01 12 / 2013
Why don’t Singaporeans try to speak proper English? I understand they speak it as a second language, but you’d think after years of British rule and with one of the best education systems in the world, the average Singaporean would try to correct their accent.
This question was asked on Quora, and the answer given by Grace Teng was pretty much a winner. I’m posting it here instead of sharing it via Quora, because Quora requires a sign in and I think this deserves to be shared for all to see. Below is a complete reproduction of her answer:
(Note: I wrote this post on the iPhone app without realising it came from a non-Singaporean. Still, everything I’ve said stands.)Oh wow. You’re spoiling for a fight.
Firstly, Singlish is not bad English. It has its own phonology, its own syntax, its own grammar. It is possible to speak bad Singlish, just as it is possible to speak bad English. Singlish is a creole, and while there isn’t a lot of agreement as to what defines a creole, many creole languages suffer from perception problems; they’re seen as “corrupted” forms of a “proper” language. Many creoles exist on a dialect continuum. On one end is the acrolectal form, the “proper” form of the base language (in this case it’s English), and on the other end is the basilectal form (in this case it’s Singlish). Even the terms acrolectal and basilectal are loaded terms but I’ll just use them anyway.
I should say that it’s not just creoles that form parts of a dialect continuum. Pretty much any regional accent will also exist on a continuum. In the UK, for example, the acrolect is Received Pronunciation / Queen’s English, and the basilect could be Scouse, Geordie, Cockney, Brummie… if you go to Liverpool, Newcastle, East London or Birmingham and tell them they’re speaking bad English, you’re not going to have a good time.
Besides, the huge diversity of languages that we have today came from somewhere. Once upon a time, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, French, Catalan, Galician, Occitan, Romanian, etc. were “bad” Latin.
I’m going to make a bold, somewhat tenuous (but I think correct) claim here - Singlish shows many traits of natural language, it is consistently spoken the same way by a large group of what are, in effect, native speakers of Singlish, so we should consider it a language in its own right. (It’s still a creole on one end of a continuum, but for the purposes of this argument…)
Singlish is under-researched, except in sociolinguistics, but here are some things about Singlish phonology and grammar that I bet you never thought about:
Singlish is syllable-timed, unlike American and British English, which are stress-timed. This means that in Singlish, each syllable takes the same amount of time, while in American and British English, the interval between two stressed syllables takes the same amount of time.
Vowels are usually fully articulated. In American and British English, unstressed vowels tend to be pronounced as schwa or as a lax high front vowel (the “i” in “bitter”). Not so in Singlish. “To”, for example, will be pronounced /tu/ regardless of stress.
Consonant clusters are reduced and a lot of phonemes get elided, especially in running speech. How does a Singlish speaker know that “liddat” means “like that” and “dowan” means “don’t want”? Those are just the canonical examples. Listen to a Singaporean the next time he says “I don’t understand”, and see what you actually hear, not just what you think you hear. Curiously, in Singlish, word-initial consonant clusters are never reduced, yet reduction can happen across a word boundary.
A quirk I recently noticed: th-stopping and th-fronting happen allophonically. In non-technical terms: when “th” appears at the start of a word or after a consonant cluster, it is realised as /t/ or /d/, when it appears at the end of a syllable or between vowels it is realised as /f/ or /v/.
Topic prominent syntax - the most important part of a sentence goes to the beginning, regardless of part of speech. “The camera must bring hor” (noun - object), “Blur lah him” (adjective), “faster go if not no more seats” (adverb), all acceptable constructions in Singlish that are not acceptable in English. The set of acceptable syntactical constructions in Singlish is a superset of that of English. And if you doubt that this is even syntax, think about this: why can’t we say “lah cannot make it”?
Productive morphology - Singlish allows you to apply English morphology to any lexical item, regardless of origin. “Nuah” can become “nuahed” or “nuahing”, “kope” can become “koped” or “koping”, same with “chope”. The word “agaration”, from the verb “agak” and the derivational suffix “-ation”. Nouns, too: kopis, kuehs, goondus…
This is just the tip of the iceberg. Trust me, I could go on. Nobody sat in a room and said, we shall all speak Singlish this way, let’s write a grammar of Singlish. There is a wrong way to speak Singlish, but at least two generations of Singaporeans have now learned to speak a language that is remarkably consistent in its own phonology and grammar across speakers, when considered separately from English.
