“Por Favor LAH” : Singlish, Ebonics, and the role of different dialects

Out of the mouth of my babe came Singlish. I knew it was only a matter of time.

I am really torn by this. Part of me would LOVE for Pacifique to be able to slip in and out of as many languages as possible and having a creole as one of them would be cool albeit not terribly useful unless she wants to be a standup comedian and/or plans on spending lots of time in SouthEast Asia.

I do find it quite funny when she has little Ang moh friends over for play dates. At this point, all of them attend local daycares and nurseries so lots of them have totally taken on the Singaporean accent with bits of Singlish interspersed. And yet deep down something inside of me screams NOOOOOOOOOOO. I don’t know why. It don’t know that it is a rational feeling especially given that I think this famous ‘Winglish” kid is AWESOME. Click here for more. Perhaps it is my perpetual worry of not being able to expose the girls to enough of our “heritage” languages -in my case French and husband’s Mexican. Perhaps it is the worry that in addition to not having great French or Spanish, they won’t end up having excellent English.

And the concern about English isn’t just shared by expats. I have some local friends who are concerned as well though they appear to be in the minority if the commenters on this article written about Singapore’s Speak Good English Movement are an accurate reflection.

I think, though my position is still a work in process, that I embrace dialects and creoles as long as they have their cultural place but that ultimately in a competitive global economy, if you want to succeed you need to be able to speak proper English, especially if your country claims it as its or one of its official languages. I don’t think given what we know about multilingualism and children’s abilities to learn languages that we should dumb them down and not push them to do better or use it as an out for academic failings. The controversies over Ebonics comes to mind here.

Ok there is a lot more to be said, read and researched on this topic and this post was initially only going to be a three-liner. So I’ll leave you with this question: What do you get when you cross Spanish with Singlish?

Spinglish? Sipanglish?

And for a quick Singlish tutorial click here: Singlish 101

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9 thoughts on ““Por Favor LAH” : Singlish, Ebonics, and the role of different dialects

    • Yes the sentence structure is definitely something I struggle with. I agree on the time and place – with friends ok but not work/school etc. But these things are difficult to enforce. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on it!

  1. With ever-increasing globalisation, the workplace competition will be between people who speak/write CORRECTLY in multiple languages, whether Standards, Creoles or Dialects. It is no longer enough to have “notions” of a language; you must be at ease with structure and linguistic rules too.

    • I agree with you. That’s why choosing a school has been so difficult for us. We would love to go the local route but ultimately know that for our girls to have good French, we need to invest in the education as I am not fluent enough as far as writing/grammar to do the job myself.

  2. I wasn’t familiar with anything such as Singlish until I read this article. After looking at some phrases, it reminds me of certain words, patois for how the Hawai’ians have created from English.

    If at all possible, to use good English whenever for the parent it feels “naturally” right with the child. However if the child slips into Singlish BUT knows good English, then don’t worry. Truly.

    Later, you’ll be grateful to have your teen-child communicate with you in any language in a pleasant manner. (I would worrying more about profanity than proper English. Jeepers.) While yes, I’ve lost a huge amount of my Chinese dialect, Toishanese, at least I don’t hate speaking the language when I need to. That’s very important for a child straddling 2 linguistic worlds.

    If I can give a professional opinion as a formally trained librarian (I majored in English literataure also), it helps enormously that the child also loves to read a wide range of good fiction and non-fiction books. Complement that with parents speaking well on a wide range of topics to one another and with children, then you will worry a whole lot less.

  3. I guess what I’m trying to say, is those of us who love wordplay and wordsmithing, love the value of 2 languages PLUS a patois. I’m a firm believer it expands a child’s brain and their creative view of the world.

    • Jean – thank you so much for your comments. I like your take on patois. I think it also helps understand people not just in terms of language but the cultural aspect. And I agree, one of the things we definitely try is to foster a love of books which isn’t too difficult since I am book obsessed, it seems to make it’s way into my girls by osmosis! I also try to make things fun in the other languages or help them see why French or Spanish is fun/useful when other people speak it so it hopefully doesn’t feel like a chore. I guess only time will tell!

  4. Having spent some of my life in Southeast Asia, I am familiar with Singlish due to media exposure. It is okay for your child to be exposed to a little bit of Singlish but it is also important ensure your kid speaks and writes standard English as well. Eventhough I am exposed to different varieties of English growing up, it does not stop me from speaking and writing ‘perfect’ standard English as I am now based somewhere in the Pacific where English is the official lingo

  5. I’m a Singaporean who lived in Singapore till I was 16 and then migrated to Australia, and chanced upon your blog a few days ago when it was featured on ‘Freshly Pressed’. I grew up with Singlish around me, but I don’t believe that has affected my written and spoken English in a formal setting. To me, at least, Singlish is more a conversational form of English that we know not to use when the occasion calls for it.
    P.S. It’s still kind of trippy for me when little Caucasian children speak in Singlish but I also think it’s gorgeous! I’m sure your daughter will be absolutely fine.

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