Singlish: Leave it alone

Singaporeans love their unofficial national language Singlish – a unique blend of English, Chinese, Malay, Tamil and other local dialects 

One of the sessions at SWF that saw full-house attendance was on - Singlish in Sing Lit, which presented clear unanimity on how the government has softened its approach a great deal on matters related to Singlish.

Colin Goh, director of the critically-acclaimed movie - Singapore Dreaming, and author of the best-selling The Coxford Singlish Dictionary, shared his experiences during the last 15 years. “In early 2000s, when we released the Singlish trailer of our first movie, The talking cock, it was immediately banned. We had to face a similar ban with our second award-winning movie Singapore Dreaming in 2006, when dialogues in Singlish and dialects were deleted from the trailer.”

But things have changed now, informed Joshua Ip, who has published - Sonnets from the Singlish, and Faith Ng, who is a playwright and associate artist with Checkpoint Theatre.

I have not faced any censorship regarding the use of Singlish in my creative works from the government. Funding-wise also, its not a issue any more,” said Faith, who was motivated to write her plays in Singlish when she saw all local actors speaking perfect English on the stage. “This was not a reflection of reality in Singapore. So I decided to write my local stories in our very own Singlish.”

Unique to Singapore

Moreover, Singlish also has an international appeal, since it is identified as something “uniquely Singaporean”.

Everything else, food, fashion, roads, flyovers, malls etc. can be found at other places in the world. Probably, Singlish is the only cultural trait that is unique to Singapore,” said Goh.

When a school teacher from the audience mentioned the often-expressed concerns that over-use of Singlish, especially among the young children, may dilute Singapore's edge as a predominantly English-speaking nation, the panellists were unanimous that such concerns have no basis.

We are who we are. We must learn to trust our children.,” said Goh.

Faith also shared her experiences of coming out of the same education system and added, “We don't need the government to tell us when to use Singlish and when to use good English. We know when to use what.”

Shakespeare in Singlish

Angelia Poon, associate professor of English literature at the National Institute of Education, on the question of why literature written in Singlish invariably is comic in nature informed, “While this may be the case as of now, few of my colleagues are working on translating Shakespeare in Singlish. The book will come out sometime next year.”

Joshua, Faith, Goh and the entire gathering hoped that Singlish is left alone to grow and prosper organically in Singapore. 

     Screenshot from Singapore Tourism Board's website