a shame. If only those who use it could hear themselves.

Nothing is done to discourage it, and remedy the situation. People are getting away with debasing a language and making it fashionable to do so.

Singlish is not even a language. There is no grace in it, especially when it comes to grammar.It is nothing to be proud of, and should not be made into something that is associated with this country.

Many expatriates and foreigners whom I deal with often tell me they are unable to understand much of what many Singaporeans attempt to pass off as English.

Why do we even encourage Singlish, especially with this display of it on public transport?

Will we, one day, stop speaking English, and speak Singlish instead?

albus14

Nowadays very fashionable to hantam Singlish, hor? Sometime back got people say those who talk Singlish is ‘missed opportunity’ to master English. I ask my English sifu friend he say this means our English cannot make it so use Singlish good enough. Also, last time 50’s, 60’s, 70’s people’s angmor very good meh? I asked my lim peh he say no leh, this bugger obviously never do NS before. Only his school teacher speak proper English, and also those people on TV read news one. And the policemen wear shorts.  

But hor, he say Singlish is not even a language. AHBUTHEN? If different language then ang mor totally liak no kiu right? My ang mor colleague even learn how to say ‘lah’ and ‘lor’ already. If not he go hawker da pao food sure die. Simi sai. My English sifu say in UK the people from different regions ownself don’t even understand each other also. Hello, these are the people who invented ENGLISH ok. Don’t tell me they all speak different language? Don’t talk cock lah. 

Brother, relac lah brother. Phua Chu Kang already retire. The bus sign just for fun only. Why so serious. You go kopitiam how to order tea with evaporated milk less sugar (teh si siew dai). Anyway Singlish is our way of life, it’s not fashion like bubble tea. We are not taking ‘refuge’ in it. It’s people like you who are hiding from the reality of how our society works, up on your high horse telling people their grammar no good, say we should be ashamed of ourselves. We are Singaporeans OK. People say durian smell like shit we still proud of it can. 

Anyway I say what you also no understand. If you do, then I rest my case. Kthxbye.

Singaporeans pronouncing W as ‘dub-due’

From ‘English words: Time to say them right’, 4 Feb 17, ST Forum

(Ng Hee Chun): Many Singaporeans are not pronouncing English words properly.

For instance, the word “red” is pronounced as “raid”, and the letter “w” is pronounced as “dub-due” instead of “double u”. Other words that are commonly mispronounced include “liaise”; “tuition”; “reservoir”; “abalone”; “almond”; and “their”.

If nothing is done to rectify this, our children will continue to speak this way. It is not about Singlish, or British or American accents.

If even my children’s primary school teachers are pronouncing words wrongly,what can we say about the standard of English that is being passed on?

Singapore is well-known for its high education standards.

But it seems that when it comes to proper English pronunciation, we are not getting it right. It would be helpful if the authorities can create an awareness campaign on how simple English should be spoken in daily life.

Yes, spare a thought for our ‘chew-ren’.

Picking on the ‘raid’ example may be an extreme case, like ‘three vs tree’. Hell, sometimes we can’t even pronounce the name of our own country properly. Even as adults, we fail to grasp why alone is a-loan but abalone is air-buh-loan-NEE. Or Esplanade vs Promenade. We can’t decide if it’s Media-KORE or Media-KOP (Mediacore). We know of Evelyns who introduce themselves as ‘Eve-lyn’ and ‘AIR-VlYN’.

Here’s some other examples of glaringly mispronounced words which we hear in everyday life.

  1. Colleague, or as we say it, KER-LEEG
  2. Film – Flim
  3. Nowadays – Nowsaday
  4. Flour – Flah
  5. Excuse me – Eskew me
  6. Coke – Cock
  7. Primary -Prembry

Perhaps part of the reason why Singaporeans continue to make the same mistakes is because we deem it impolite to correct a person during normal conversation. Also, sometimes we need to mispronounce deliberately just to be understood, depending on the literacy level of the recipient. For example, if I ask a fishmonger if he has any ‘Sam-mon’ instead of ‘SELL-MERN’, I’ll get a blank stare. Or to the desert stall lady that I want ‘AH-MERN’ jelly instead of ‘AL-MOND’. If a school principal asks me if I send my kid to ‘TEW-TION’, I’m not going to reply with the same word pronounced in the ‘proper’ manner (TOO-EE-TION)because it is not socially acceptable to sound smarter than a head of education.

