Singlish must not be allowed to displace Standard English

I agree that the Government cannot afford to ease up on its strict stance on Singlish ("PM's press secretary rebuts NYT op-ed on Singlish"; yesterday).

Singlish has indeed taken on a life of its own, and has flourished as a vernacular with a distinctly Singaporean heritage. We use and flaunt it like a badge of national pride.

While poet and literary critic Gwee Li Sui, in his opinion piece on Singlish published in the International New York Times, said that even politicians and officials use Singlish, I believe most do so with an awareness of the specific context and register that Singlish should be used in.

It is often used to establish an instant rapport with the audience, as it transcends barriers of race and social class.

The Government is on the right track in promoting the mastery of Standard English, particularly in school and at the workplace.

If Singlish is championed at the expense of Standard English, it would, as the late former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew rightly put it, be a "handicap" that will cripple our ability to communicate with the rest of the English-speaking world, and erode the substantive gains we have made in integrating ourselves as part of the globalised economy.

This pragmatic, utilitarian approach to the use of English must prevail if we wish for subsequent generations of Singaporeans to hold their own on the world stage, where English will still be the lingua franca of choice for the foreseeable future.

Admittedly, there is a time and place for Singlish. However, it becomes a serious cause for concern if it gains so much currency as to displace the use of Standard English.

Despite the increasing acceptance of Singlish (even the venerated Oxford English Dictionary has included a smattering of Singlish words in its lexicon), I exhort educators to continue to maintain rigorous standards of English language teaching, for the sake of our young charges ("Shiok, right? More Singlish in Oxford English Dictionary"; May 13).

Our children's employment prospects are contingent on their literacy skills. They need to be able to speak and write comprehensible and functional English in order to earn a decent living.

If Singlish were indeed to gain legitimacy, it would be to our children's detriment. It is a reckless gamble with their future that we can ill afford to take.

Marietta Koh (Mrs)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 25, 2016, with the headline 'Singlish must not be allowed to displace Standard English'. Print Edition | Subscribe