07 March 2007

Race, religion and the sinicisation of Singlish

Singlish as a used language evolves all the time, but the more recent changes are often influenced by Chinese, not Malay. To discuss this leads to a discussion about race. But why should race (and religion) be taboo subjects, as some figures in authority suggest? Full essay.

11 comments:

Anonymous said...

Both meh and lor are borrowed from Cantonese. In Cantonese these particles have the same meaning as in Singlish. And no, at no point in history was English a contact language. One can argue whether certain changes were contact-induced, but the overall path of its evolution is very similar to other coastal West-Germanic languages.

Anonymous said...

Honestly, i do not mind more Taiwanese, Chinese and Hong Kongers coming down to Singapore, which helps me improve my Mandarin, Cantonese and Hokkien, considering the rather appalling standards of this pseudo western society.

But, while the govt seeks to maintain the ethnic balance by "importing" more from the PRC, they have come to realise that they are not the same as us. In this respect, Singlish would always be a language that distinguishes "us" from "them".

On the ground, i think the urgent issue to address is not about ethnic representation, but how nasty we have been to our new immigrants, especially the undercurrent anti-Chinese feelings to put it in a rather strange way.

Kai Khiun

KiWeTO said...

Is it us reacting nasty, or is it them doing their own version of the 80's "ugly Singaporean" abroad? I have to say that my encounters with China Chinese have sadly been almost all negative, and although a few bad apples should not rot the crop, it sure starts to influence bias and future reactions.

I'm personally feeling very unsingaporean around this country nowadays, almost every chinese face is china-accented mandarin. Its getting harder to throw a stone and hit a straits-born chinese in a crowd nowadays.

How is it affecting each and every one of us? What feelings go through us? Are these important issues that we should ponder and discuss, instead of studying the flat, unemotional numbers that growing to 6.5m will bring us? Are we humans in a society, or digits in a balance sheet?

Who are we? a continuously immigrating population without any real core identity? or are we trying to become something unique in this world, instead of being a rojak gone confused and sour?

No answers, just more worries...



E.o.M.
[feeling like a sour rojak.]

Anonymous said...

I will never forgive the former prime minister Goh Chok Tong for branding those Singaporeans who left Singapore to live and work overseas as quitters.
And to make matter worse the local citizens got swayed and viewed these adventurous ppl with disdain.

Look at the silly old man now, eating his words because the party had apparently change their views about Singaporeans who left to live and work overseas. They are now trying to creating some overseas singaporean outreach network.

Goh need to apologise to these Singaporeans.

Hai meh? Hai lor! said...

Yup, agree with anon at 07 March, 2007 21:07 that "Both meh and lor are borrowed from Cantonese". Think it crept in from the local children who grew up watching HK TV serials (broadcast in the 70's and VCDs in the 80's).

Hai meh? Hai lor!
= Is that so? Yes, indeed it is!

YCK said...

Hi KiWeTo,

No use feeling like a sour rojak. The world is always changing and the same applies to Singapore's ethnic composition. It does not help of course that we have the CMIO classification. So guess where the people in charge expect the Straits born to be assimilated? Resistance is futile in the long run. But on the shorter term, the diversity should be celebrated while it lasts by firstly not applying such labels.

Hi anonymous 10 March, 2007 23:51:

On your comment on Goh's assessment about some Singaporeans being quitters and how the government is now wooing them. This is quite expected. A letter or commentary (I cannot remember which) in Zao Bao commented that the quitters should not be called 逃兵(tao bing, soldier disserters). It suggested that they are in fact 逃将(tao jiang, eloping generals). I suppose it is correct given, which strata of society they tend to come from and in a way the government finally saw the truth. They are the ones that are mobile and can substantialy drain the nation by leaving. So hail the stayers who has nowhere to go to start with.

JohnM said...

Alex, you may be interested that 'meh' has entered English in the UK as well. It is claimed that the internet is responsible, although I question that. Check out this Guardian article

http://tinyurl.com/2jpmv5

Anonymous said...

thats what the contributor meant about people being swayed by Goh's nasty remark and branding of those adventurous ppl who left to live and work overseas. See the cut & paste comment/example below from another reader of this blog.>>>
>>>>>>Hi anonymous 10 March, 2007 23:51:

On your comment on Goh's assessment about some Singaporeans being quitters and how the government is now wooing them. This is quite expected. A letter or commentary (I cannot remember which) in Zao Bao commented that the quitters should not be called 逃兵(tao bing, soldier disserters). It suggested that they are in fact 逃将(tao jiang, eloping generals). I suppose it is correct given, which strata of society they tend to come from and in a way the government finally saw the truth. They are the ones that are mobile and can substantialy drain the nation by leaving. So hail the stayers who has nowhere to go to start with.

11 March, 2007 16:33<<<<<<<<<<<

Anonymous said...

To JohnM

That's a completely different meh. In Cantonese and Singlish meh is a so-called "sentence-final particle", and syntactically it's a complementizer.

pak said...

I am not sure if "lay-chay" is a Malay word. It sounds to me like Chinese term 累赘 (lei4 zhui4) in Kokkien which literally means "unnecessary burden".

ozlady said...

I liked your article and certainly consider race and religion very viable points of discussion if done from a factual perspective. Unfortunately, race and religion are key parts of identity, which results in unsavoury reactions as people feel that if we discuss the race or religion, we are therefore discussing them.

I, for one, love Singlish - its succinctness and directness - and I am an ang mo! It was really interesting to read your article on its origins, and I, like Pak, had thought that ley-chey was Chinese-based as well.

In discussing colour and creed, sweeping statements do tend to be made, statements which do not fit in with individuals, and thus the dilemma. I can totally relate to these reactions with popular discourse about ang-mos in the Straits Times, being one who has lived here for more than 10 years. I, unlike a number of people, liked Lee Kwan Yew's statement about Singapore being a rojak where the different components add their flavours while retaining their individuality. Over time recipes change, and perhaps the recipe of Singapore's racial mix will change, irregardless of government policy.

Nice blog!