In 1994, our way of speaking was termed ‘Singapore English Pronunciation‘ (SEP) in an academic paper on linguistics. Our tendency to express ‘th’ as in ‘three’, or ‘then’ as ‘den’ was attributed to having ‘the tongue a little further back and without the accompanying hiss, using an alveolar plosive’. We also have problems with ‘consonant clusters’, like how we say ‘fack’ instead of ‘fact’.  The authors concluded that it was not ‘wrong’ for us to speak in this manner, and in some situations may in fact be the most ‘appropriate’ way of speaking.

So yes, it’s a pleasant surprise to know that words like ‘Wednesday’ and ‘Opportunity’ are often taken for granted in SEP, but it’s unlikely that we’ll convert to the ‘proper’ pronunciation overnight because as social animals we’re rather commit linguistic faux pas (‘par’) than be seen as a snob. Instead of taking the pedantic approach and admonishing people for relying on ALVEOLAR PLOSIVES, perhaps we can all learn to live and let live in a ‘I say Toe-may-toe you say Toe-Mar-toe’ world.

 

Jetstar making inflight announcements in Singlish

From ‘Confirm plus chop: Jetstar to go Singlish for National Day’, 1 Aug 2016, article by Wong Pei Ting, Today

In-flight announcements on Jetstar Asia flights flying into Singapore will be made in Singlish on National Day this year, and this time it is not a prank.

So don’t be surprised if you hear the cabin crew saying “make sure your seatbelt kiap tight tight” or “cannot smoke anywhere hor”. The Singlish lines were first cracked as part of a joke on the eve of April Fool’s Day this year, but they will be used on flights following “an unprecedented number of requests from passengers and fans on social media”, the airline said on Monday (Aug 1).

…“Ladies and gentlemen, this is your captain speaking ah! Weather along the way is quite swee. But just to be safe, please kiap your seatbelt tight hor. Thank you and enjoy your flight,” it went.

Incidentally, the Singlish version of ‘fly aeroplane’ is completely different from the literal form. As a one-off publicity stunt, Singlish on a Plane is probably harmless, provided the captain doesn’t confuse passengers with ‘Eh siao liao, the left wing pecah already, very jialat leh!’ when disaster strikes. By then, the joke isn’t funny anymore. To foreign ears, the cutesy use of ‘kiap’ or forced ‘lahs’ may raise a smile or two, but to Singlish veterans, there comes a point when it just seems, for lack of a better word, “bo liao”.

If Jetstar keeps it restrained and limits the use of Singlish to non-essential communication, it’s unlikely that their reputation would go down the longkang.  Just don’t expect Singapore icon SIA to follow suit. Passengers have complained that flight attendants spouting Singlish were a disgrace to international travellers. Yes, our very own Singapore Girl is forbidden from speaking the local tongue, and was bred only to articulate with the same eloquence as our television newscasters, or befuddle passengers with a chapalang of fake Western accents that make Singlish more intelligible in comparison.

Speaking of whom, it would be fun to see our CNA anchors breaking into Singlish as part of the festivities. Just watching Cheryl Fox reading a story in Singlish for 3 minutes would be far more entertaining than the entire Red Lions-less National Day parade.

When Singlish is actually Chinglish

From ‘Is it Singlish or is it Chinglish’, 27 June 2016, ST Forum

(Anand A.Vathiyar): When we hear broken English, we usually assume it to be Singlish, when it is often, in fact, Chinglish (English as spoken by the Chinese).

A growing number of Chinese dialect words and phrases, such as “bojio”, “chiobu” and “chut pattern”, are used by young Singaporeans daily.

Compare this to the number of Malay or Tamil words that has become a part of the local vernacular in recent times. To quote a Singlish phrase: “No fight”.

This worrying trend is boosted by the printing of Chinglish words and phrases on everything from T-shirts to tote bags and cups. Coupled with the frequent use of such terms on social media, the fight for better English becomes that much harder.