I also want to make a distinction here between speaking Singlish and speaking English with a Singaporean accent. To an English speaker from a different part of the world, the latter sounds like English with a different accent, while Singlish often sounds like a completely different language.
Now to the other part of your question: why don’t Singaporeans speak English more often instead of Singlish?
Because, like it or not, Singlish, not English, is what we grow up speaking. It’s what we hear in our homes growing up, it’s what we hear when we go out, it’s what we hear in schools and informally in the workplace, and it’s what we become comfortable with from a young age. We think in it, its lexis and syntax are what come most naturally to us, it becomes the default medium for expression. I know my argument is tautological, but since I’ve spent all this time arguing that Singlish has many features of a naturally acquired first language (as opposed to features of an imperfectly acquired second language), what I’m really saying is, you wouldn’t ask a Frenchman why he prefers to speak French over other languages, would you?
Let’s consider a different case of diglossia (two different but closely related languages coexisting): do you ask why Cantonese speakers in Guangdong or Shanghainese speakers in Shanghai don’t speak “real Mandarin Chinese”? They do speak it when they have to, they just prefer Cantonese, Shanghainese, etc. for daily communication. Same goes for Catalan/Galician/Aranese/Asturian/etc. and Spanish, same goes for Bairisch/Schwäbisch/etc. and German, same goes for many, many diglossia situations around the world. Just because Singlish is a creole doesn’t mean it’s any different from the above cases. (In this respect, the Bairisch-German comparison is probably the most accurate.)
Besides being a first language of most Singaporeans, or perhaps because of it, Singlish also has features that make it feel unique to a Singaporean - the staccato quality (due to our tendency to insert a glottal stop before a word-initial vowel), its syntactical efficiency, its varied lexis drawn from many different languages - all Singlish speakers know what “shiok” means and yet not one person can give an accurate definition of it to a non-speaker. Some things simply do not feel the same expressed in English: can you find a way to say “why you so like that?” that conveys the same measure of annoyance and curtness?
Heck, why do we even have any linguistic diversity in the world, why don’t we just make everyone speak English? It’s because each language has its own fluidity, its own quirks, its own peculiar expressions that are beautiful in and of themselves, and speakers of different languages want to preserve that.
I will admit Singlish is a “problem” when the speaker isn’t aware of where he or she falls on the basilectal-acrolectal continuum. It is a problem when Singaporeans think they’re speaking English when they’re not, and I have also encountered the reverse (when Singaporeans think they’re speaking Singlish when they’re only speaking English with a Singaporean accent - yes, it happens to Singaporeans abroad). But if we continue to pretend that Singlish doesn’t exist as a language in its own right, we’ll never begin to be able to sort out what makes Singlish Singlish, what’s bad English, and what is actually good English.
PS: I think Grace deserves a 15-minute standing ovation for this brilliant answer.
For the url to the question: http://www.quora.com/Singapore/Why-dont-Singaporeans-try-to-speak-proper-English/answer/Grace-Teng-1?ref=fb#step=5
09 11 / 2013
"I hope I’m being clear, I didn’t say I hate feminists; I said I hate feminist. I’m talking about the word. …
[T]he word feminist, it doesn’t sit with me, it doesn’t add up. I want to talk about my problem that I have with it. First of all, on a very base level, just to listen to it. We start with fem. That’s good, that’s promising, you know, fem, it’s nice but it’s strong, f is a very porous letter, very inclusive. You’re ready to grow there. It’s not too whimpy. It’s not like some girl from Lord of the Rings whose name is like Akhelkthkle. There’s some meat there. We can work with this.
We go to ‘in’. Fem-in. Okay, not as impressive, but they can’t all be roses terms sometimes you gotta get from A to B.
