In a tutorial class earlier this week, we watched a video of millennials’ attitudes towards Singlish (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XzKurDAZGKw), with the tutor’s original intention to show it escaping my memory. But I remember being quite annoyed at a particular question that the street interviewer asked, which was “Do you think Singlish can be considered a language of its own – why or why not?” In and of itself, perhaps there is nothing wrong with this question. However from my perspective, I found it incredibly fascinating because to me the question is extremely complex, particularly because is not easy to define what a language is; even among professional linguists there is still considerable debate. And yet, this street interviewer made it seem like it the answer could be boiled down into a snappy reply as he queried his respondents. Unsurprisingly, two of the answers given “Yes, because we have our own authentic taste and the way we communicate is very different. So when we say one or two phrases or sentences, usually we can catch it quickly.” and “I don’t think so. We cannot use it with people who visit Singapore.” did not come close to answering the question. However on the bright side, there was one “It’s not really a language because it is a rojak of English, Chinese and Malay” which did.
My unease at this question was symptomatic of a far greater problem, which was the problems I face in day to day communication because of my disconnect with the how people understand words, and also what they expect when they ask questions. For example, the “liberal intelligentsia” (Stewart Lee comedy vehicle reference) like Yuxuan would have no problems when I ask what they mean by “simple” words like color, because they understand or at least are aware of the complexity, nuances and different conceptualizations. On the other hand, conversations with bimbos like S highlight the vast disparity and disconnect between our understanding of language.
[Five of us are playing one of the most stupid games that I have ever played, “black magic”]
Me: Your jacket and the lampshade are of the same color. Blue.
S: (Launches into a pre-prepared mini speech) No! Blah blah blah men only see one color blah blah blah there is baby blue, coral blue…
Me: (despondently) What I mean is all the different variants you mention are essentially the same color. They are different shades/tints of blue. Or are you referring to another color theory?
I am struggling to conclude this post, and the only way I can think of is to wish that more students can be like Yuxuan, who can argue that perhaps it is a positive sign that contemporary phrases like “Lit af” have the benefit of being able to represent different nuances of emotions and adjectives, whilst (and this is the crucial part) possessing knowledge of those specific nuances. And this will lead nicely into a future post about ignorance.