Draw line between mistakes and language evolution

I was surprised to learn that Singlish has been studied in no fewer than seven universities around the world ("Don't play, play - Singlish is studied around the globe"; Feb 5).

It is interesting to see how a foreign language brought here by colonisation was naturalised and became an intriguing subject of study for academics.

Linguists consider Singlish to be an independent variety of English that comes with its own set of grammatical rules.

But does this mean that wrong usage and "mistakes" can become acceptable or even "rules" if they are repeated by enough people?

How do we draw the line between language evolution and errors in grammar and syntax?

As an English language teacher, I have observed many instances of ungrammatical English use here.

Many phrases lack subject-verb agreement as well as objects/articles. An example is the phrase "she don't have" instead of "she doesn't have it".

Tenses are often wrong, as in the phrase "she say she don't want"; auxiliary verbs are commonly omitted - "how you make" instead of "how did you make it?"; and there is adjective/adverb confusion - "she shout very loud" rather than "she shouts/shouted very loudly".

Another common issue is the tendency to translate Chinese phrases into English, such as "I do finish already" and "cannot ownself take".

Those who study Singlish and find it an interesting phenomenon are mostly socio-linguistic undergraduates or researchers who have a good command of English.

But Singaporeans will suffer if they cannot code switch in their studies, interviews or jobs.

I am not against Singlish as a badge of identity for Singaporeans.

However, I cannot take pride in speaking ungrammatical or confusing English.

I hope we can still be recognised as Singaporean even when speaking grammatically sound English.

Ng Poh Leng (Madam)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 09, 2017, with the headline 'Draw line between mistakes and language evolution'. Print Edition | Subscribe