'Ist'. I hate it. I hate it. Fail on 'ist'. It's just this little dark, black, it must be hissed. Ist! It's Germanic but not in the romantic way. It's just this terrible ending with this wonderful beginning. This word for me is so unbalanced. It's like just tonally, it's like watching a time-lapse video of fresh bread that you put in the oven and burnt. And I think that's universal. We were all having the video bread thing right?
And it bugs me that I don’t love the word more, because there are other words that sound so welcoming and lovely. Taliban. Ahh. That’s so good! That sounds like we’re going to Bora Bora and then we’re off to the Taliban Islands with white sands….It’s jolly and fun and it shouldn’t be and it’s not fair. We’ve got feminist and our ist.
Let’s go back to this ist, okay. Let’s rise up a little bit from my obsession with sound to the meaning. Ist in it’s meaning is also a problem for me. Because you can’t be born an ist. It’s not natural. You can’t be born a baptist; you have to be baptized. You can’t be born an atheist or a communist or a horticulturalist. You have to have these things brought to you. So feminist includes the idea that believing men and women to be equal, believing all people to be people, is not a natural state. That we don’t emerge assuming that everybody in the human race is a human, that the idea of equality is just an idea that’s imposed on us. That we are indoctrinated with it, that it’s an agenda.
And that’s when I realize what my problem is (well, one of my problems). My problem with feminist is not the word. It’s the question. It’s the question. “Are you now, or have you ever been, a feminist?” The great Katy Perry once said – I’m paraphrasing – “I’m not a feminist but I like it when women are strong.” That’s lovely Katy. Don’t know why she feels the need to say the first part, but listening to the word and thinking about it, I realize I do understand. This question that lies before us is one that should lie behind us. The word is problematic for me because there’s another word that we’re missing. That words have failed us. And I’d like to use as an example race.
In the public discourse, there’s one word to deal with race. Racism. That is the word. And it implies something very important. It implies something that we are past. When you say racist, you are saying that is a negative thing. That is a line that we have crossed. Anything on the side of that line is shameful. Is on the wrong side of history. And that is a line that we have crossed in terms of gender but we don’t have the word for it. People are confronted with the word feminism and it stops them; they think they have to deal with that. But I think we’re done with that as intelligent human beings. Being on the wrong side of history in terms of the oppression of women is being on the whole of history, all of recorded history, you’re on the wrong side. …
If you’re someone who genuinely believes that women don’t deserve or aren’t as much as men, you’re like the plague. On the big history chart, you’re the plague….It’s just pointless and deadly.
I start thinking about the fact that we have this word when we’re thinking about race that says we have evolved beyond something and we don’t really have this word for gender. Now you could argue sexism, but I’d say that’s a little specific. People feel removed from sexism. “I’m not a sexist, but I’m not a feminist.” They think there’s this fuzzy middle ground. There’s no fuzzy middle ground. You either believe that women are people or you don’t. It’s that simple. …
Misogynist. Misogynist – some people might not know where the y goes in that word sometimes. We should reach out to those people. Education. But more importantly, misogynist implies very directly hate and aggressive action against. And most people will think of a misogynist as a sociopath, as an anomaly. Nobody is going to say “I hate them.” And quite frankly, many people – most people –don’t. As we all know, you don’t have to hate someone to destroy them. You just don’t have to not get it.
So clearly I gotta come up with this word. We need this word so that we can change the public discourse a little bit. And I came up with a lot of good ideas. I’m not going to lie. Good stuff, good stuff.
Obviously number one, I like the rhythm and intent of “pathetic prehistoric rage-filled inbred assclown,” but that’s a lot to ask of a hashtag.
Second in line: genderist. I’m alone in my room and I come up with genderist and I think “Oh! I’ve cracked it. This is amazing.” This is it…It really resonates with me, and I live with it, and I don’t go anywhere near the internet because I’m sure somebody’s already thought of it….
Of course other people had thought of it, many people had thought of it, but I had never heard it. And I still haven’t heard it. And so unless somebody comes up with a better one – and please do – my pitch is this word. Genderist. I would like this word to become the new racist. I would like a word that says there was a shameful past before we realized that all people were created equal. And we are past that. And every evolved human being who is intelligent and educated and compassionate and to say I don’t believe that is unacceptable. And Katy Perry won’t say, “I’m not a feminist but I like strong women,” she’ll say, “I’m not a genderist but sometimes I like to dress up pretty.” And that’ll be fine. …
This is how we understand society. The word racism didn’t end racism. it contextualized it in a way that we still haven’t done with this issue.
