Speak Mandarin Campaign video on classifying round things

From ‘Video draws flak for wrong use of Mandarin’ 12 March 2017, article by Koh Xing Hui, Sunday Times

A Speak Mandarin Campaign video has drawn some flak for its erroneous teaching.

The video, produced by the Speak Mandarin Campaign and the National University of Singapore (NUS) Chinese Drama, shows a woman teaching her friend the right use of classifiers for nouns such as apple, paper and clothing.

A classifier is used in East Asian languages such as Chinese and Japanese when nouns are being counted.

In the video, the woman corrects her friend’s use of “yi ge” to “yi li” for apple and ball, saying “yi li” should be used for all round objects.

The video, posted on Wednesday on the Speak Mandarin Campaign Facebook page, has since attracted comments and was shared by various users, including Chinese radio station 95.8FM.

Many said it was embarrassing that the campaign was promoting the wrong use of Mandarin.

Responding to The Sunday Times, the Speak Mandarin Campaign said: “NUS Chinese Drama will follow up with another video to address usage of ‘ge’ and ‘li’.” Dr Kang Ger-Wen, a Chinese studies lecturer, said the NUS Chinese Drama students had good intentions but were teaching the wrong things.

“Normally, for small and tiny things, we use ‘yi li’ or ‘yi ke’. For an apple, it should be ‘yi ge’.” But if one were to translate from Hokkien, which would use “ji liap”, then it would be “yi li”, he added.

However, a Chinese-language teacher who declined to be named said students here are taught to use “yi li” for apples and balls.

The Chinese academic didn’t explain how these classifiers apply to round, but massive objects. Somehow telling the durian seller that you want ‘yi li’ Mao Shan Wang doesn’t sound right, or that our Earth only has ‘yi li’ Moon. Personally my problems with classifiers occur when I’m ordering food that isn’t fishballs. Is it 4 ‘li’ or 4 ‘ge’ chwee kueh? Is it ‘yi zhi’ otah or ‘yi tiao’? My hunch, despite my limited Mandarin prowess, is these are, to some extent, interchangeable. Some things, obviously, like planets or the infinitesimal like atoms and molecules, sound more ‘ge’-lish in my opinion. Then there are things which are not exactly round, like watermelons, eggs, a snowflake or grain of sand. Nor would you denigrate roundish body parts like testicles or boobies.

The original intention of the SMC, of course, was to eliminate dialects from society and streamline the bi-lingual drive, not dwell on technical nitty-gritties. Today, this has taken a dramatic U-turn with dialects making a comeback to appease the greying population, while at the same time correct use of Mandarin continues to be drilled into us. Despite- or because- of this lexical balancing act, outsiders associate our official spoken language with broken, hodgepodge English, or from a more generous perspective, a ‘rojak’ of cultural influences. Even during conservational Mandarin, most of us do away with connectors altogether, peppering our speech with, ‘but’ or ‘then’.

Good intentions by the NUS people, but whether concurrent campaigns seeking to refine the respective languages help Singaporeans improve in BOTH English and Mandarin while preserving our forefather-speak and singing a National Anthem in Malay remains to be seen. So now tell me, is it ‘yi ge’ or ‘yi li’ melting pot?

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.

Workers’ Party flooded with Chinese

From ‘Workers’ Party lacks minority representation’, 28 Jan 2013, ST Forum

(Paul Antony Fernandez):…As a Punggol East resident, I have reservations about whether the decision was the right one – during 10 days of campaigning, I did not see a Malay, Indian or anyone from a minority race among the WP members. I had thought that perhaps such members could not be around due to their work commitments, but at the WP’s victory parade yesterday, there was still no one from a minority race among their number.

The WP was formed primarily to address the concerns of workers across the board, especially low-wage workers. After General Election 2011, I realised that the WP was flooded with Chinese members. During the campaigning, I asked Ms Lee about the representation of the minorities in the WP, but did not get an answer.

Has WP leader Low Thia Khiang forgotten our national pledge where we pledged equality regardless of race or creed?

