The Singlish, English in Singapore

Experiencing Singapura with Mhaan

Singapura Experience

There’s much that we could learn from a country like Singapore, particularly with our ‘language situation’. There are two major (or maybe more) factions that presented itself at the turn of the century after the Spaniards packed up and left our shores hurriedly. The first one, the traditionalist those who would like to bring back the old Tagalog (with its abecedario of 32 letters) together with the Spanish language as, again, the lengua franca. The second one, are the puristas, this are the so called nationalist, a group that would love nothing but to see the eradication of anything that is of foreign, they would want to revert to the days when the Islas de Felipenas was untouched by western influence, something that I believe never existed, the Philippines was, let’s face it, a Spanish creation.

Going back to the issue of language, here in Singapore, they have lots of it, four, all in all, not counting the other Chinese languages (i.e., Cantonese, Fukien), the Government advocates the use of Mandarin instead but still maintains the freedom of those who wish to speak using this traditional languages, the state preference to Mandarin was to push for a single and unified Chinese language amongst the Sino population, to date Mandarin has the largest percentage. The languages in use here are: Mandarin, the one with the largest speakers, Malay, the national language, Tamil, and English, their other official language.

With all this language in such a confined area, the question is, was there ever a problem in their sociological structure (with regards to the people’s ability to communicate with each other)?

The answer is a simple no. Because they embraced, as their own, the English language, the mother tongues of their colonial rulers. This, in my view, saved them from the paralyzing effects of having too many languages. English gave them, what they call here, the ‘Administrative’ language, it became a powerful tool. The bonus for them was, this colonial language – is the global language now.

Language represents ethnological groups, these among other factors causes friction in some other countries, not here, it’s their well of strength. Singaporean history has shown that there were social unrest (Pro Malay groups wanting to get the island nation back in the Malayan confederacy and the Communist) in the past, arising from the conditions it found itself in, when they became independent (all too sudden according to their historian) but the great leadership by men like Lee (Lee Kwan Yew defeated this groups early on) suppressed such movements that could’ve easily dismantled their ongoing progress then.

If there is one thing that can be said of their progress, is that, it is the result of a strong government (in deed not like GMA’s so called ‘strong republic), who made the laws of the land, the backbone of their nations development. Discipline and the fear of state laws puts everything in order, one could sleep in the plaza’s or walk late at night without worrying that some punk would try to steal from you, you could hardly find a police in the vicinity, theirs is a land in order.

The Island state did not pushed for any one single language for they recognized their racial diversity, believing that such moves would only cause unrest, they did however named their official language (Malay) which of course was a mere formality, but in reality everyone here speaks in their own mother language, the Chinese, the Tamil and Malay – they’re free to communicate using their mother tongues. Observing them made me think that, like in our country, diversity should be celebrated for it can be a source of strength, unfortunately, most of us have regionalist tendencies, like for example, a Tagalog sneering at a Visayan’s accent – here people freely speaks their own language without a worry in mind, without any fear of being discriminated, here exist a strange kind of mix, I have never seen a country so diverse, in culture and race, yet so unified.

Those who opposed having Spanish back, as a language should visit and stay here, it’s the perfect example that we can emulate back home. There really is no need to eliminate (like what Aquino did in ’87) but rather add, because it is by accumulation of knowledge that we become better human being (imagine how Spanish could’ve made our workforce more formidable, add to this the markets that we could’ve opened).Learning languages is always a good thing. Learning our old language back, together with our native language will only enlighten us about our heritage, when we begin to appreciate all our languages, only then we would know who we truly are. This would illuminate our true identity.

So how can they understand each other (Singaporeans) when they speak separate languages?

