New words, phrases enter lexicon all the time

I am glad the Ministry of Education (MOE) is not penalising the use of Singlish words in students' compositions in schools ("MOE: No penalty for using Singlish appropriately"; June 13).

Although, at present, Singlish can be used only in direct speech in compositions, the decision is a step in the right direction.

One hopes that the MOE will allow more freedom of use if Singlish becomes globally accepted.

English is a living language. New words and phrases enter the vocabulary all the time.

It is replete with non-English words and phrases, too, for example, "ad hoc", "de facto" and "pro bono publico" (Latin); "cafe", "cuisine" and "hotel" (French).

So why not Singapore words and phrases such as "ang moh", "char siu", "lepak", "shiok", "teh tarik" and "Chinese helicopter"?

We should be proud that such terms have earned a place in the pages of the Oxford English Dictionary (OED).

In time to come, they will surely be internationally accepted, as the Latin, French and other non-English words and phrases have been.

With proper grammar, Singlish can acquire the status of Standard English.

For example, sentences such as "my next-door neighbour is an ang moh" and "I had char siu rice for dinner last night" are grammatically correct.

As OED's world English editor, Dr Danica Salazar, was quoted as saying: "Any language community should be proud of their own words, as each is a reflection of their identity, which is shaped by their culture and history."

Let us not be offended by seemingly humiliating phrases like "Chinese helicopter".

Rather, let us just regard them as a description of things and take comfort in the fact that there are many other derogatory phrases in the English vocabulary.

Of course, the MOE should continue to teach internationally acceptable English in schools so that we will be understood worldwide.

But I am sure that the ministry will leave the door open to more Singapore words and phrases.

As Dr Ludwig Tan, vice-dean at SIM University's School of Arts and Social Sciences, said, Singapore words add colour and expressiveness to the English language.

Anthony Oei