It is time for us to acknowledge that Chinglish is the more serious element in the make-up that is Singlish before we address how Singaporeans can connect and communicate better with the world (“English to help us connect to the world“; June 22).

In fact, it should start with how Singaporeans communicate among themselves first.

When the writer says ‘English as spoken by the Chinese’, surely he refers to the natives of China, because ‘Chinglish’ wasn’t invented in Singapore. Some would argue it’s a derogatory slur (an inferior, corrupt form of English, or ‘Yellow English‘) referring to the grammatical, though incidentally hilarious, atrocities observed when English in China is lost in translation, especially when it comes to signs like this:

No wonder the Beijing government sought to eradicate Chinglish once and for all in preparation of the Olympics.  I’m beginning to wonder if the writer is even Singaporean or understands Singlish in the first place. ‘No fight’ isn’t really a Singlish phrase at all. Phrases like ‘bojio’ or ‘chut pattern’ are also not exclusive to ‘young Singaporeans’. Just ask PAP MP Sim Ann, who used ‘chut pattern‘ to describe opponent Chee Soon Juan during the last GE. As a non-Chinglish speaking Singaporean would say, ‘Like that you win already lor’.

The earliest reference I could find with regard to the term is 15 years ago (2001), when a Chinese university dean used ‘Chinglish‘ to describe the state of Shanghai’s road signs. In less than 10 years, the term would evolve to also describe the Chinese’s attempts to speak English. More recently, the ‘Chinglish’ phrase ‘You can you up, no can no BB’ entered the Urban Dictionary, which is the Singlish equivalent of ‘You so good you do lah, if not you diam diam’. A modern Chinese and a Singaporean speaking some form of ‘Chinglish’ would still have problems understanding each other, China’s Chinglish being as different from our dialect-accentuated Singlish just as any other pidgin bastardisation of our colonial masters’ tongue.

Granted, Singlish does incorporate elements of linguistic ‘mash-ups’, whether it’s Hokkien-English or Malay-English, but these serve only to convey a uniquely Singaporean nuance. For example, ‘You flipped the thing upside-down’ just doesn’t have the same ring as ‘You put the thing terbalik’. Likewise, our alternative to ‘I’m going to the toilet to poop’, is the less infantile-sounding, euphemistic ‘I’m going to the toilet to LS’. If foreigners have any problems understanding us, most of the time it’s not because we’ve deliberately added Chinese into the mix, but because of how we’ve customised, or some say mangled, proper English. We sometimes anyhow speak one.

Given its reputation of turning poetic Chinese dishes into crass vulgarities and history of ridicule,  labelling Singlish as a modified form of ‘Chinglish’ is not just an insult to non-Chinese Singaporeans who excel in our ‘rojak’ language, but to all Singlish speakers. The component ‘Ching’ also has an undertone of racism in it, as in ‘Ching-Chong’, or ‘chinky’.   Chinglish, or should I say ‘Chingrish, has also been played for laughs in satire, a trait not just of the China people, but extended to anyone of Asian descent. In other words, ‘Chinglish’ is to how we speak as ‘slant-eyes’ is to how we look.

So please, let Singlish remain as Singlish. I no want tell people go fuck the fruits.

‘Chinese helicopter’ degrading to Chinese-educated Singaporeans

From ‘Petition to remove Chinese helicopter from Oxford English Dictionary’, 28 May 2016, article by Leong Weng Kam, ST

Freelance writer and translator Goh Beng Choo has launched an online petition to have the term “Chinese helicopter” removed from the Oxford English Dictionary (OED). She and the 185 other like-minded Singaporeans who had signed the petition as of 10pm yesterday say that the term – used in the 1970s and 1980s to describe a Chinese-educated person who spoke and pronounced English poorly – is degrading and insulting.

…The dictionary itself defined “Chinese helicopter” as being a derogatory term for a Singaporean whose schooling was conducted in Mandarin Chinese and who has limited knowledge of English….The term appears to have been derived from a mispronunciation of “Chinese-educated”.

Madam Goh and those who signed the petition are not the only ones upset. Former civil servant and National Institute of Education lecturer Tan Teng Lang e-mailed OED’s world English editor Danica Salazar asking for the term’s removal.

