[portfolio: vamos.com.sg email: foocheechang@gmail.com phone: +65 9622 9024 twitter: foocheechang]

language & society

the name of the course does not reveal much. my first impression of this elective, derived from just the name itself, was that it was going to be a really arduous technical study of the function of language in the social context. i can’t remember exactly why i picked this module but i can guess it must be because there wasn’t much of a choice in the first place. ah, the perils of being an arts student…

while i was right about the subject being technical, i’ve come to realise that things need not be ‘arduous’ or ‘boring’. francesco (he’s an italian), the lecturer, spoke of how singapore is a fascinating case in point regarding the study of different languages within a society. in the singaporean context, we have standard (queen’s) english that is the language of business, as well as ‘singlish’, the language of our daily interactions with other singaporeans. singlish, a curious amalgamation of the different local languages (it even has its own grammar), is considered linguistically ‘low’ as compared to standard english. this situation is known as a diglossia, in which speakers switch easily between 2 or more languages in their daily affairs. being able to relate studies to other areas of one’s life goes a long way in keeping one interested.

the issue that i am really wondering about is that of language loss. most singaporeans speak 2, maybe 3 languages as of now – english, mother tongue, and in some cases a dialect (yes, linguists argue that dialects are considered languages too). it is hard to see english or mother tongue disappearing in the near future but not that hard in the case of dialects. for instance, i am a hainanese who speaks no word of it. if language and culture are inextricably linked, would the demise of a particular language spell the end of a culture too? as cultures around the world become increasingly diluted thanks to globalisation, what effects will this have on the concept of identity? hell, i can’t even put a finger on my own identity!

these are some questions of which i seek answers. i think i will eventually find them.

for more on my thoughts, click here.


7 responses

  1. Jinhe

    If you ever find those answers, please tell me.

    Friday August 24, 2007 at 3:16 pm

  2. Identity is something i keep asking myself. It’s so hard growing up not knwing who i’m supposed to be. Like, im malay but i don’t really speak it, and i take chinese but id dont really have chinese values? And i speak mainly english? I’m supposed to speak cantonese but, it never was easy.
    If you can’t put a finger on your identity, try being me! (Not saying this expecting pity or anyth.. i love being me!) haha. but i can’t say i don’t enjoy discovering things about myself.. cultures i can identify with and be proud of.. it really is a selective process i guess. but hey. language can be a barrier sometimes.

    there are other ways to dicscover and learn about a culture, no?

    made me think! made me think!

    Friday August 24, 2007 at 3:55 pm

  3. hmmm very interesting ponderings… confusing too…esp for me…singlish or english? i get a bit schizophrenic sometimes…heh

    Friday August 24, 2007 at 6:05 pm

  4. Even in the age of globalization we find cultures maintaining their own unique identity (eg. Singlish). For the case of Singapore, the fact that we speak a mishmash of different languages and incorporate it into our daily conversation is an indication of our identity. Which other nation would you find such a trend? Culture need not be tied down by language ๐Ÿ™‚

    Saturday August 25, 2007 at 12:21 am

  5. PaMy

    haha i think the whole not knowing thing is part of being singaporean. i mean sure for Singaporean Chinese our forefathers came from China, but ask any Singapore born-and-bred Chinese and they would tell you they feel a minimal sense of affliation towards the supposed mother-land. neither, despite our society’s very westernised lifestyle, will we fit in entirely in a western country. it’s the same for our language. singapore is an amalgamation of cultures and languages, seemingly cut-and-pasted together without anything special about it and paradoxically i think that’s what makes us unique, best described by our very own local dish, rojak. suppose that’s our identity ^-^

    Saturday August 25, 2007 at 6:51 pm

  6. Saya orang China! Saya tak tahu siapa saya nak jadi! Aku memang confused!

    Saturday August 25, 2007 at 9:49 pm

  7. while i do agree that we have our own unique singaporean identity, it’s not hard to see how a lot of cultures and languages were sidelined in order to create that identity. when something new is created, the ‘old’ has to make way.

    on the issue on language being linked to culture, i believe that the connection is pretty obvious. let’s just assume for the sake of argument that singapore indeed has a culture with singlish as the accompanying language. if you take away singlish, what would be left of our ‘culture’? true, we have all our local dishes and eccentricities but can they ever replace a language, the chief tool of communication among people? if singlish provides the savour of the ‘singaporean dish’, how long then can this dish continue to be popular once its flavour is lost? that’s the point i was trying to make.

    anyway, thanks for all the comments guys. it makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. niminiminimi…

    Saturday August 25, 2007 at 10:29 pm

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