This is where English (or Singlish as they call it here) comes into play; it is the administrative language of the nation. Like us, their former colonial masters where westerners, the British, this is where their common sense and economic genius becomes evident – instead of debating if they should keep it or get rid of it, they used it! While back home, we untiringly put our heads on the ‘language situation’ of whether or not to use Tagalog (or Filipino or any other language) or English, they on the other hand enforced their teachers to use English as a mode of instruction, by this celebrating what they see as a gift from Raffles’ imperial ambition. They have yet to achieved our proficiency in speaking English  but they are on their way to towards that goal (they already have extensive English subjects in their curriculum).

Their brand of English is difficult to understand, not really smooth, especially if your used to the ‘Americanized’ way of hearing it, here they call it Singlish, but make no mistake about it, it’s very effective. Almost all people here speak English, in varying degrees. Shops and its owners could transact in English with ease.  So, I ask myself, was there ever a time that this confused them or did anyone here felt alienated, that they needed to adapt to something that’s not Asian, something representing the English rule, not Singaporean?

Here lies our fundamental difference with this South East Asian brothers of ours, the Singaporeans, although they treasure and are proud of their Asiatic origins, they continue to  recognize early in their history that theirs is a ‘global race’, that in order to move forward, one must adapt, one must learn, become global. While we were busying ourselves trying to figure out how the Spaniards retarded our national and economic progress (as most of this Filipino nationalist loves to claim), they, on their side paid their respects, honored the former motherland and the language it brought to its shores. They knew that they were once British subjects but they are not captives of that past, no, they are not prisoners of that colonial mentality in fact they are grateful, they see it as part of the evolution that created them.  A huge monument somewhere near the city hall was dedicated to Thomas Raffles, the British founder of Singapore,  grateful people these Singaporeans, to the imperial power that made their shores, the greatest port city of the world.

Could we be like them? Grateful  of the former colonizer, who they as an independent nation now recognize as having unified the small island nation and made it what it is today, one of the richest nation on earth? Could we, in our lands, be brave enough to accept that we too, are like them, that we were founded by western hands? And that much of what we see now, was in fact, contributions from this foreigners for the expansion of their kingdom but later led to unification of lands and of people?

Here in Singapore, they have not forgotten about how important their cultural heritage, theirs is prominently Asiatic, their cultural programs are geared towards maintaining the Asian identity, but at the same time, they never looked back at their colonial past as something that must be omitted in their history text books. Thinking of our country and how it contends with its colonial past – we are wasting our time with this ‘nationalistic’ ideas, are we not being foolish? wanting to sever its ties rather than learning to appreciate, we all can learn from this great nation.


5 responses to “The Singlish, English in Singapore

  • larah

    thaks>………its one of my book report’,,,,nd ive got some source from yours………thanks again

  • angelono

    good thing for my research. Thanks

  • Pepe Alas

    Tienes que visitar las bibliotecas allí antes de regresar a Filipinas. Haz investigaciones sobre la historia filipina. Podría libros raros allí sobre nuestro país.

    También visita y toma fotos de los sitios que José Rizal ha visitado.

    ¡Hasta pronto!

  • nold

    I heard of Esperanto from a friend, its interesting but here in the Philippines there was a move to get rid of Castilian, a political decision that have long term effects on Filipino culture and identity, while Spanish America and Africa retained theirs, we lost ours, this is the situation I’m referring to.

    What could’ve been an advantage was negated by those who elected to dissolve Spanish as a language. There are many people who claims that spanish was never our language, I had several post here tackling that subject.

  • Brian Barker

    There is an alternative to English as the dominant World Language, and its name is Esperanto.

    Esperanto is now within the top 100 languages, out of 6,800 worldwide, according to the CIA factbook. It is the 17th most used language in Wikipedia, and in use by Skype, Firefox and Facebook.

    Native Esperanto speakers, including George Soros, Ulrich Brandenburg the new German Ambassardor to NATO, and World Champion Chess Player, Susan Polger.

    The World Esperanto Association enjoys consultative relations with both the United Nations and UNESCO.

    Evidence can be seen at

    An interesting video can be seen at

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