In her e-mail on Friday, seen by The Straits Times, Ms Tan, who now lives in Canada, said the term “had long degenerated into a label that equated Chinese-educated Singaporeans with inferior quality and low status in society. It was blatantly intended to belittle, humiliate and demean someone on the basis of his less fluent command of English“.

She added: ” ‘Chinese helicopter’ is unequivocally a painful reminder of their long and difficult struggle to find their rightful place and dignity in the Singapore society. Fortunately, by the 1980s, this highly derisive term had mostly lapsed into disuse with the closure of Chinese schools. Not many younger generation Singaporeans have heard of ‘Chinese helicopter’, much less understand its meaning. My friends and I are therefore shocked and saddened that an almost forgotten Singlish term now resurfaces in the OED, rubbing salt into an old wound that never healed.”

cartoon-font-b-electric-b-font-font-b-helicopter-b-font-childern-baby-toys-with-music

Another Singlish term added to the OED also supposedly reeks of insensitivity and discrimination but so far nobody has filed a petition about it: Ang Moh (Caucasian) . Until the OED decided to make some Singlish words official, including the inexplicable ‘WAH’, ‘Chinese helicopter’ was an obscure, rarely-uttered term familiar only to Singlish scholars. Now that some people want it banned for good, they’ve unwittingly cemented it in our lingua franca.

The New Paper explains that ‘helicopter’ originated from the local book Army Daze, in which a Chinese-educated recruit mispronounced ‘educated’ as ‘helucated’, though I never heard it uttered once during my NS days. I knew what ‘bayi’ (derogatory term for Singhs) and ‘abnn’ (derogatory to Indians) were though, and those seemed more racist and insensitive than describing someone untrained in the English tongue as a flying military machine. Without further elaboration I would have thought that ‘Chinese helicopter’ referred to a specific position in the Kama Sutra only for advanced practitioners. Or, literally, a description of the quality of an actual helicopter. Just like how people use ‘Malaysian’ to imply reckless drivers, or ‘German’ (gas) to describe farts.

The uglier flipside of a ‘Chinese helicopter’ is calling someone a Chinese ‘chauvinist’, often used to label annoying Opposition candidates who play the race card during elections, short of comparing them to ‘Chinese’ Nazis. These days, Chinese Singaporeans with an obsessive flair for Mandarin are admired and valued in society, regardless of their grasp of the English language.  It is our mother tongue after all. So, if your English sucks but you’re badass at calligraphy or can memorise Romance of the Three Kingdoms by heart, you really shouldn’t be too upset about being called a ‘Chinese helicopter’. Just like how I embrace being called ‘jiak kantang’ (Chinese but English-speaking). I doubt the predominantly English-speaking among us would call out the OED for ‘rubbing salt on an old wound’ if they decide to list ‘jiak kantang’ (literally potato-eating) or the inflammatory ‘banana’ (yellow outside but white inside).

In fact, there already exists a Singlish term that has similar meaning as Chinese helicopter but far catchier: Cheena.

Singlish handicapping Singaporeans

From ‘Singlish impedes mastery of English’, 27 May 2016, ST Forum

(Marietta Koh): Mr Seah Yam Meng believes it is “alarmist” for me, and perhaps even the authorities, to think that Singlish would displace Standard English (“Singaporeans know right time, place for Singlish“; yesterday). As a teacher of English, I am concerned about the threats undermining the use of Standard English in schools, of which Singlish is but one.

Our young need to be taught proper, functional English that can stand them in good stead where prospects for their employability in an increasingly globalised economy are concerned. Despite at least 10 years of English-medium instruction in school, the majority of adult Singaporeans are hardly proficient in the use of written and spoken English.

Anecdotal evidence of this deficiency abounds at the workplace or in correspondence with service providers, in the form of fractured sentences and garbled messages which appear to be common.I am, thus, sceptical of Mr Seah’s belief that Singaporeans are “mature enough to switch between Singlish and Standard English”.

English is, moreover, not the mother tongue of most Singaporeans. If households are ill equipped to support the use of Standard English, this makes it all the more imperative that schools ensure uncompromising standards of English language instruction are upheld.

