Truth, opinion, and personal priorities

R. A. Stegemann moogoonghwa at
Tue Mar 22 16:27:26 UTC 2005

Dear list members,

THE truth? In my opinion, if in Christina's opinion I am even entitled
to one, truth is an approximation of reality that can be understood by
one, a few, or many. It is not something about which one can solicit
and cast votes. I offer no statements or claims that I am not prepared
to back up, and would be very happy to reply to something more tangible
from Christina, if indeed, she has something. Unfortunately, however,
Anthea is first in line, and I will respond to her as soon as I have
the opportunity.


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

On 22 Mar 2005, at 23:31, Harold F. Schiffman wrote:

> I am forwarding this message to the list at the request of Christina
> Paulston:
> ---------- Forwarded message ----------
> Date: Sun, 20 Mar 2005 14:02:31 -0500
> From: Christina Paulston <paulston at>
> To: lgpolicy-list at
> Subject: Re: Singapore's pseudo mother tongues - 2002.
> I thought the languagepolicy- list was for sharing news, interesting
> new publications, policies, etc. I am tired of Stegemann's opinionated
> proclamation of THE truth.  Christina Bratt Paulston
> On Mar 19, 2005, at 11:29 AM, R. A. Stegemann wrote:
>> 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.
>> Sincerely,
>> 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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