Just truckin'

Just truckin’

You’d have to worry for the electoral process if you have people like Fernandez here basing their vote on how multi-racial a party is rather than whether their candidate could do her job well. Since the exit of Michael Palmer, the PAP too has been lacking in minority race representation, that of the EURASIAN (Other than Christopher De Souza). Why isn’t Fernandez chiding the PAP for not fielding a Eurasian candidate as a one-for-one replacement instead of a Chinese colorectal surgeon? What, then, would be Fernandez’s ideal quota of minority race in any party, 1 minority for every 3 Chinese? Would a high-ranking Malay or Indian who calls the shots in a predominantly Chinese party be considered adequate ‘representation’? What did Fernandez have to say about the 4 TANS in the last Presidential election? Was that election, like the recent WP Punggol campaign, erm, RACIST too?

It’s easier for the ruling party having the strength and numbers to make their team as diverse as possible. The GRC system also practically ensures that the PAP is sufficiently multiracial, nevermind its sneaker motives. In 1988, Ling How Doong and Chiam See Tong from the SDP were challenged by Goh Chok Tong on how the party could claim to be multi-racial when they in fact fielded an all-Chinese team for the 1984 GE.  Goh then suggested that such a selection could lead to an ‘all-Chinese Parliament’. Chiam was also against the ‘Team MP’ concept which was ‘racialist’ and challenged the ability of minority races to get into politics ‘by their own merit’. At the time, it was assumed that a Chinese voter was more likely to support a Chinese candidate, more so if the latter spoke their dialect. Fernandez’s concern about racial equality is a relic of an era when people tended to vote emotionally and communally, rather than as the educated, savvy, mature voter who thinks of his representative as a SINGAPOREAN first rather than a Chinese/Malay/Indian. In fact even after a decade (2008) since the SDP race scuffle, the Prime Minister himself didn’t think the country was ready for a non-Chinese Leader.

Opposition parties do not have the luxury to be multi-racial and multi-gender just for the sake of it, when they really need the best possible candidates regardless of race or sex from a limited pool to challenge the PAP. In spite of its small number, the executive council of WP already has its fair share of (two) Malays and (one) Indian, which makes Fernandez’s snap judgement about WP’s make-up rather petty and unfair considering the overall demographics of Singapore. With such strong preconceptions about race in politics, one is prone to selectively zooming in on images of Chinese faces and ignoring the few seconds worth of ‘minority representation’. The deception would be magnified if Fernandez wasn’t in fact following the parade truck on the ground from start to finish (Pritam Singh and Faisal Manap were on board), but watching it on TV. It’s uncertain if he was paying any attention to WP’s activities since the GE 2011, or was just basing his conclusions of WP ‘Sinocentricity’ on the blue-collar vibe of the typical ‘Huat’-hooting WP audience.

And I don’t remember there being a single mention of the word CREED in our Pledge. Maybe Fernandez imagined it, like how he imagined the ‘flood’ of Chinese faces in WP.

River Hongbao stall signs all in Chinese

From ‘Lost at River Hongbao’, 11 Feb 2011, ST Forum online. Thanks to auntielucia.

(Kunwar Bir Singh): ON SUNDAY evening, I took my family to the River Hongbao carnival to understand and get to know more of the country I am trying to embrace as my permanent home.

We enjoyed it a lot and were really impressed by the decorations, atmosphere, cultural programme and fun rides for the children.

But amid all the fun and extravaganza, I felt a little out of place. Most of the signs in the food stalls and the price lists were in Chinese. I wanted to try the food but did not know what to ask for as I do not eat pork and beef for religious reasons. Even the compering was exclusively in Mandarin. I felt like an outsider, not welcome to join in the festivities.

I understand that the festivities are to commemorate the Chinese New Year, but in cosmopolitan Singapore, where people from various cultural and ethnic backgrounds live together harmoniously, a little sprinkling of English can go a long way.

Bilingual compering in English and Mandarin, and names of food items and price lists in English would have made us feel more at home, more comfortable and truly integrated.

It’s strange how someone eager to ‘know more of the country he’s trying to embrace’ expects a traditional Chinese festival to cater to minorities like himself by making everything bilingual, at the expense of it losing its flavour and authenticity. It’s like going to a Kabuki play and demanding subtitles, or attending a Buddhist wake and wondering why the monks aren’t chanting for the dearly departed in English. Without the thrill of the unfamiliar and exotic, a festival corrupted by a commercial eagerness to please foreigners will be nothing short of forgettable, a postcard cliche like caricaturists on a scenic boardwalk, sailor caps on Star cruises or Merlion souveniers at the Esplanade. Where’s your sense of adventure, or more importantly the curiosity and common sense to ask your future fellow Singaporeans for help? The first step to integrating, Mr Singh, is not shooting a complaint letter to the press about how River Hongbao alienates non-Chinese folk, but to show some basic humility and approaching locals for simple favours instead of agonising over pork or beef-looking meat and going hungry over it. We, cosmopolitan as we are, do speak a smattering of English…FYI, and to call tweaking existing customs solely for your convenience an act of ‘integration’ is like describing the act of curry diners  diluting their spices for ang mors ‘excellent customer service’.

