Saturday, December 17, 2011

Singapore's unintelligible biligualism.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I was reading Singapore's state controlled newspaper the Straits Times article of Dec 18, 2011 headed "Public inquiry to look into MRT (subway train system) breakdowns: PM Lee". The article which also had a video in which Lee Kuan Yew's son whom he appointed Prime Minister was explaining to a bunch of reporters that he was sorry that all these trains have been continously breaking down without fail all over the island and that he was going to hold a public inquiry about it.

During the interview, Lee Kuan Yew's son had initially started out answering questions in English, which by the way I obviously understand, but to a question that was put to him in Mandarin Chinese he suddenly switched to it, and for several questions thereafter continued in Chinese, which language I do not understand, quite obviously since I am an Indian Singaporean by birth and neither my parents, nor myself, did not see the need or the urgency to study it. I had studied Tamil in school as was expected of most immigrants from Southern India like my parents and Mandarin Chinese never came into the equation, for someone like me with a darker compexion rather than yellow, a straight nose, more facial and bodily hair and bigger eyes, features which distinguish Indians from the Chinese.

Watching this video of Lee Kuan Yew's son speaking and turning from one language to another, English to Chinese and back again, creates many difficulties which must be obvious to anyone. First of all, the newspaper that published this video was an English Language newspaper, not a Mandarin newspaper, so why in Heaven's is it using Chinese when it's readership is supposed to be English.

Second, does Lee Kuan Yew's son realize that Singapore consists of not only Mandarin speaking Chinese but also Indians and Malays the vast majority of whom had no idea one way or another what he was saying for half the time in that video in Mandarin Chinese.

Is this not inconveniencing the other sections of Singapore citizens who are not required to understand Mandarin Chinese and even if they could have no desire to embark on that language anyway, who therefore are kept in the dark as to all that he said in Chinese to his Chinese audience in the English newspaper.

To go one step further does this not disenfranchise the entire Malay and Indian community in Singapore, equal citizens under the Constitution, to second class status, because the Chinese including Lee Kuan Yew's son can say anything behind their back?

Third we see this happening only among the Chinese like Lee Kuan Yew's son. However I have never seen this sort of thing happening among the Malays or Indians in Singapore. For instance there has never been a single occasion, to the best of the time I have following these Singaporean curiosities, for K Shanmugam, Lee Kuan Yew's handpicked Tamil Minister for law, suddenly breaking into Tamil for my benefit, since I understand it very well, while speaking to Singapore reporters for a video on the need for law to arrest anyone who dares to accuse Lee's judges of corruption even though we all know they are.

Surely if we are going to be fair to all, the Chinese population of Singapore should equally be inconvenienced occasionally by having to listen to a Tamil speech in the midst of an English one in a Straits times video by or our Tamil Minister for Law K Shanmugam or a Malay Minister to suddenly break into polished Malay, so that the poor Chinese are left wondering what in the world was all that about!

And then again if Lee Kuan Yew's son is going about in Mandarin Chinese, giving instructions and orders about which the Tamil or Malay listener would have no clue about, is he not trying to imply that all you need to know in Singapore is Mandarin Chinese and no other. If so, what about official business? Will the Singapore law courts and their Kangaroo judges now accept legal arguments and court filings in Chinese and what about the numerous Indian lawyers who ply their trade in Lee's courts? Are they now required to take a speed course in Mandarin Chinese language and mannerisms in the event their Chinese opponent suddently breaks into Mandarin? And considering the other races, can an Indian lawyer stand up and address the court in perfect Tamil and would Belinda Ang Saw Ean, Lee Kuan Yew's judge who punished Chee Soon Juan for being a troublemaker in the Singaporean sense, a Chinese woman be comfortable with that?

Frankly the whole thing about language in Singapore, just as you see the arrogance and at the same time stupidity of this one party state dictatorship, simply is skewed, and nonsensical. If English or a perverted form of it that is spoken in Singapore is supposed to be the language of business, then you should say so. And saying it, English newspapers should only have English in it, including their videos, and the Chinese newspapers, which I cannot read and don't intend to, should only be in Chinese.

And Lee Kuan Yew's son should be told that he should stick to English in an English newspaper because we are not interested in his fluency in Mandarin Chinese. After all he is Chinese anyway and knowing it gives him no great credit. If showing off is what he trying to do, then speak to me in Tamil and I will be impressed. Otherwise stick to your English in an English newspaper and don't leave men like us, who are neither Chinese nor have any desire to learn it, nonplussed, flummoxed and waiting for the Chinese portion of the speech to be over. And then wondering what in Heaven's have I missed.

And if you are determined to continue in this unintelligible bilingualism policy, then let us hear Lee Kuan Yew's hand picked Tamil Minister for Law, K Shanmugam break into Tamil once in a while. Surely sauce for the good should also be for the gander.

Gopalan Nair
Attorney at Law
Disbarred from practicing law in Lee's Singapore and refused entry to the island for criticizing Singapore's judiciary.
Actively practicing law in California and in good standing at the California Bar.
Member in good standing as a lawyer in England and Wales (Barrister).
39737 Paseo Padre Parkway, Suite A1
Fremont, CA 94538, USA
Tel: 510 657 6107
Fax: 510 657 6914

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Anonymous said...

Sinkapore PM has to break his vacation to return to handle the MRT fallout.

A commuter even break a window to let in fresh air

You should read more about the weak response from the fat elites PAP. A result of years of LKY rules.

Anonymous said...

Can you post the link to the video where Pinkie Loong talk in both English and Chinese? I cannot find it on the internet, perhaps I am not searching it correctly.

Anonymous said...

