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.”


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’.


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.

Lingo Lingo music video not reflecting Singaporean way of life

From ‘Still no go for Lingo’, 22 Aug 15, article in TNP

…The video was uploaded onto YouTube on Aug 4. It features Ah Boys To Men star Tosh Zhang, local singer-actor Bunz and their entourage flanked by a fleet of supercars and sexy girls in lingerie, rapping about Singlish.

It was criticised by some netizens, who said it did not reflect Singaporeans’ way of life as it promoted a super luxurious lifestyle with scenes of well-dressed young people hanging out by a private jet.

Lingo Lingo Where You Go was screened for free at the National Library on July 25. The short film, which cost close to $100,000 to make, is about a man who wakes up from a 10-year coma to a world of unfamiliar Singlish terms and phrases.

…Freelance model-actress Melody Low, 22, who is the main female star in the video, is not affected by the negative feedback. She told TNP: “It is quite common these days for people to have differing views as they have different tastes and mindsets.

“Some netizens say that the Lamborghinis do not represent Singaporeans. However, we are a First World country and Singapore has one of the highest rate of people buying supercars, so I think it is okay.”

Melody doesn’t do much except pout and preen for a few seconds in the Lingo video, though what she said about supercar ownership in Singapore is not too far off the mark. For anyone familiar with the rap genre, it’s all about swag posturing with fast cars, bling, babes and booty. You even have a singer in there who calls himself ‘Bunz’. Definitely not something to sign off graffiti with. If the private jet scenes look familiar, it’s because the director was clearly inspired by the video for ‘I Want it That Way’ by the Backstreet Boys. Well at least it’s not THESE dandy guys rapping instead.

Some of the verses in here are truly cringeworthy, like ‘Wassup Lah Leh Lor’, or ‘I love my Singlish like my Ferrari/Just like my mee rebus, teh peng and curry’. The problem with the video is not the blatant ripoff from Fast and Furious, the use of Autotune, or Bunz singing about his Ferrari, but that ‘Lingo Lingo’ takes itself way too seriously.  And ironically, this vulgar glamourisation of Singlish would be an effective way of getting Singaporeans to STOP using it, whether its echo is louder than the Lambo or not. And nothing irritates me more than the cocky vroom vroom of a supercar on a small street. Kao peh la!

Here’s a curious history of the genre known as ‘Singlish rap’, ranked in ascending order of personal preference. Note that this is not ‘Singaporean rap’, but rap incorporating elements of Singlish (lingo, intonation) and inevitably some low-brow humour. So the unwatchable MDA rap is thankfully excluded.

Special mentions:

An interesting companion to the ‘Lingo Lingo Where you Go’ video, where Mr Brown and his podcast gang lament about COE and ERP. Or should I say, the E to the R to the P.

A rap about not wearing pants. Not much different from most commercial rap songs nowadays.

6. ‘Excuse me ah, while I give you a kick!’ – PCK (A happy journey starts like that, 2009)

The irony of this public service announcement rap is that it’s not typically Singlish to say ‘Hey you over there’. In terms of effectiveness, this video did nothing in terms of commuter graciousness, but it paved the way for the Dim Sum Dollies. Phua Chu Kang also appears more than once in this list. Which says a lot about the genre.

5. ‘Some say Leh, Some say Lah’ – PCK (The Sar-vivor rap, 2003)

Here’s PCK again telling you wash your hands to ward off SARS. Unfortunately people remember the ‘some say lah/leh’ lyric more than the rest of the stuff that’s actually important. Yes, there’s an album for this, and ‘lah leh lor’ is still as frequently used as ever. ‘Don’t be a Regretter’, thankfully, didn’t ‘Sar-vive’ as a catchphrase for long. The lingo Gods have spoken.

Screen Shot 2015-08-22 at 4.41.26 PM

4. ‘I’m just a recruit so I really bobian’ – Recruits’ Anthem, Ah Boys To Men

Another Tosh Rock rap from the Ah Boys soundtrack. Propaganda much. Retired generals can use this as their entrance song when they conduct rallies.

3. ‘Some say we kiasu, some say we kiasi’ – Limpeh, Shigga Shay (2013)

The above line sounds like a nod to the SARS rap, but this is a better effort from Tosh Rock, who guest stars on this track. I suspect the reason why this put ‘Lion City Kia’ Shigga Shay firmly in the limelight is that it’s rapped mostly in Hokkien. Of course it would be even funnier if veteran actor Richard Low performs this. He’s totally wasted on Tanglin.

2. ‘No chai tau quay then kai fan lor’ – Rasa Sayang, Dick Lee (1989)

Moe Alkaff is hilarious here. The Singaporean-ness is strong on this one, though it comes from a musician who’s not exactly known for busting gangsta rhymes. Apparently in the late eighties, according to Dick, ‘life is like a holi-holiday’. We also could afford pagers and ‘cordless’ phones. However, it mentions Sang Nila Utama and Raffles, not no LKY. WHHHYYY.

