Posted in Uncategorized

Of train announcements in Mandarin in mulricultural Singapore : by Alfian Sa’at

The trial period for bilingual train announcements in Singapore is over.

For readers who are not from Singapore, here is a quick summary : Singapore is  a multiracial society with people of other tongues other than Chinese. The government has recognised 4 official languages, with English being used in government establishments and schools, among other institutions. So any singling out of Mandarin above other languages is not going to be well-received, even if it is for something seemingly small – like train announcements.

For readers from Singapore, of the many similar opinions on this issue, I have picked out these fb status updates below by Alfian Sa’at. I think they articulately represent one perspective of the minority groups, especially the Malays, on this (and other similar) issues.


Nov 30 :
I have never disparaged the Chinese languages. I have in fact often admired the lyricism of Mandarin, the earthiness of Hokkien, the sauciness of Cantonese (and its inventive street slangs)–from the few words I know. These languages have their cognitive beauty and their charm. What I am concerned about is the Singapore state’s aggressive promotion of Mandarin and a monolingual Mandarin environment, which will eventually alienate non-Mandarin speakers, and raise troubling questions about favouritism and fairness. Tied in with the language is Singapore’s own increasingly pro-Beijing orientation, which serves the state’s interests since both countries practise authoritarian capitalism: which promote the free market of goods without a corresponding free market of ideas. While the rest of Southeast-Asia is democratising, I don’t want to see Singapore lagging behind in reforms and cultivating a ‘special relationship’ with China that might allow it to justify and defend its own brand of autocratic government. As there are Southeast Asian Muslims who have evolved independently from Mideast influence, I do believe in the existence of Southeast Asian Chinese who have also evolved independently from China’s influence–more comfortable in plural societies, less hung up on a Han central identity and superiority, more accommodating, laidback, tolerant.
Another one :
Whenever being ‘Singaporean’ stops making sense, I take refuge in the fact that I am one of the 250 million Malay/Bahasa Malaysia/Bahasa Indonesia-speaking people of the Nusantara (or the archipelago; nusa=island, antara=between). My brothers and sisters, ‘Singapore’ is just an artificial corporatist creation…we only need look beyond its borders to be greeted with smiles and to recognise who we truly are. 🙂

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