6 Good and bad English in Singapore
In 2020, a survey on Singaporean national identity was conducted, with valid responses from 1000 Singaporean adults. This survey is a bit different from the spontaneous, open questions that BBC journalists in the video clip asked people across the UK, as the Singaporean survey contained only multiple-choice questions, limiting the breadth of answers. Have a look at the website Singaporeans on National Values and Identity | Ipsos [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] , which sums up the responses on national values, characteristics and identity, and answer the following questions.
The correct answer is a.
At the bottom of the survey, you can see how different age groups valued aspects of national identity differently. Which three factors vary the most across generations? Select the right ones!
Generational differences in attitudes towards national identity or values tend to reflect different lived realities. For example, significant improvements in public transportation might be valued by those who have witnessed their development but are taken for granted by those who grew up with a functioning system. Different generations also tend to vote for different parties, in accordance with their different needs and circumstances. At the time the survey was conducted, Singapore had a conservative government which in general tends to be more widely endorsed by the older population, whereas younger voters might be more open to liberal or progressive parties.
For this next activity you will focus on the fluctuation of attitudes towards languages in Singapore. Singlish is a language widely spoken in Singapore, and in contrast to the official languages of Malay, English, Mandarin and Tamil, it is exclusively Singaporean. Languages often lie at the heart of national identities, so why do Singaporeans feel so differently about Singlish? Read through a commentary by the author Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan and answer the questions below.
What is Singlish?
Singlish is an English-based creole language or dialect that is widely spoken in Singapore. It is an unofficial language and the only one in Singapore that is not affiliated with a particular ethnic sub-group, as is the case with languages like Tamil (mostly spoken by Singaporeans originally from India) or Mandarin (usually the first language for Singaporeans with Chinese roots). It is instead a mix of languages spoken in Singapore.
Why is Singlish considered ‘bad English’?
While Singlish has its own systematic grammar, it is not standardised. Singlish is mostly used in informal contexts. Most of its loan words are from English, and the Singaporean government’s concern is that speakers of Singlish unlearn how to speak ‘proper’ English by also dropping words or particles that are not needed to make sense of a sentence like they do in Singlish. Another worry is that widely spoken Singlish is bad for the country’s image, as it might suggest that Singaporeans are uneducated and therefore cannot speak formal English.
What different attitudes do younger and older generations in Singapore have towards Singlish?
Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan explains that her father does not approve of her novel written in Singlish, or of her speaking Singlish. Her father associates ‘Queen’s English’ with better career opportunities, and in a national context also with high ambitions for the young country. For Tan, speaking Singlish allows her to be her ’true Singaporean’ self and she understands it as a ‘direct reflection’ of who Singaporeans are, with the language being all around them and a mix of everything they bring to the table.
This clear distinction in attitudes towards what national identity consists of shows why concepts of national culture or identity are not fixed or stable but are rather fluid. Who people want to be and how they see themselves is also always a response to the environment they find themselves in.