Saturday, 14 May 2016

Singlish in the Oxford English Dictionary

Shiok, right? More Singlish in Oxford English Dictionary
By Lee Min Kok, The Straits Times, 13 May 2016

Wah! Singaporeans can now find more of their favourite Singlish terms in the hallowed Oxford English Dictionary (OED).

In its March quarterly update, the dictionary added 19 new "Singapore English" items to its lexicon.

There are new senses of common English words, loanwords from Chinese and Malay, and formations in English that are used only in Singapore, the Oxford English Dictionary said on its website.

Some examples it cited: "blur", meaning slow in understanding; "ang moh" (a light-skinned person, especially of Western origin or descent; a Caucasian); "shiok" (cool, great; delicious, superb); "sabo" (to harm, inconvenience, or make trouble for; to trick, play a prank on); and "HDB" (a public housing estate).

It also noted that terms such as "lepak" (to loiter aimlessly or idly; to loaf, relax, hang out) and "teh tarik" (sweet tea with milk) are characteristics of both Singapore and Malaysian English.

"Wet market" (a market for the sale of fresh meat, fish and produce), meanwhile, is used all over South-east Asia.

It is also now considered acceptable to use "wah", which the OED said is used - especially at the beginning of a sentence - to express admiration, encouragement, delight and surprise, among others.

Other notable words highlighting Singapore's rich food heritage also made it to the list, such as "hawker centre" and iconic local dishes "char siu" and "chilli crab".

Interestingly, the Oxford dictionary also included "Chinese helicopter", which it defined as a derogatory term for a Singaporean whose schooling was conducted in Mandarin Chinese and who has limited knowledge of English.

Several Singlish words had previously made it to the dictionary's online version, which was launched in March 2000.

These included "lah", "sinseh" and "kiasu".

On Feb 11 last year, "kiasu" was also selected as the OED's Word of the Day.

PM's press secretary rebuts NYT op-ed on Singlish
By Rachel Au-Yong, The Straits Times, 24 May 2016

The press secretary to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has responded to an opinion piece on Singlish in the New York Times (NYT) newspaper, saying it makes light of the Government's efforts to promote the mastery of standard English by Singaporeans.

In a letter published in the International NYT yesterday, Ms Chang Li Lin said: "The Government has a serious reason for this policy.

"Standard English is vital for Singaporeans to earn a living and be understood not just by other Singaporeans but also English speakers everywhere," she said.

"But English is not the mother tongue of most Singaporeans. For them, mastering the language requires extra effort.

"Using Singlish will make it harder for Singaporeans to learn and use standard English."

Poet and literary critic Gwee Li Sui wrote the piece that was published in the International NYT on May 14-15 with the headline "Politics and the Singlish language".

Citing examples of common Singlish phrases like "yaya papaya" (a snooty person), Dr Gwee wrote that Singlish "may seem like the poor cousin to the island's four official languages, but years of state efforts to quash it have only made it flourish".

"The government's war on Singlish was doomed from the start: Even state institutions and officials have nourished it, if inadvertently," he added, citing its use in National Service and the tourism board showcasing it as a unique cultural creation.

Dr Gwee also cited examples of politicians using Singlish in recent years, saying: "Finally grasping that this language is irrepressible, our leaders have begun to use it publicly in recent years, often in strategic attempts to connect with the masses."

Ms Chang said in her letter: "Not everyone has a PhD in English literature like Mr Gwee, who can code-switch effortlessly between Singlish and standard English, and extol the virtues of Singlish in an op-ed written in polished standard English."

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)
ST Forum, 25 May 2016

* MOE: No penalty for using Singlish appropriately

Ministry says it may be used in direct speech in compositions, not in formal communication
By Calvin Yang, The Straits Times, 13 Jun 2016

Using Singlish words like "sabo" or "kiasu" in your English composition assignments?

You will not be penalised if you include these terms "appropriately", said the Education Ministry (MOE).

Responding to queries from The Straits Times (ST), the ministry said for formal communication in general, students should not use Singlish in its written or spoken forms. But there are exceptions.

In composition writing, for instance, MOE said that "Singlish words should be used only appropriately, usually in direct speech".

For example, a student will not be penalised for writing sentences such as "I have decided to 'sabo' my friend and play a nasty prank on him"; or "She is by nature a 'kiasu' person and will wake up extra early to queue for the latest release".

ST understands that despite this, standard English grammar still has to apply.

MOE's clarification on when Singlish words are allowed comes as a number of Singlish words were recently added to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED).

Several parents interviewed are glad that students will not lose marks if they use Singlish terms in compositions appropriately.

Housewife Lydia Tan, 38, who has a six-year-old son, said: "Students sometimes express themselves better with Singlish.

"Singlish words may add colour to an essay and make it more interesting to read."

But others noted that the use of Singlish words in essays may create confusion.

Information technology manager Robert Tan, 46, who has two teenage daughters, said: "Some people who aren't familiar with our local culture may not know what the terms mean."

An MOE spokesman said Singlish may not be understood in certain contexts.

"Therefore, it is important that we continue to teach internationally acceptable English to our students so that they are intelligible, literate and articulate internationally, especially if Singaporeans continue to aim for greater global participation," she added.

The OED, in its March quarterly update, added to its lexicon 19 new "Singapore English" items, such as "blur", meaning slow in understanding; "lepak", to loiter aimlessly or idly; and "sabo", which means to make trouble for or play a prank on.

Other terms added showcased the country's love for food. These included local favourites like "chilli crab" and "char siu".

Experts, such as Dr Ludwig Tan, vice-dean at SIM University's School of Arts and Social Sciences, said the distinction between formal and informal usage - be it Singapore or British standard English - is usually quite clear.

Dr Tan said having Singapore words in the OED adds colour and expressiveness to the English language. "And who knows, some of these words may actually become widely used and internationally intelligible one day," he added.

Late last month, an online petition was started by freelance writer and translator Goh Beng Choo to remove the term "Chinese helicopter" from the OED.

The derogatory term, which was among the 19 added to the dictionary, refers to a Chinese-educated person in Singapore who speaks English poorly.

Madam Goh, 64, said the inclusion of the term in the dictionary gives the impression that it is acceptable, when it is actually insensitive.

"It carries a humiliating tone, especially when it is derived from a mispronounced term for 'Chinese-educated'," she added.

The petition has more than 480 signatures.

Madam Goh, a former ST bilingual section journalist, said: "My main concern is that young Singaporeans who come across this term in the OED may regard it as a proper term with which to address their Chinese-educated seniors."

She added that Singlish terms should not be in the OED in general. She said: "I am against the addition of Singlish terms to the OED because, to me, Singlish is colloquial English, not standard English, just like (how) there are colloquial terms in many other languages."

However, the OED said once a word is added to the dictionary, it is never removed.

The 19 Singlish terms were not the first to make it to the dictionary. Words like "lah" and "kiasu" were previously recognised by the OED.

The OED's world English editor, Dr Danica Salazar, told ST: "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."

Dr Salazar, 32, added that the use of words is always determined by the context.

"If there is one thing that all speakers of English should be encouraged to do, it is to learn that mastery of the language requires knowing the right words to use at the right time and in the right place," she added.

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