29 October 2009
24 October 2009
October 10, 2009
INSIGHT: BY SEAH CHIANG NEE
EDUCATED Singaporeans who consider their spoken English as world-ranking have been jolted by a controversy over a beauty queen’s interview.
The centre of the storm was 19-year-old Miss Singapore World 2009 Ris Low, who shocked Singaporeans by speaking in dismal English, with poor diction as well as mispronunciations.
More controversy: Low has now sparked a debate about the state of English in Singapore. Ironically, it coincided with the government’s annual Speak Good English campaign that began nine years ago.
Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew believes that Singaporeans need to speak standard grammatical English to allow them to plug into the global economy.
In her interview, Low spoke in a mix of local pidgin English that was splattered with slurred or mispronounced words.
She would say “preens” instead of prints, “rad” (for red), “pis” (piece) and “begini” (bikini), and used a distorted word “boomz” to describe a glamorous outfit.
Critics also say her answers were contradictory and of low quality, leading to calls to stop her representing Singapore in a televised international event.
(Low, however, will not compete for world glory in South Africa, where she would have to face tough questions in a live worldwide broadcast. She withdrew after her conviction for credit card fraud became public.)
“Her English is atrocious. She can’t even speak a proper sentence,” said one of the 100,000 viewers who watched the recorded interview online.
“It will disgrace our country. The world will think that all Singaporean girls speak like that,” said another critic.
The angry discussions soon took on a national dimension. A reporter wrote: “(It) triggered a storm of online debate, complete with hand-wringing over Singapore’s education system (and) the state of intelligence of today’s youth ...”.
Some writers rallied to her defence, saying the criticism was overblown.
Low, they say, is no more than a product of Singapore’s education system; she talks the way many educated Singaporeans do, including graduates.
She has a very Singaporean background. She hails from a Mandarin-speaking family, grew up in the heartland and attended a neighbourhood school. Now, her mangled English and poor communication skill have became a national issue.
Goh Eck Kheng, chairman of the Speak Good English Movement, told the Straits Times that Singaporeans should be the last people to be mocking her.
“How many people are you laughing at, if you laugh at Ms Low?” he asked.
Another official, Jennifer Yin, reportedly said: “Lots of Singaporeans speak this way. She is not unusual.”
So, if many of the nation’s youths, even graduates, speak like Low, why single her out?
Singaporeans were last week like a community looking at itself in the mirror and seeing one problem: deteriorating language skills in a place that is renowned for its education standards.
“Most of us are competent in neither English nor Mandarin,” said a community representative. “We have become a nation of half buckets, as the Chinese saying goes.”
“We only have to open our ears in food centres, shopping malls and school canteens, and we get a constant aural assault of sub-standard English and Mandarin,” one letter stated.
While the republic’s secondary schools rank top three in the world in Science and Maths, its level of English is below par. Many teachers and students speak a casual, sub-standard language. Misspellings are widespread.
“I often hear train station employees, TV presenters and newscasters stumbling over their sentences and digging themselves into holes of garbled grammar,” a newspaper reader observed.
This has been aggravated by two factors.
First, the extensive use of short handphone messages or email that routinely ignore capital letters, drop verbs and shorten words — a virtual sub-language.
Second, the massive, rapid inflow of foreigners from different countries who bring with them their own languages (and dialects) has diluted Singapore’s own.
The demographic changes are causing a dent not only on Singapore’s English-speaking skills but also on the national language policy itself.
This calls for the use of English as the common lingua among the races as well as for business and work, but the various mother tongues — Malay, Mandarin or Tamil — are encouraged to be used at home.
Many Singaporeans speak a local patois of ungrammatical English with a sprinkling of Hokkien and Malay words that foreigners cannot comprehend.
Many people are against eradicating Singlish because it is a part of Singapore’s identity but concede that it should not be used when dealing with foreigners or in business.
“I need Singlish to express a Singaporean feeling,” said Catherine Lim, a prominent novelist who switches easily from one level of English to another.
For the broad majority like Low, however, who lack the basic grounding, switching is almost impossible and they are stuck with a half-baked language.
o Seah Chiang Nee is a veteran journalist and editor of the information website littlespeck.com
18 October 2009
God has been very generous to Asian girls. He gives them both beauty and brains. It's not an exaggeration to say that the average Asian girl today looks just like the student above.
Jealous and frustrated barbarians have, in recent months, killed Annie Le of Yale University and attempted to kill an un-named Asian female student at Young Hall at UCLA. Our beautiful and smart Asian girls are under attack. Yet, authorities stand idly by.