I became aware of the Speak Good English campaign here in Singapore when it was advertised on the side of a double-decker bus. Unfortunately I didn’t get a chance to take a photo - but it did make me hit the internet and learn about this government project that’s been running since the turn of the millennium.
Singapore has a recognised local variety of English, often referred to as Singlish (which I will write about sooner or later). The Good English movement aims to get people to move towards a more internationally recognised standard of English use. The website is full of information on common errors, correct pronunciation, and words people mix up. Although I couldn’t get the answers for the online quiz, it gives a good idea of the kinds of errors they’re keen to remove from Singaporean’s English usage.
Here at Superlinguo, we try and get people to chill when it comes to grammar and accents. There’s so much variety, and trying to bully people into using the variety you think is best can leave them feeling second-rate, even if their language is use perfectly consistent and used by a whole community.
Having said that though, the situation isn’t always so simple. Singapore has adopted English as the language of mainstream education and much daily communication partly because of its (British) Colonial past, and partly to provide a common language for the Chinese, Malayans and Indians who all call this nation home. Even Singaporeans who are fluent native speakers of English have assumptions made about their English competency, as illustrated by this conversation written about by my friend Amos - who speaks a highly standardised English.
In many ways, being able to tell people to appreciate language variation is a position of privilege. You have to be sufficiently comfortable with your own variety of language, and where that places you in the world. I’m not necessarily saying the Speak Good English movement is the only answer, but I think its enduring presence says a lot about Singapore, language variation and just how closely linguistic prestige is linked to identity and power.
[Image via Wikimedia - but I’m still determined to get a photo of that bus!]