Thursday, January 28, 2010

Catch No Ball with Singlish?

If you tell someone that you 'catch no ball', you're in fact telling the person that you don't get the drift. That's just one of many examples of Singlish that you can find in A Dictionary of Singlish and Singapore English. The online resource is the hobbyhorse of Jack Lee who qualifies that he has no formal qualifications in English linguistics at all, kosong. Jack who was once Assistant Director for the Singapore Academy of Law is now in academia as Assistant Professor of Law at the Singapore Management University.

(above: Me, Kirpal, Jack and Justine)

I was dead sure today's chat about Singlish in The Living Room was going to be the perfect bait that would get listeners calling in. Die die sure got people call one! If only I'd backed my gut feel with some dollars, I'd be able to enjoy at least a fine-dining meal tonight rather than rice and kiam chye.

The talking points (listed below) I'd prepared for our discussion were simple, but with such a topic that evidently resonates and resides within each Singaporean, I knew it was going to be one dynamic and free flowing chat we'd have with Jack and his colleague Kirpal Singh, who's Director of the Wee Kim Wee Centre at SMU and Associate Professor of English Literature at the institution.

Talking Points:
- How was Singlish born? Out of necessity of communication across cultures and language groups?
- What is it and what is it not?
- Should we promote it or clamp down its use?
-The place and purpose of Singlish
- How is Singlish evolving? Who shapes Singlish?

One area that was raised by one of our listeners Mona on air had to do with how broad or narrow we'd like Singlish to be defined. Should the definition of Singlish exclude the use of other languages? Should it be grammatically correct or can it break the rules? Singlish though widely used by everyone from pushcart vendors to political leaders, remains an enigma whose parameters remain ill-defined. Perhaps Singlish is too fluid and wildly organic that try as one might, no one can successfully put a lid on it.

(above: Justine brought a copy of the Coxford Singlish Dictionary for the ride, a gift she'd received in 2002! Her favourite Singlish phrase in 'chop chop kali pok'. I suspect she uses that a lot with cab drivers once she hails one down and jumps in.)

The jury is out as to what Singlish really encompasses, but slit it right through to the belly and I bet you'd still be figuring out what this special brand of English is all about. Surely, Singlish is the soul and spirit of Singapore, it is one component that contributes to the Singaporean identity and it unifies one people.

If you don't speak Singlish in Singapore and amongst your own people, you're not quite one of us. Tear down that facade and come clean can or not! You think we cannot see is it?

1 comment:

Swan said...

I'm doing an assignment on 'the language of a particular group or culture' and researcing everything Singlish. Came across your interesting blog. I'm exploring all those talking points too but alamak why you not give me quick answer to copy? Chiak lat, due soon you know. Can help me or not? post some more good info leh. when I've done my eaasingment, i'll post it up to help other singlish speakers seeking legitimacy in its use.