If the fundamentals of English grammar and usage are not properly taught, and if Singlish continues to be heedlessly imbibed as what is deemed acceptable, we will be doing a gross disservice to generations of young Singaporeans, who will be at a distinct disadvantage once they step into the working world.

Yes, you can’t blame Singlish alone for corrupting standard English. One may have a Queen’s English intonation but still succumb to bad English. An example is the use of the word ‘revert’. Then there’s the chronic problem of misplaced emphasis, like how we say ‘colleague’ (ker-league). Social media shorthand is also responsible for peppering our written language with lazy acronyms like TTYL or tmrw. Influenced by pop culture vernacular, teens are spouting rubbish like ‘bae’, ‘realest’, ‘my bad’ or ‘beneath your beautiful’.

FML

Certainly, how Singaporeans spoke 50 years ago was probably different from today, and back then you would still hear those who kowtow to our colonial masters complaining about how this uncivilised pidgin language is crippling our prospects on the international stage. In 1999, then PM Goh Chok Tong beseeched us not to overuse Singlish, in his own words: ‘Let us not go reverse direction with Singlish, or to use Singlish, let us not GO STAN’. Talk about Singlish-ception; using Singlish to warn against Singlish.

Alas, it’s 2016 and speaking English, the kind cleansed and purified of all its local nuances, is no longer as relevant, or fashionable, as it used to be. Mark Zuckeberg, for example, is mastering Mandarin, no matter how broken it is, to charm the pants off China. If you want to make it on the world stage, perfect grammar is not going to get you as far as knowing your audience, and pandering to them to look like you’re trying your darnedest to fit in. A Singaporean speaking to a bunch of teenage Koreans with a regular ‘Singaporean’ accent (whatever that is) is not going to be as persuasive as one putting on a mock American ‘Yee-Haw’ twang. Nobody’s likely to be impressed by an upstart from a pinprick country that people still think lies in China giving a profoundly fluent monologue as condescending in tone as the Queen pardoning a convict in the Royal Palace. That, I double confirm.

The Government itself has a love-hate relationship with Singlish, one moment demonising its use and the next using it for heartland campaigns, from courtesy on the MRT to SARS (PCK’s Some say leh, some lay lor) Ministers pick on trivial things like ‘Outside food not allowed’, and then go on to ‘mee siam mai hum’. The use of Singlish, occasionally sprinkled with dialect, among our politicians may even increase during election time compared to non-election days. Suffice to say the government is well aware of the utility of Singlish, though as a double-edged sword used for very specific purposes. As far as eliminating Singlish goes, there are certainly setting a very bad example. We can’t even decide on whether we should keep ‘Don’t Pray Pray’ or promote ‘Don’t Play Play’, without realising that BOTH ARE BAD ENGLISH.

Like a child with behavioral issues, we tend to be selectively proud of Singlish’s more lovable traits, like how we love our ‘lah, leh, lors’ or the ‘Shioks’, that even international stars who come to visit are urged to mimic them. In typical Singaporean fashion, ‘Shioked’ was even considered as a replacement for ‘Shagged’ in an Austin Powers movie. The most critically acclaimed local movies of our time used Singlish and dialect as the key medium. Can you think of an example of a successful Singaporean movie where actors spoke ‘un-Singlish’? I guess not. Why liddat?

The line between ‘broken English’ and ‘Singlish’ blurs when we refer to the dark, ungrammatical, side of the language, the thorn in every self-respecting English teacher’s side. This is the Singlish played more for laughs, the kind that makes memes like SGAG so virally successful. It’s fitting that professors use the term ‘code-switch’ when it comes to transitioning from Singlish to ‘proper English’. Because that’s what ‘authentic’ Singlish really is, a cipher to differentiate the true blue Singaporeans from the pretenders. How useful that would be in an actual war. Imagine us confusing the enemy with codes like ‘Eh, those chee hong kias fly our aeroplane, we hentak kaki first wait we shoot bird. Otherwise, we jialat liao’

So, this ‘war on Singlish’ is really a petty microcosm of a war on the English language everywhere. Modern English is an evolving beast that has shifted beyond the stuffy, upper-crust medium that traditionally gets you past the front door. Mastery is not so much about your proficiency in grammar or whether you know how to split the infinitive, but how and when you use it that makes a difference.