The British colonisation of Singapore suffered a slight setback when we had to give them independence in the early 1960s.  We were unable to finish populating the country with expatriates and good English, as we had succeeded in doing in America and Canada, those bastions of awful English.

This left the Singaporean language (Singlish) in a state of chaos, anarchy and disarray, caught between seven stools, and now Singaporeans cannot understand each other!   Aaaaaaaaah!!

In some ways, they do understand one another; Singlish, a creole with elements of English and local languages, is the language of daily communication for the majority of Singapore’s 5 million people.   Singapore has four official languages (English, Malay, Mandarin and Tamil), but Singlish is seen as stupid, wrong and uneducated.   If only we could perform some type of Highland Clearances to rid Singapore of its Gaelic Singlish-speakers!

As it happens, Singapore has something better than Highland Clearances: the Speak-Good-English Movement!   This is a government-backed campaign to promote the use of British English in Singapore, and generally make Singlish-speakers feel as uncomfortable and worthless as possible.   If only those Singaporeans could stop talking the way they have learned since young – but they refuse to stop!

Language experts have classified Singlish as being distinct from English, with its own vocabulary, word order and grammar that all of its speakers understand.   But, in linguistic matters, the Prime Minister knows best!    Successive prime ministers of Singapore have opted to promote English use and suppress Singlish, seemingly for business reasons.   It is a simple economic choice: one could either:

) accept Singlish as a fifth official language, as something uniquely Singaporean (while also teaching English and Mandarin as important foreign languages)
b) tell everyone that their speech is wrong, and launch an expensive campaign with insulting slogans like “English as it is Broken” and “Get It Right”, with the ultimate aim of changing the language people talk in their personal lives, more or less, to British English (which, as the Queen’s English Society know, is a nightmare).

Of course, they chose to lead Singapore down path b).   It is unlikely to succeed, but it’s a fine way to show who is boss, and to talk down to people (but not in Singlish!  That would ruin the whole point).   In a word of nationalistic nutters, it is nice to see leaders with so little national pride.   They should lead the campaign to spread English throughout India as well.   Good luck, ye warriors!

As for the Speak-Good-English Movement itself (and its youth wing, which is totally down with da children), it’s not as horrendous as the Queen’s English Society, but their English still needs improvement.    They allow the sentence “I have been interested since young”, which would be forgivable if they weren’t so pedantic as to insist (twice) that queueing is a mis-spelling of queuing,[1] when both are widely used.

They also run a Grammar Ninja competition, in which they award a $100 Kinokuniya voucher (a mis-spelling of “book voucher”) to the little squirt ninja who notices the least amusing mis-spelling on a sign.[2]   Not a Singlish sign, an English one.

They have good intentions, of course, but the fact that such a widespread language can be ignored in its own country is disheartening.   Hopefully a compromise will be reached in future, and perhaps the world will look like this informative Singlish-English film.

A note on terminology: Singapore also has a Speak-Mandarin Campaign, but how come Mandarin only gets a campaign, whereas English gets a whole movement?
[Perhaps they mis-translated it! Words can't move – Ed.] Movement is a far stronger word worthy of even our mighty PEF.    If I were a Chinese, I should feel most aggrieved, so thank God I am not.

Parliament House [pd]

[Released CC-BY-3.0, "Pedantic Ninja" by PEF Web-Mister]

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