Forum: Use of English in Singapore: Quantity is not quality

Pedestrians crossing the road at Raffles Quay.
Pedestrians crossing the road at Raffles Quay.ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN

Retired university professor Margaret Chan applauded English as Singapore's lingua franca alongside mother tongues (English, mother tongue and the S'pore identity, Jan 2), even when her Hokkien and Malay helped her with her research and other activities.

Quantity is not quality - while many speak some form of English, few are fluent in it.

English literature - being a difficult subject in which to score high grades - is, I believe, not promoted in many schools.

Today, online lingo and emojis have reduced usage of proper English. Singlish is used more often, displacing "do/did not" with "never", "have gone" with "got go" and "I have eaten" with "I eat already", for instance.

Fluent speakers tend to code switch or simplify usage to maintain rapport with those less fluent in English.

Language has become a blunt instrument to bludgeon communication hurriedly, not a scalpel for detail and subtlety.

Over time and with increased usage of mother tongue, whither better English? Already, service staff often first address customers of East Asian appearance in Mandarin.

A narrowed comfort zone and perfunctory usage consign progressive speech and writing in English to mediocrity.

Proper speech, not just the blurting out of words, requires notes, rhythm, tone and melody. The next stage of our English evolution should be the cultivation of correct pronunciation, phrasing, modulation and tone.

Anthony Lee Mui Yu

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 06, 2020, with the headline 'Use of English in Singapore: Quantity is not quality'. Print Edition | Subscribe