1.’I always give you chocolate, I give you my Tic Tac, but now you got a Kit Kat, you never give me back’ – Why you so like that, Kopi Kat Klan (1991)

The mutha of all Singlish rap. Charming, timeless and sibei funny.

Singaporeans not using verbs in the past tense

From ‘Reverse trend of speaking poor English’, 28 April 15, ST Forum

(Amy Loh Chee Seen): IT IS unsurprising that netizens derided the Singapore and Asian Schools Math Olympiads question for its poor English (“Maths question catches world’s attention”; April 15). The standard of Singapore’s English has sunk so low that poor English has become acceptable, whether in spoken or written form.

Despite years of campaigns to “speak better English”, parents and teachers unintentionally propagate ungrammatical English. If this continues, the language that current and future generations speak here will bear little resemblance to English. One mistake is the utter disregard for the way a verb should be used in the past tense in reported speech, in the passive form and as an adjective.

New hoardings at a condominium construction site proudly promote its proximity to a “shelter walkway”, restaurant menus list “steam fish” or “grill pork chops”, and shops announce hours when they are “close”.

We write as we speak, and conversations are replete with past events told in the present tense. A Singaporean interviewee on CNN once described his grandmother making herbal soup for him as he “studies” for exams, even though he had mentioned earlier that she died years ago.

Why does our society accept this? It is accepted because we speak more and more Mandarin or Malay. Our Asian verbs do not have different forms for tenses, causing us to fail to recognise incorrect English.

As long as our spoken English stays uncorrected, we will continue to speak and write poor English. A friend of mine was even mocked for her clear enunciation of words in the past tense. It has become “uncool” to speak English correctly.

Unless we reverse the trend, we may well need to produce a dictionary or provide translation services to make our Singapore version of English intelligible to foreigners.

The ‘Cheryl’s birthday’ question is an example of poor tense management (Albert and Bernard just BECOME  friends with Cheryl..), but even the best speakers and writers of the language make such errors occasionally. It’s not necessarily a Singaporean problem as the writer believes; bad tense, a misplaced ‘s (as in womens’, childrens’ or it’s) and comical “quotation marks” are textbook bloopers that happen everywhere else in the English-speaking world.

It’s a goldmine for purists out there. I still see construction signs that read ‘Sorry for the Inconvenient’ or ‘Inconveniences’, or shops that say they are ‘Opened’ for business. And then there’s this:

You have movies titled ‘Honey I Shrunk the Kids’ (it should be ‘shrank’), and Two Weeks Notice (Weeks’), which may be too subtle for the non-English professors amongst us to sniff out as mistakes.

There’s no evidence, however, that we have been speaking ‘more Mandarin or Malay’ in recent times, nor has poorly written English become ‘acceptable’ today. Someone who writes in his CV ‘I have make $1 million for my last company’ is looked upon less favourably than another candidate with impeccable grammar. A boss is not going to earn anyone’s respect if he writes in email ‘Please make sure you met the timeline’. If you write in your Tinder profile that ‘I like women who reads books’, you’re going to be left-swiped into oblivion. If you garble your grammar in public, you will be picked on, which is a healthy sign that people here still care about the language, that speaking and writing well correlates with one’s social status. 

Bad sentence construction is one thing, but using words inappropriately in an attempt to sound sophisticated like ‘I will revert irregardless after I have actioned on our teleconversation’ is equally painful to the ears, nevermind how familiar you are with the usage of ‘lie, lay, laid and lain’. Don’t get me started on ‘I LITERALLY blew my top at the bad English in this passage!’ or neologisms like ‘value-add’. Bad English doesn’t mean just sloppy grammar; in the examples above, it’s getting the meanings of words utterly, inexcusably WRONG while believing you’re ultra-cool using them. Some have become so embedded no one ever attempts to correct them, especially if they come from your superior.

Some of our deliberate bastardisations of the language have become standard Singlish. ‘Understooded’ is a blatant hyper-correction of the past tense of ‘understand’. We ‘verbalise’ a noun like agar to ‘agarate’ (estimate), and then turn it back into a zombie noun like ‘agaration’. We tell a friend after a bad fight ‘I don’t friend you’, instead of ‘I’m not going to be your friend anymore’. There is ‘confirm’ and ‘double confirm’, not ‘confirmed/double confirmed’. Our censors even once tried to replace the title of an Austin Powers movie from ‘The Spy Who Shagged Me’ to ‘SHIOKED Me’. Thankfully, Shiok has since remained an expression of pleasure and nothing more.

Another possible culprit for our declining standards in English is the rise of internet-speak and texting, where not only is there a criminal neglect of tense, but the spawning of spelling variations and abbreviations in a bid to save time, like ‘tomolo/tmr‘. We order ‘roast chicken’ not roasted chicken, but we retain ‘fried’ not ‘fry’ chicken. We add ‘already’ to indicate a past event so that we don’t have to change the present-tense verb, for example ‘ Yesterday I already pay you what!’. We don’t articulate the ‘-ed’ when we say stuff like ‘Last night I wash my car’, or ‘ I wrap the present yesterday’. Instead of watching stuffy British drama serials we are entertained by cat videos or downloaded Korean soaps with bad subtitles. In place of books, we have Facebook updates, influencer blogs and baby photos with nonsense for captions. In other words, we’ve become lazy. ‘Yes that would be great!’ is now being replaced by a single ‘thumbs up’ emoticon. If emoticons are left to fester and evolve their own syntax like some sentient virus, we’ll start talking to each other with ‘lols’ and facial expressions, and eventually be forced to relearn the alphabet song, not to mention revise our present and past tenses.

