War of words between Catholic News writer and Speak Good Singlish Movement

Posted on 01 October 2011

While the government appears to have long abandoned their campaign against Singlish, one man has continued the fight (updated: 1st October, 11pm).

By Terence Lee

If Dudley Au is right, then Singlish will doom Singapore. Of course, prophets of doom are often wrong — which describes Dudley, a writer who frequently pens letters to The Catholic News about the evils of our beloved creole language.

Recently, he submitted a mangled, confusing, and ultimately indecipherable letter on 5th September arguing why Singlish should be driven to extinction. He peppered his letter with words mortals rarely use, and there’s even a Latin phrase or two, just to show he’s intelligent and of a different breed.

Dudley probably thought his language wasn’t impressive enough, so he resorted to leafing through a thesaurus to replace simple words with multi-syllabled ones.

Interestingly, The Catholic News deleted the letter because of readers’ complaints, but Google has managed to capture it here (we’ve also included the full letter at the bottom of this article). Deleting the letter was stupid to begin with.

And guess who came to the rescue of our beloved Singlish? The Speak Good Singlish Movement of course.

They attempted to leave a comment on the letter, but the moderator did not approve it. So they resorted to writing a note on Facebook instead.

“You cannot speak English AND Singlish meh? A lot of Singaporeans can leh,” the SGSM taunted.

In another letter they published on Facebook, they wrote:

You use cheem-cheem words like “refulgence”, “Sapir-Whorf hypothesis”, and “peregrinate”, uncle is OK. You dun publish our earlier nice reply to you, uncle is also OK. You ownself promote your view on a religious platform, uncle is still OK. But you cross the line when you say, when we promote Singlish, we insult the PAP gahmen and consider it not worth its salt.

Another point they highlighted: The PAP government is no longer against Singlish, and even Lawrence Wong, the current Defense and Education Minister, has said so himself.

Dudley’s letter has even earned a rebuttal from a blogger, who thought stringing together a bunch of bombastic words betrays a lack of depth.

This latest letter was actually preceded by a much earlier one written over two years ago. It was entitled “The Origins of Singlish”.

An excerpt:

Why then is there this need to cling to broken or fractured English? Who made it Singapore’s culture? Why must we take mistakes in semantics and elevate them into a culture? Is it because there is too much trouble to master correct usage of the English language and like water it is easier to flow lower than higher?

On this basis, on what philosophy is predicated the Singlish culture syndrome? Be this as it may, what every parent is concerned with is the insidious filtration of Singlish and its concomitant proliferation on our children to their future detriment. How do we stop this inundation at home and in the market place where peers take pride in speaking broken English (like a cult) and where adults come on TV extolling fractured English as a culture to be proud of?

Dudley has a rather simplistic worldview. It’s either heaven or hell, black or white, right or wrong. He doesn’t appreciate the fact that an individual can be good at speaking both English or Singlish. Such a concept doesn’t exist in his warped world. To prove my point, enter Tyler Creasman, a guy who can speak Winglish — white boy Singlish.

So, this letter writer has clearly presented us with a stark false dilemma: Either abandon Singlish, or watch the country go down in flames. The truth is, many Singaporeans — and successful ones at that — are able to switch comfortably between both modes.

Associating Singlish as a lower-class language is an oversimplification that Dudley in his warped mind has been unable to shake off. Which goes to show how his powderful Engrish is nothing but smoke and mirrors.

Give me Singlish over pomposity anytime; at least the former feels unpretentious and authentically Singaporean!

Here is the deleted letter in full:

English vs Singlish as our language

The reason for the use of correct English is predicated on pragmatism and not on emotion or group convenience. For the purpose of dialectic let us categorise English into non-standard and standard. Non-standard will include, for example, variations like Appalachian English and Singlish. The refulgence of the differences lie, in general, in the grammar, sounds and vocabulary of the spoken “dialects”. This deviation from the rules of linguistic “etiquette”, so to speak, carries a label of misfit. What is at work is prescriptive rules of standard English which, in a way, asserts status.

Grammar is a description of the structure of a language as it is actually used and prescriptive rules are not derived from any inherent language qualities. The point in contention is do we allow a permissive attitude to non-standard English? Before we answer this, we must realise the contextual element in Singapore does not give us the luxury of choice. We can indulge in the luxury and lose or we can forego the luxury and win. The reason is this that Standard English is utilised by America, England, and other parts of the English-speaking world for communication. Singlish is understood only here and the surrounding areas. In a way we are faced with the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis.

