Facebook user Ching Leong on Oct 9 shared a picture of a slide from literary critic and poet Dr Gwee Li Sui’s presentation on Spiaking Singlish. Her post has now gone viral with over 6,000 shares on Facebook.
The slide showed how the meanings of “I don’t have” can change just by adding a Singlish word at the end.
One of the Facebook users who shared the picture of the poet’s slide is Ho Ching. Ho Ching is the wife of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and the head of sovereign wealth fund Temasek.
Dr Gwee was quick to capitalise on Ho Ching’s sharing of his slide to promote his book.
Singlish is a patchwork patois of Singapore’s state languages — English, Malay, Mandarin and Tamil — as well as Hokkien, Cantonese, Bengali and a few other tongues. Its syntax is drawn partly from Chinese, partly from South Asian languages.
Dr Gwee drew a sharp rebuttal from PM Lee in 2016, after he wrote an opinion piece for the New York Times titled, ‘Do you speak Singlish‘. In his article Dr Gwee pointed out how Singapore’s political leaders have begun to use Singlish publicly in recent years (often in strategic attempts to connect with the masses) despite vilifying the language.
In rebutting Dr Gwee’s piece, the press secretary for the Prime Minister took issue with Dr Gwee’s attempt to make “light of the government’s efforts to promote the mastery of standard English by Singaporeans”.
The press secretary Chang Li Lin said: “Using Singlish will make it harder for Singaporeans to learn and use standard English.” She also pointed out that Dr Gwee is promoting Singlish over English from a position of privilege.
“Not everyone has a Ph.D. in English Literature like Mr. Gwee, who can code-switch effortlessly between Singlish and standard English, and extol the virtues of Singlish in an op-ed written in polished standard English.”
Dr Gwee’s book ‘Speaking Singlish‘ is possibly the first book on Singlish written entirely in Singlish, complete with colloquial spelling.