Singapore's pseudo mother tongues - 2002.

R. A. Stegemann moogoonghwa at
Sat Mar 19 16:29:37 UTC 2005

Dear list members,

I am responding to Anthea's recent message with regard to my website
about my brief, but factually supported comparison of Hong Kong and
Singapore. Before I begin, I must, once again, apologize that I am
still unable to upload my Quicktime movie. As I have finally secured
additional online disk space for my website I will try again on
Tuesday, when I make my next visit to the Central Library, for there
they have broadband, and I now know how to connect.

Firstly, with the exception of the Ethnologue data that relies on a
variety of sources of varying dates, all of my census data is far more
recent than Anthea's 1994 book _The Step-tongue_. Although I like the
title of her book, I would not recommend its use as a defense against
data published in 2002; even a national bureaucracy can undergo
significant change within eight years. In a similar light, I am at a
loss about how to respond to claims of speculation on anyone's part
with regard to the interpretation of data. One is nearly always forced
to read between the numerical lines. What I appear to have, that others
apparently do not, is a compelling socio-economic model to guide me
through my interpretation.

Secondly, I am having particular trouble with Anthea's claim that the
structure of Singapore' education system is somehow a separate issue
from that of mother tongues. I find these two items inextricably woven,
not only in Singapore, but most of East Asia. What is at stake here is
how language is employed by governments as a form of social engineering
and what ramifications this has on the efficient allocation of human
resources, the ability of a society to communicate with itself and
others, the preservation of local communities, and the personal damage
suffered by large swaths of people.

Thirdly, I would very much like Anthea to provide hard evidence with
regard to her own claims about Singaporeans' English language
competence.  Personally, I could not find primary measures of
competence in Singapore and after many hours scouring the internet
finally concluded that this is one of Singapore's best kept secrets. In
contrast, I did find some hard facts for Hong Kong and have included
these in the HKLNA-Project's forthcoming, first, Quicktime movie.

Fourthly, with regard to Anthea's inability to imagine a society
without a single unifying national language, perhaps a brief look at
the following URL will help her get started
<>. If this does not work, then maybe a
closer look at
neighbors.html> under the heading "Switzerland - Ethnic homogenization
en style occidental". Well, neither is exactly Winnie, the Pooh, but
the first one does come somewhat close to Disneyland.


R. A. Stegemann (Hamo)
EARTH's Manager and HKLNA-Project Director
EARTH - East Asian Research and Translation in Hong Kong
Tel/Fax: 852 2630 0349

p.s. By the way, Anthea, you never did answer my question with regard
to Starbuck's. Has it made it to England?

On 18 Mar 2005, at 08:43, Anthea Fraser Gupta wrote:

> As usually I am in extreme disagreement with R A Stegemann.
> Stegemann's paper draws on the figures from Singapore's past censuses.
> I have written extensively on this topic and have made a full critique
> of census data in my 1994 book, *The Step-tongue*. They require
> considerable interpretation. The figures for school enrollment also
> need to be further developed, and, especially, a distinction must be
> made between Singaporean and non-Singaporean children.  The
> interpretation at the moment is too speculative.  I do agree that
> Singapore's education system is highly competitive and exam-oriented,
> but this is a different issue from the language one.
> The term 'native language' is normally used to refer to a language
> learnt before any other. The term 'mother tongue' is sometimes used in
> that sense, but is often given a sociopolitical definition which is
> (in some way) important for a particular place. It is often used to
> mean 'the language of the ancestors'. Singapore has provided a
> sociopolitical definition of mother tongue which is specific to
> Singapore.
> It has to be understood that people do not necessarily speak the
> languages of their ancestors as a native language (as a casual glance
> at Queen Elizabeth II, Benjamin Zephaniah, and Lee Kuan Yew, all
> native speakers of English, will show). Singapore has undergone
> considerable language shift over the years, and especially since
> independence. The ancestral varieties of Chinese (and all Indian
> languages and also languages such as Javanese and Boyanese) have all
> lost native speakers, while Mandarin Chinese and English have gained
> them.  In people under 30 Mandarin and English are the two most common
> native languages, and over half of all children come to nursery school
> already able to speak both school languages. One effect of the way in
> which the census questions were asked is that the number of speakers
> of ALL languages is fewer than it should be. For example, it is common
> in Malay households for both Malay and English to be used, very much
> in that order. If all the Malay families in Singapore said they spoke
> (say) Malay 70% of the time and English 30% of the time, they would
> appear to be monolingual Malay speakers on the census figures. I
> explain this in full (for the 80 and 90 censuses) in my book.
> Stegemann says "the reason that most Singaporeans speak such poor
> English is very similar to that found in Hong Kong. I would not
> recommend that every Singaporean be compelled to study English".  I
> strongly dispute both the premise that "most Singaporeans speak ...
> poor English" and the recommendation. By any reasonable measure (such
> as performance in UK examinations, or in international tests) the
> standard of English in Singapore is very high indeed. I cannot imagine
> what measures Stegemann could use to reach any other conclusion. A
> unified education system with one language studied by everyone is a
> vital part of national unity. I find it hard to imagine a state
> education system in which there was not a common language, and the
> choice of English for this common language is eminently sensible and
> well-accepted by the population.
> I do not see how comments favourable to English in Singapore are taken
> as negative.  The Washington source quoted should not have confused
> Singlish and Singapore English -- these are not the same, any more
> than Ozark is the same as 'American English' or Geordie the same as
> 'British English'.  And quite what Stegemann means by "In short, there
> are likely few members of the US English Foundation that would
> tolerate having to listen to a speech from any but Singapore's best
> educated English speakers with substantial overseas experience" I do
> not know. English is diverse. I don't know what Stegemann's English is
> like but it won't be like mine, and mine isn't like Hal Schiffman's.
> English varies and we need tolerance and acceptance not normative
> prejudices.
> Anthea
> <winmail.dat>

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