#TIL #Singlish was banned on radio in the past, and Dick Lee’s song Fried Rice Paradise was put on the blacklist in 1974 for “improper use of English”. Singlish-speaking character Phua Chu Kang who popularised the catchphrases “use your blain” and “donch pray pray” was also reprimanded by then-Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong in 1999 for being a bad linguistic example, and had to learn proper English in the show’s third season.
For many decades, Singlish was blamed for causing English standards to fall in Singapore. Before independence, English was mastered by a small elite group in Singapore, for official use such as in government and the law courts. Post-independence, English was actively promoted to increase our economic prospects and facilitate access to scientific and technological knowledge. This was done against the backdrop of a linguistically diverse country, and as our English-speaking population grew, more of our local languages was incorporated into English, creating a peculiar lingo with its own set of grammar rules and syntax.
The use of Singlish became so problematic that then-Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew, during his speech at the Tanjong Pagar constituency’s National Day celebration in 1999, said “Singlish is a handicap we must not wish on Singaporeans”. He stressed the importance of speaking and writing standard English so that so that “we can understand the world and the world can understand us”.
In April 2000, the nationwide Speak Good English Movement to encourage grammatically correct English was launched. The Ministry of Education also actively improved the standard of grammar used and spoken in classrooms.
Over time, as our proficiency in English grew, there came a greater acceptance of Singlish. It appears even in our national advertising campaigns – during SG50 and more recently, in the Sar-vivor rap during the coronavirus outbreak. Words like “wah”, “shiok”, “kaisu” can also be found in the Oxford English dictionary. Today, we know the importance of mastering standard English, and appreciate that Singlish has so many peculiarities, it is like a secret language that only our small population understands.
📷: Screengrabs from “PCK - Singapore Be Steady!” song during the coronavirus outbreak in 2020 (gov.sg)