All of recorded history versus one benefit dinner? No context.
I say with gratitude but enormous sadness, we will never not be fighting. And I say to everybody on the other side of that line who believe that women are to be bought and trafficked or ignored…we will never not be fighting. We will go on, we will always work this issue until it doesn’t need to be worked anymore. …
Is this idea of genderist going to do something? I don’t know. I don’t think that I can change the world. I just want to punch it up a little.”
important white man thoughts
did he just stand there and ramble on
Taliban. Ahh. That’s so good! That sounds like we’re going to Bora Bora and then we’re off to the Taliban Islands with white sands….It’s jolly and fun and it shouldn’t be and it’s not fair
what the fuck
what the fuck did i just read
God this is literally like Xander Harris giving a speech about feminism
lol Jezebel called this speech “perfect” because of course they did
04 11 / 2013
Anonymous asked: Why should feminists take up trans causes?
Because trans women are women and need feminism just as much as any other woman. Because feminist civil rights movements have already been built on the backs of trans women and they should acknowledge the sacrifices made on their behalf.
Because it’s shitty to demand rights and protections while actively oppressing another group. And because - as any activist knows - not trying to fix something is akin to letting it be hurt.
Because my feminism will be intersectional or it will be bullshit. Because transphobia is a killer. Because anyone with a decent heart can’t seriously look at the situation and think trans people, ESPECIALLY trans women, deserve a fifth of the shit thrown their way on a daily basis.
Because there is a larger pushback against trans women then there is trans men. The root of that is pure misogyny and fixing that would shift the thought processes of millions of people. It would be a step in the right direction towards global feminism.
Because when feminist groups show their transphobia, people who support the trans* movement will be lost to you. Because it forces a lot of people who agree with your cause to argue against you and disregard a large number of the things you say.
Because a fear of trans women is, in and of itself, a trace of internalized misogyny that needs to be eradicated. We’re all human and we all have things to work on.
My favourite reason: because trans women are women.
29 10 / 2013
"These days, before we talk about misogyny, women are increasingly being asked to modify our language so we don’t hurt men’s feelings. Don’t say, “Men oppress women” – that’s sexism, as bad as any sexism women ever have to handle, possibly worse. Instead, say, “Some men oppress women.” Whatever you do, don’t generalise. That’s something men do. Not all men – just some men.
This type of semantic squabbling is a very effective way of getting women to shut up. After all, most of us grew up learning that being a good girl was all about putting other people’s feelings ahead of our own. We aren’t supposed to say what we think if there’s a chance it might upset somebody else or, worse, make them angry. So we stifle our speech with apologies, caveats and soothing sounds. We reassure our friends and loved ones that “you’re not one of those men who hate women”.
What we don’t say is: of course not all men hate women. But culture hates women, so men who grow up in a sexist culture have a tendency to do and say sexist things, often without meaning to. We aren’t judging you for who you are but that doesn’t mean we’re not asking you to change your behaviour. What you feel about women in your heart is of less immediate importance than how you treat them on a daily basis.
You can be the gentlest, sweetest man in the world yet still benefit from sexism. That’s how oppression works."
Especially relevant given the response to a FB friend’s post on calling out street harassment. A few of us posted but were systematically ignored, maligned, and told we were being “sexist” against men. No. No. No no no. If you go back to that post and look at the most recent comments it’s obvious that women have given up trying to contribute to the discussion. This is why “open discourse” doesn’t always work — not when it’s easy for one party to shift the goalposts on the other.
29 10 / 2013
Anonymous asked: Scream some for about injustice please, it's my favorite game.
the injustice that i have to get out of this bed and do shit today lmao
no but for real though the entire world is dominated by near-invisible relations of power which almost fucking everyone will fight to the death to defend and simultaneously deny the existence of it’s like the fucking X Files but instead of shapeshifting aliens and sentient sludge it’s just fucking dipshit white boys.