Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Linguists speak up for Singlish

Dec 9, 2008

They say it reflects mix of languages here, and won't hurt standard English

By Ang Yiying

SINGLISH may be the bane of teachers, but it is music to the ears of linguists.

More than 40 academics worldwide, drawn by the evolving nature of Singapore English, or Singlish, have published research papers or books on it.

It is immensely valuable as a living tongue that is evolving all the time, and reflects the multicultural linguistic background of the country, they said.

'Singapore is an exciting place for a linguist, with people moving from one language to another,' said sociolinguist Anthea Fraser Gupta.

'For a linguist, it's the equivalent of a really well-equipped laboratory for a chemist.'

Dr Gupta, 57, developed a strong research interest in Singlish during her 21 years as an academic in Singapore. She left in 1996 and is now a senior lecturer at the University of Leeds, but continues to track the use of Singlish in blogs.

Other than local academics at the National University of Singapore and Nanyang Technological University, other researchers hail from countries as far away as Germany and Portugal.

Dr Edgar Schneider, 54, from the University of Regensburg in Germany, developed an interest in English in post-colonial countries when he became the editor of a journal called English World-Wide in 1997.

'Singapore is one of the more interesting ones. I don't think there's another post-colonial country where English is so embraced. English is used widely but not as thoroughly as in Singapore.'

Dr David Deterding, 51, originally from Britain and now teaching at the Universiti Brunei Darussalam, previously taught at the National Institute of Education here.

He said: 'One characteristic of Singapore that makes its English special is the fact that the four official languages are all completely unrelated.

'The emergent maturity of the English of Singapore in a society with such a rich mixture of languages makes it of special interest.'

Singlish and standard English can and do co-exist, said Dr Gupta. 'There is no evidence that the presence of Singlish causes damage to standard English.'

The organisers of the Speak Good English Movement (SGEM) say they are not anti-Singlish.

Their aim, they said, is to make sure that everyone can speak standard English first.

A spokesman said: 'The presence of Singlish causes damage to standard English only when people do not have a good grounding in standard English.

'That is why an environment in which good English is spoken is so important for young children.'

Added Dr Deterding: 'To the extent that organisers of the SGEM try to enhance awareness of standard forms of pronunciation and grammar, they do a worthwhile job.

'When they try instead to eliminate Singlish, they are probably fighting a losing cause.'


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