the Speak Good English Movement (SGEM) a godsend for local
writers in English?
all, as resident masters of the language in its most refined
and expressive forms, they'd stand to gain most from the
promotion of English in schools and public life.
linguistic skills –
in any language – are an expression of coherent thinking, confidence & conviction.
movement, which should produce more fluent English speakers
and readers in the future, would expand the audience for
there'd surely be cause for celebration if literature were
to regain prominence in the school syllabus. That's the
theory, at least.
how come our wordsmiths aren't exactly doing the dance of
joy, even though the SGEM is already in its second year?
one thing, there's nary a writer in the august company of
those tasked with raising linguistic standards here; diplomats,
public figures, sure - but no writers.
the international regard given to homegrown writers like
Catherine Lim and Edwin Thumboo, we've yet to see a proliferation
of local works in the curriculum for literature.
it be that we lack confidence in the ability of our best
teachers and literary talents to be on a par with ''native''
can be justifiably proud of our capacity to master the language
despite the fact that, being Asians, we are not native English
look at the number of Angus Ross prize winners, and English
honours students returning from abroad - many of whom enter
the education system as teachers and lecturers.
better to shape the future of Singaporean English than those
among us who are conversant in its structures and nuances,
yet sensitive to the way our local context gives the language
its own bent and tenor?
even as the movement aims to eradicate Singlish from popular
use, it has been working its way into our best writing.
decades, writers from Arthur Yap to Kirpal Singh have grappled
with the lofty language of our colonial past, using it to
describe homegrown issues and themes. Post-colonial thinkers
like Professor Singh believe that the ''internationality
of English'' is enriched by writers who infuse it with a
language derived from their own cultural context.
as part of our cultural heritage - we've heard the arguments
and counter-points before.
advocates tend to be fluent users of the language themselves.
''literary Singlish'' might well be the product of market
forces, and not just cultural norms.
peppers Tan Hwee Hwee's edgy first novel, Foreign Bodies,
published in 1998 by Penguin (UK) to critical acclaim.
Ming Cher's Spider Boys, hailed by some as a milestone novel,
was written in so-called Singaporean ''street-slang English''
- indeed, explicitly marketed as such worldwide.
a fact of the Western-dominated global entertainment circuit:
Any kind of exotica, Singlish included, sells.
a flattering way to make a name for yourself, much as any
writer would want to have an impact at home and abroad.
English literary talent has grown from strength to strength
in recent years, with the emergence of assured young writers
like Alfian Sa'at and Daren Shiau.
deserve to be read and recognised on their own terms, not
patronised as Oriental exotica.
Felix Cheong, who's currently studying in Australia, finds
that he's paid more respect and attention by his peers because
he is able to match the Aussies ''grammar for grammar, syntax
argument for having good English: ''Being able to stand
tall among people whose native tongue you have mastered
as well as they have.''
ongoing debate about Good English is part of our struggle
for self-definition as a post-colonial, multicultural society.
will be difficult to excise language use - with all its
complications - as a relevant factor in our cultural development.
worth remembering, however, that good linguistic skills
- in any language - are an expression of coherent thinking,
confidence and conviction.
we are to forge a linguistic and cultural heritage of our
own, it must be on a foundation of strength, not inadequacy.