Monday, August 31, 2009

The Debilitating Side-effect of the Speak Mandarin Campaign

It may be showing irreverence to portray the honourable Minister Mentor in the category of a chameleon. His metamorphosis from a Sinophobe to a Sinophile is remarkable by any standards. Perhaps the saying that there is no permanent friend or enemy in politics is apposite in his case.

China, post- Mao Tse-tung, was an emerging as an economic juggernaut under the dynamic leadership of Deng Xiaoping and the whole world was gravitating to jump on the bandwagen. MM Lee, who was then Singapore's Prime Minister, was astute enough not to miss the boat and overnight became a Sinophile. He had unabashedly extolled the virtues of the People's Republic of China and its dynamic charismatic leaders, especially Deng Xiaoping.

MM Lee (or PM Lee) was so besotted by the charisma and charms of the celebrated Communist Chinese leaders that it could have possibly germinated the idea of a Speak Mandarin Campaign in his mind. And so was born the Speak Mandarin Campaign, probably much to the delight of Communist China. It was supposed to appeal to Chinese Singaporeans, especially those who were not bi-lingual. With MM Lee's exhortations, it took Singapore by storm and Chinese Singaporeans, even some enthusiastic non-Chinese, were blithely, and maybe proudly, rattling off in Mandarin. This is a feather in MM Lee's cap and is so far-reaching that Mandarin is spoken in all Government offices dealing with the public and in hospitals. But how this campaign with its chauvinistic overtone is viewed by non-Chinese Singaporeans is a moot point.

Perhaps this saying is appropriate here: Can you have the cake and eat it? While the Speak Mandarin Campaign is a success, the standard of English has suffered as a result. It has reached a stage where MM Lee exhorts Singaporeans, especially the youths, to speak grammatically correct or proper English. The Singapore youths speak atrocious English but are otherwise Singlish-savvy. This trend is worrying and, if allowed to continue, will have an adverse effect on the international reputation of Singapore as a country with a very high standard of English. So MM Lee has now come up with a Speak English Campaign. But the Minister Mentor will face an uphill task as the youths are too deeply entrenched in their Singlish habits to pay any heed to MM Lee's appeal. Could this aspect of the language problem have been neglected all these years because of too much emphasis on the Speak Mandarin Campaign. There is a appropriate Chinese saying:"It is not too late to repair the pen after the sheep have escaped", which is meant to indicate that it is not too late to remedy the situation whatever it takes.

Proficiency in Mandarin may stand a person in good stead in his business dealings in China and maybe Taiwan. But English is the language that is pivotal in business and social intercourse with the world, especially the West and USA. Can one imagine any of our future leaders speaking Singlish here and overseas but MM Lee would probably not be around to see it.

3 comments:

Areia Naraenil said...

I actually find two extremes within the population - either they speak English well (or relatively well) and can't string a sentence in Mandarin, or, like what you said here, completely fail in English grammar/pronounciation/syntax. Surely there must be a balance - an equal emphasis on both at the same time? Other bilingual/trilingual countries like Luxembourg and Switzerland manage to do so. Why not Singapore?

Can't understand it.

rkc said...

The Americans butchered Queen's English - misspelling tire for tyre, aluminum for aluminium; mispronouncing route and buouy, inter alia; misgrammaring (pardon the Singlish) pled for pleaded, different than for different from - and called it American English. And the world mostly respect and accept this (sometimes with the remark: how quaint!). Why can't Singlish enjoy the same respect and acceptance? I don't mean the man-in-the-street Singlish but the PhuaChuKang upmarket variety. After all, kiasu can be found in some Australian dictionaries; and if messages can be conveyed in Singlish without ambiguity and misunderstanding, what's wrong with the local English?

Gerry Heng said...

My Singaporean Friends and Relatives, Truth Be Told, although the Speak mandarin Campaign was based on the Rationale of the Discordant Dialect Groups or Tribes of the Chinese Diasopra from East Asia,today in this 21st.century of China's Rewakening Globally with its Economic Progress and Quick Industrialization,the Learn Mandarin Campaign has alot going for it as bi-lateral and international trades with China has become de riguer.Even Chicago,New York City and Boston the large City Schools are mandating Chinese as a Second Language for Internationalism of Trade and Engagement reasons with the most populous country on earth !China and Taiwan,Korea and Japan actually have English as its Second Language soon in Japan maybe Chinese.Its a sign of times we live in after nearly 50 years of the Old Buddha MM Lee Kuna-Yew who I personally think should do his MM job pro-bono like members of the House of Lords who just take a per diem payment eat and drink in the House upon attendance.Why can't Senior Members retired do that in Singapore with a Second Chamber call it the Upper House of Parliament if you must, and need I say it,political offices are not private sector offices and so if I may respectfully say so,the pay and perks should have a judicial commission sense of balance ! Maju-lah Singapura, Sri-Temasek Baru Jaya !

Gerald Heng Sr.Esq
Greater Boston,MA, USA
I reside inMetrowest Framingham,MA,USA.Quitter and Squatter since 1963.