Tip to River Hongbao organisers to prevent guileless foreigners from complaining next time: In order to make our immigrants feel more at home, send them a welcome hamper and handcrafted invitation card (in Chinese AND English),  assign a tour guide cum translator to help them order food and show them where the toilets are, and have the God of Fortune bless them with oranges, hongbaos (I mean red packets) and orchid necklaces with a fanfare of cymbals, drums and a prancing lion for good measure. Similar fuss over lack of bilingualism in art here.

I have not an iota of Chinese chauvinism

From ‘A true-blue S’porean’s view of China’, 5 Dec 2010, article by Lee Wei Ling in Sunday Times

… My nine years in a Chinese school probably did plan a seed of Chinese chauvinism in my mind, along with an appreciation of Chinese culture. But my visit to China in 1976 led me to conclude that it was an arrogant country. I had repeatedly heard on that visit that China was the only country in the world with ‘5000 years of uninterrupted glorious history’ (a phrase that had also been used often by my Chinese teachers here.)

..What I saw and felt during that trip ripped out whatever little Chinese chauvinism there was in me…I can see that China has undergone tremendous transformation. I have no doubt that it will succeed further. But I don’t feel anything in particular about China’s success – no swelling of pride. I see China through the prism of my home, Singapore.

I am a Chinese Singaporean – with the stress on the noun.

Subtitled as ‘ My ancestors may hail from the mainland but I have not an iota of Chinese chauvinism’, I suppose that Lee Wei Ling speaks for the majority of Chinese Singaporeans (with the stress on the noun, of course) but it does lead one to wonder if there’s any contradiction in her buoyant proclamation of national identity with her apprehension against Western names, once calling the phenomenon a ‘narcissistic epidemic’ in this piece written in March. The fact that she uses the gender-neutral ‘it’ as in ‘I have no doubt that IT will succeed further’ instead of the more respectful ‘SHE’ to describe the motherland suggests that she sees China more of a metaphorical rampaging beast than the cradle of civilisation. Still, trust a director of NNI to end a searing Chinese history lesson with a brainteasing chicken and egg sentence that most people who are not English teachers would have difficulty deciphering, myself included. If one inverts Chinese (adjective) Singaporean (noun) to Singaporean (adjective)  Chinese (noun), don’t they mean the same thing? Is a Chinese Singaporean more ‘Chinese’ than a Singaporean Chinese?

Chinese artists speaking Chinese

From ‘Language discourtesy leaves sour taste’ 29 June 2010 ST Forum

(Devagi Sanmugam): I WAS invited by a calligraphist friend to the Singapore Life Art Society Art Exhibition held at the Mica Building in Hill Street last week.

…But I left the event with a heavy heart.

Besides the exhibition, there was a presentation by the Chinese team who are headed for the SNBA Salon in France next month. The guest of honour was Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office Lim Swee Say.

There were a number of French people, tourists and myself in the audience who could not understand Mandarin. Sadly, none of the speeches was made in English. There was not even an attempt to translate or summarise the Mandarin versions.

The ones who did not understand the language had to stand there smiling and clapping – not understanding anything that was said.

I wonder why basic courtesy was forgotten, especially when we are a nation focused on finding unity in diversity.

A multiracial society also preaches tolerance, and in this case, tolerance and understanding towards Chinese-speaking Chinese. Who exactly are you calling rude here, Ms Devagi? The artists for not appealing to a diverse crowd, the organisers for not providing translation services, or Lim Swee Say for doing nothing about it? A bold assumption too, to assume that foreigners don’t understand what’s going on, and even if they don’t understand Mandarin, what’s wrong with being gracious guests and applauding people just for their work alone? And if you’re that dying to know, why not  just ask someone around you politely to translate instead of going away itching to complain and not learning anything? Really, one shouldn’t expect crowd-pleasing inanities like translation services from a free public event celebrating professionals struggling to earn a living, not to mention learn a new language. Even Chinese teachers get it for speaking Chinese too.