Singapore Girl announcing that she’s from China

From ‘Stewardess making announcements:Why the need to specify her origins?’, 25 May 2013, ST Forum

(Kua Bak Lim): WHEN on board a recent Singapore Airlines Beijing/Singapore flight, I was puzzled when the flight stewardess who made announcements in Mandarin identified herself as someone from China. It struck me as odd that the airline found it necessary to make such a distinction when it came to announcements in Mandarin.

I then asked the in-flight supervisor whether the stewardess or steward on board an SIA flight to London needed to declare that he or she was from the United Kingdom when making announcements. The answer was no. This piece of personal information about the staff is completely irrelevant to the announcements, regardless of the language spoken.

This, in my view, tends to be divisive for the staff on board. I also find it disconcerting for SIA’s image as a world-class international airline. One also cannot help but notice that there seems to be the subtle insinuation that Singaporeans cannot speak good Mandarin, which is certainly not true.

Would the SIA management please comment?

There’s no need for an SIA stewardess from China to announce her origins simply because her accent and grammatical precision would be a dead giveaway, if the intention is to cater to PRCs on board. SIA has been hiring foreign staff for a while now so it’s no secret,  though they still insist on keeping the ‘Singapore Girl’ moniker.  As of April 2013, 7 out of 10 cabin crew are locals, with Malaysians, Thais, Chinese, Indians, Japanese and Koreans making up the numbers. It is perhaps the only airline in the world to brand their attendants after a nationality. Even Air India doesn’t call their ladies ‘India Girl’, nor China Airlines ‘China Girl’. The latter is also derogatory in the local context, often associated with mistresses and illegal immigrants than a glamorous profession that involves pushing foodcarts up and down a aisle asking if people want the chicken or the beef.

Interestingly, according to the SIA recruitment site, it’s a prerequisite to be ‘proficient in English and Mandarin’ if you’re a Taiwanese, whereas the requirement specified for candidates from China is just ‘a HIGH level of English proficiency’, though I believe the average Chinese or Taiwanese native could deliver any announcement in Mandarin without much difficulty at all. No such language criteria has been set for the Singaporean candidate, though you’d need to have A and O Level credits in General Paper and English respectively. Which means you can fail your Chinese exams and still become a successful Singapore Girl. But having splendid passes in GP or even Chinese doesn’t necessarily make you proficient in ANY language. The writer above seems highly optimistic about our locals’ standards of spoken Mandarin, but if we were that good we wouldn’t need ‘Speak Mandarin campaigns’. Even ang mo children put Chinese Singaporean adults like myself to shame. I can only remember one Chinese nursery rhyme during my childhood, the one that goes ‘san zi lao hu’ (Three Tigers, Three Tigers, run very fast, run very fast, one has no eyes, one has no ears, very strange, very strange), compared to today’s non-Chinese kids reciting Confucian EPICS like San Zi Jing.

So how many Singaporeans you know are actually up to the task of delivering a message to international travellers over a PA system? How many can deliver a simple interview to a Mandarin news crew in full sentences? How about telling a Chinese tourist the TIME? Not a lot, apparently.  Ex Mediacorp actor Ix Shen says we have a TOTAL DISREGARD for grammar and sentence construction. Sumiko Tan posits that English educated folks like herself lacked interest in the language because it was forced down our throats and not promoted in a fun, lively way. Journalist and film-maker Pek Siok Lan mocks our ‘half-baked English and half-baked Chinese’. Back in 1981, a Taiwanese professor urged us to ‘DROP Singapore Mandarin’ because we were over -‘translitering’ it. We could consider a Speak Mandarin mascot like Water Wally or Singa, but it would be hard to conceive of a character related to Chinese culture without making it a dragon or coming across as racist and xenophobic.

From a business and customer service standpoint, it’s better for SIA to let a ‘professional’ handle a Mandarin announcement than risk an unseasoned Singaporean butchering it in front of PRCs, generally thought to be so proud of their language they wouldn’t stand for anything slipshod and ‘half-baked’. It would also be a hassle for the cabin crew if PRCs started throwing up their meals because they heard us speak. But you don’t have to tell people you’re from China because it’s obvious and it would confuse everyone about what ‘Singapore Girl’ means. I suppose with enough practice, a true ‘Singapore Girl’ would be able to deliver Mandarin with striking confidence. Maybe that would be the ‘makeover’ that we locals can truly be proud of, a bilingual SIA stewardess who knows what is Chinese for ‘mild turbulence’ and ‘fried mee goreng’, rather than say, toning down on blue eyeshadow.