Singlish in a way is ethnocentric, bending accepted rules to fit its own ends. It is not a question of etymology but of prescriptive tendentiousness where for us it is a universal means of communication with the English-speaking world. For language to function effectively as a communication code, that code must be shared. Prescriptive rules of English, with minute variations, like in French the adjective comes after the noun and in English the noun is primary to the adjective, indicate a deductive and inductive mindset without detracting from the communication or understanding. This is sharing the same code.

Unless an individual or particular group plans on never leaving the warmth and security of the nest, of never venturing outside one’s immediate group, Singlish suffices. If there is the intention to step beyond the perimeters of the comfort zone, to peregrinate further into the world, the vehicle or ship of communication has to be standard English – a shared conduit. It is, therefore, not a matter of choice but of necessity because it opens up opportunities and improves one’s ability to adapt to changing and varied situations in a larger complex society. To put it in terms of semantics, Singlish is connotative and Standard English, give and take, in minute proportions, is denotative. We are faced with Hobson’s choice. To win we take Standard English or be left with nothing in terms of progress.

Yours truly
Dudley Au

This post was written by:

- who has written 81 posts on New Nation.

Terence is an online media nut that is obsessed with writing and publishing on the Internet. Recently, he took up photography to expand his repertoire, and hopes to learn videography soon. He has worked in both online and print publications such as The Straits Times, Today, Mind Your Body, The Online Citizen, and Funkygrad. He is currently the assistant editor with SGEntrepreneurs, a website that covers entrepreneurship in Singapore and Asia. Terence can be found on LinkedIn and Twitter.

Contact the author

  • https://www.facebook.com/pages/Speak-Good-Singlish-Movement/152213451475413 Speak Good Singlish Movement

    Errr, actually hor, it was us at Speak Good Singlish Movement (https://www.facebook.com/pages/Speak-Good-Singlish-Movement/152213451475413) who drew attention to the piece, made repeated comments unpublished by Catholic News (see our notes), and called for action. We even got clarification from Catholic News as a result. Dun siow-siow us leh!

    • Terence Lee

      we never visit your Facebook page before leh. so we wouldn’t know.

      • https://www.facebook.com/pages/Speak-Good-Singlish-Movement/152213451475413 Speak Good Singlish Movement

        Walao, but the blogger you mentioned, and many others, followed our lead leh! You neh research properly lah. And our Movement is one year old now: very powderful OK. Even Speak Good English Movement kow-towed to our pressure – as you can see this year!

        • Terence Lee

          alamak, don’t like that leh, we small publication only got no time to find out everything. But thanks for telling us ah. Your singlish very powerful. Can we republish your reply to Dudley on our website? I love it, very tok kong.

          • https://www.facebook.com/pages/Speak-Good-Singlish-Movement/152213451475413 Speak Good Singlish Movement

            We got 2 responses, but Catholic News wouldn’t publish any (you see their comment on our #2 response). OK you can republish, but please help spread news of our existence can? We need more people to help find sites that whack us for no reason!

          • Terence Lee

            hehe sure 😉

          • https://www.facebook.com/pages/Speak-Good-Singlish-Movement/152213451475413 Speak Good Singlish Movement

            And if you scroll our wall all the way to 5 September (when the Catholic News piece appeared), you can see our angry members responding too. Thank you! 😀

        • Terence Lee

          nevermind i’ll update this report by including some excerpts from your reply to dudley lah. i’ll also link to your facebook page. u happy i also happy.

  • Guest

    He actually made a grammar mistake.
    “Unless an individual or particular group plans on never leaving the
    warmth and security of the nest, of never venturing outside one’s
    immediate group, Singlish suffices.”
    The structure of this sentence is wrong. Lol.

    • Belmont Lay

      You should try getting your hands on some Baudrillard. Or Foucault. 

  • Ss

    I don’t see him spitting on Singlish.  In fact I agree with him (abeit his powerful english that is not easy to read). 

    Use singlish for all you want, just stay in SG. If you’re out there in real working world, you better have standard english where your regional/global colleagues can understand you. 
    The person who initiated this talk is LKY.  And mind you, he didn’t say Standard English, he say ” Amercian English”.  So go diss at him.   He can turn his back on British english, now that his son can go favor American. In another 3 decades, your Mentor will ask you to speak “Chinglish” or “Indianish” depending no who’s emerged as the superpower.   

    • Editor

      Amercian English? Need to go check that one. :)

  • ‘Mat

    I dun wan carry my dick-shenery wit me, better I spiak Singlish lo…