Sometimes I wonder what was LKYs ulterior motive in implementing the Mandarin only for Chinese policy. Was it China? Was it his inherent fear of Chinese dialect speaking politicians who could move the electorate. Or was it his innate hatred of the Chinese and Chinese languages itself. On the other hand he allows various Indian dialects to be studied in Singapore schools? Such a policy would have ousted the PAP in another country the next elections. But inspite of all the interference in the life of Singaporeans in various and varied matters for the last 55 years it makes me wonder how stupid and idiotic Singaporeans are and have become to keep on voting for the same party each election. Sometimes I just feel like giving each Singaporean a tight slap on the face in the hope that it would awaken them from their zombie like slumber.

mycroft said...

Aside from common knowledge that it is socially rude and extremely bad manners to knowingly carry on a conversation in a language which some in the company cannot understand, in Lee's position any politician worth the name ought to have been particularly careful never to be seen to be showing contempt for a third of the population by insensitive behaviour. But no, on he blundered, clueless or careless, with no aide having the sense or courage to set him straight because LKY's legacy of my-way-or-the-highway ensured that everyone kept their lips tightly buttoned.

Lee Junior is the stereotypical technocrat, temperamentally unfit for the PM's job and a terribly poor excuse for a leader and he is showing this failing time and again. His history of intolerance and acting the bully (like reaching across the cabinet table to slap minister Dhanabalan across the face when he had the temerity to argue with the son of God) is well-documented. When he went into politics and stood for his first election it was reported that he was nonplussed that he had to actually knock on the doors of the residents of the HDB flats in his chosen constituency. He expected the the people to be all lined up in their doorways like army recruits in abject gratitude that this mollycoddled princeling had condescended to visit their humble homes.

Conveniently disappearing during any crisis is another ugly side of his character. Strikingly, when Mas Selamat escaped from custody and with armed soldiers lining every road out of the country, we saw just the hapless Minister for Home Affairs desperately trying and failing to duck responsibility. Nary a peep was heard from the PM of the nation who seemed to have vanished into thin air until his papa, visiting the Middle East, solemly pronounced a week later that it was the fault of all Singaporeans for being 'complacent', not his son's government for being demonstrably incompetent.

So here we go again. The MRT fails leaving its passengers trapped in tunnels and placing their lives in jeopardy, not once but with increasing frequency over the past several months. There is mounting concern that the problems are systemic with an overloaded transportation system being strained to breaking point and fingers point to uncontrolled mass immigration being the chief culprit. Cue the PM to reassure his worried people that everything possible is being done to address the problems? No, not quite. Cue this:

PM Lee On Leave
By S Ramesh | Posted: 15 December 2011 2339 hrs

SINGAPORE: Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong will be on leave from Friday till December 27.

A statement from the Prime Minister's Office said during his absence, Deputy Prime Minister and Coordinating Minister for National Security and Minister for Home Affairs Teo Chee Hean will be the Acting Prime Minister.

Yep, true to form - he's done a runner and gone into hiding during a crisis. Again.

Gopalan Nair said...

To Anonymous above who asked for the link to the Lee Kuan Yew's state controlled newspaper report and video, here it is:

Anonymous said...

Of course he will use Mandarin.

How else will his masters in Beijing understand what he is saying.

Also, he needs to get the message across to the PRC hordes in Singapore (also known as China's 5th column.)

Francis Rosario said...

I'm an Indian Singaporean who suffered another of the many problems with Singapore's "first, second and joint third language" system. Because that is what it is. When I was attending primary school about 15 years ago I was told that "to make up numbers", I would have to "attend the Tamil classes during 'Mother Tongue' periods". No problem,even though I am Malayali the two languages are sort-of close to each other. Then without warning during P5 I was told, "Now you must start taking Chinese, since the older boys have graduated and there is nowhere near enough 'numbers' left in the Tamil class." Wow, awesome. I can no longer study even an official language of the country. And note the bad grammar (IS nowhere near? ; I quote as it was said.) Thankfully, I was exempted from 'Mother Tongue' at PSLE but it has been difficult to explain to employers and so on how I don't have a proper 'Mother Tongue'. If 95% of the Chinese in a year group were to refuse to attend school due to some threatened violence or whatever, would they force the remaining 5% to start taking something else, like Malay or Tamil PSLE?

That is a long personal story but it is one that illustrates very well how Chinese is given unbelievable preferential treatment over Malay and Tamil. Maybe, the reason Singapore is not "ready for a minority race leader" is that this state of affairs might be reversed and that all the Chinese chauvinists close to Lee dynasty might be sent home. Not to mention, the education system with its 'quotas' and 'numbers' might be changed- also, the minority race leader might even start speaking to media in his/her own language! Unthinkable!

Of course, our milky friend (last three letters, note also allusion to immaturity) might argue that he has continued practices like the historic usage of Malay in the armed forces. What rubbish. That is the only such practice that I know of and also the Malay commands spoken there are intermingled with all kinds of dialect and grunting sounds- not like anything that would be spoken across the Causeway or even beyond St. John island.

Yes you saw the word 'dialect' in there. Apparently the 'speak Mandarin' campaigns have not gone far enough as people are reverting to their old ways of speech. Imagine how difficult it must be for someone like me to understand what is going on here. I am English educated, speak Malayalam sometimes at home, started learning Tamil in school,then learned Mandarin by compulsion, expected commands in basic Malay and then had to deal with a sixth language. What a country. In any case I am leaving for Chennai next week (hence I feel safe to write this) - I wouldn't be surprised if I find it much safer than Singapore. Not to mention hospitable to people with my skin color and language abilities.

A final note that I don't want this to be taken as a polemic against all Chinese people, that would be atrocious and fully as bad as what I am condemning. Which is the favouritism that has gone into the Chinese language in Singapore with the backing of all relevant authorities despite three other official languages being present. Note please that there is no Tamil in this long comment of mine... :)