So I saw yesterday's Today article asnd decided that, well.... Even though I said that I would try a deontological stance in my criticism, since no one is actually being coerced, and since our tax rate isnt really that bad either, a more technocratic approach wouldnt be too bad. So here is me ranting away at speak mandarin policy
Seriously, there are a variety of ways ways we could criticise this. Now, Lee Kuan Yew makes the claim that students will learn english anyway even if both parents speak mandarin at home The government has said quite repeatedly that Chinese Singaporeans' command of mandarin has decreased. (The assumption of course is that their command of english is so much better. In fact MM said that the local environment is predominantly english speaking). Lets say that we take the government at their word: That standards of mandarin in society really have fallen.
What does this show? That 30 years of Speak Mandarin Campaign by the government was inneffective. All that money spent on all those posters. All those trees cut down to print those posters. All that ink wasted. This does not look good for the PAP government.
But let's say that no, the PAP is wrong about this. Let's say that a large fragment of society actually is more conversant in mandarin than in english. Im an Indian guy. I dont speak mandarin. Its been 44 years since PAP came into power. Give it at least 35 years since PAP's Bilingual policy in schools. (Actually it is likely to be longer) Yet, I have difficulty communicating with many of the coffeeshop/canteen aunties and uncles. If I am not mistaken, these are our average singaporean, our heartlanders, our salt of the earth... If they cannot string together a sentence in english, isnt asking parents to speak mandarin at home counterproductive?
We do not have to assume that if people's mandarin is poor, their english must be good. (Though what language they will speak in if they do not know mandarin, dialect or english, I dont know.) Let's say that both mandarin and english are poor. Which language should the government prioritise? Mandarin?? Its not like it is actually the mother tongue right? For a lot of chinese singaporeans, the dialect is the mother tongue. For oppurtunities with China? Maybe, but not all local chinese will be going to china for business. Unless we are considering merging with china to create some greater china, there is not reason why all local chinese should be fluent in mandarin. English, is still the lingua franca of the world. It is the means of communication between the races. People in China are trying to pick up english so that they can trade with the rest of the world. Moreover, for simply communicating in mandarin with PRCs, the current level of proficiency seems fine. However, the current level of spoken english in Singapore is abyssymal. In fact, even with the rise of china, english is still going to play a major role in society. However, to imagine that our Singlish is sufficient to communicate with an increasingly cosmopolitan society is laughable. Our government, if it is in the business of telling people what to speak at home, should be telling them to speak English, which is far more useful in communicating to people of all ethnicities instead of just people from china, tiwan and hong kong.
By the way, this brings up a related issue. People get so caught up in the speak mandarin campaign, if the government cares about the cultural wellbeing of all of its citizens, where is speak tamil campaign? Where is speak malay campaign? In fact, my experiences with the speak mandarin campaign have been negative. I went to Anderson Secondary School. In casual conversations, my chinese friends would quickly revert to speaking mandarin even though I was part of the conversation. This usually ended up with me asking for translations. (Ok, I'll assume for courtesy's sake that my friends weren't talking about me behind my back) During CHinese New Year Celebrations in school, the whole concert was conducted in mandarin without translations. I didnt even bother asking for translations this time. What for, I'm Indian, an ethnic minority, I should resign myself to second class citizen status right? (Please, if you cannot get the sarcasm in the previous sentence, take a long look in the mirror: You are either stupid or racist or both) To keep it short, there was more of the same in the army and even in University. I'm not accusing people, who forget and speak chinese while conversing with non chinese, racist. I'm saying that the Speak Mandarin policy, by default, creates a society that marginalises minorities. It makes it harder for us to mix with people of other races.
Weird thing: MM said that as the trends were going, Mandarin would become the mother tongue in 2 generations. Remember guys, the role of the mother tongue is supposedly to be the language of traditional culture, to allow us tohave the best of both worlds, i.e. to modernise without absorbing western decadence (fat chance) by keeping the so called language of tradition and morality. So, what the hell is mandarin doing if it is not the mother tongue. And how does changing the mother tongue from dialect to mandarin keep our vaunted traditions. And if we are ok with our mothertongue changing, whats wrong with letting it change to english while we are at it. Just to retain an asian flavour? If we want to sell out, why not sell out for the biggest buck. lets become the type of singaporean who barely knows his tradtions, who eats at burger king and mcdonalds all the time, who speaks with a fake american accent (like Robin Leong) and to top it off, talks like a mixture of Amnesty International and Chee Soon Juan: talks a lot about rights and freedoms, but don't have an inkling of what they mean.Finally, the big question, what business is it of the government's what we do at home. I earlier said that it was not coercive. But, my point is 2 fold. First, what consenting adults do within their own house is nobody else's business but theirs. They can use their mouths for anything, stick whatever body parts they have anywhere they want etc. Secondly, I want to put forward a fairly radical notion (in the Singaporean context) for consideration: A government has no business in providing any substantive good to its citizens. All, a government can do is provide a formal good. In future posts, I will aim to elucidate what is a formal good, and what is a substantive good. And we will actually deal with the proposition. It is worth considering at least because it consists of a truly radical secularism: A spearation between all substantive good and the state, not just religion.
Next post: Morality