Thursday, March 19, 2009

Don't Forget To Touch Base With Our Roots

Theoretically, MM Lee is right. By speaking mandarin, Singaporeans can reach out to approximately 1.3 billion people across all Chinese provinces. 

For pragmatic reasons, the average Singaporean should also be shaped to speak English and Mandarin. 

This is so that in the future, we can conduct business deals with the West and deal with the on coming  red tide from North East Asia. 

But honestly, this is a last ditch valiant attempt by our most esteemed political leader to stem the rot of 77% of Singaporeans'  supposed mother tongue. 

The truth is Singaporeans are so disillusioned with this language that they just don't want to have anything to deal with it anymore.

And there is a reason why.

Much as MM Lee proclaims that mandarin is our mother tongue, this is not the case for many Chinese in Singapore.

By proclaiming the Chinese to be such a homogeneous group of people, MM Lee has actually lost touch with history. 

Don't forget, Chinese Singaporeans are descendants of a variety of different dialect groups across China. 

Back in those times, when our forefathers came down to Nanyang, their mother tongues  were predominantly Hokkien, Hakka, Teochew and Cantonese. 

It was MM Lee who made mandarin the mother tongue of all Chinese Singaporeans in 1979.

Our children grew up listening to their elders conversing in dialect. Yet, they were told in schools that their mother tongue was mandarin. 

Much as we accept that mandarin is a language learnt in school, many Singaporeans are still fiercely proud of their heritage. 

And with the kids struggling to juggle English as the lingua franca, Mandarin as our adopted mother tongue and a dialect to converse with the elderly at home, it is no wonder that Chinese Singaporeans today cannot speak properly in any of the three languages.

MM Lee may not have succeeded in shaping a nation well versed in mandarin, but he has certainly created a group eloquent in the jumbled mess of these three languages - Singlish. 

The question now is no longer about whether Singaporeans should master mandarin. When there is a use for it, Singaporeans will naturally pick it up. 

Dialects, as a professor argued, will be lost in just one generation. 

And if the current generation of eloquent Singlish speakers fail to revive our true mother tongue, it will not be surprising that soon we will not even be able to converse with 60 million people in two provinces, Fujian and Taiwan. 

Let alone 1.3 billion people across all provinces in China. 


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