Mixing of languages

Communication means not shutting out some people

Communication is the exchange of information that has meaning, that is, it has to be understood.

To say that the onus is also on the listener to understand the message communicated rather than just on the speaker to ensure it is understood, is not entirely fair (Mixing of languages not a handicap, but linguistic prowess at work, March 25).

We live in a multiracial society with a population speaking different languages.

Many of us are bilingual - we know English and either our mother tongue or another of the four official languages. Not many are proficient in more than two languages.

To speak in a mixture of two or three languages, when only one of these is understood by one or a few people in a group, is not communicating.

On the contrary, it is exclusivism, which shuts out those not part of the clique formed by those who understand both or all three languages.

Promoting this type of communication as linguistic prowess or part of our cultural heritage (Do not denigrate rich cultural heritage, March 25) risks creating discord or segregation.

How many of our non-Chinese friends understand Chinese terms aside from common dialect words like "siao" or "kiasu"?

How many of our Chinese friends (apart from Peranakan ones) understand Malay or Tamil words, aside from the Malay "boleh" or "lawa"?

It is one thing to include commonly understood Singlish slang when we chat, but it is quite another to switch from one language to another because we have difficulties finding the right words when we stay with one language.

The dire consequences are that we will be segregated by language at a time when there is so much attention on the importance of racial and religious harmony.

We can already see the beginnings of this in the way schoolchildren stick to their own language groups at play, within and outside school.

Amy Loh Chee Seen

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 31, 2021, with the headline 'Communication means not shutting out some people'. Subscribe