I eavesdrop a lot. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t press my ear to people’s doors or tap cellphones like the Australian spy agencies did to Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and his wife. I eavesdrop when I’m moving about in public and people are having conversations openly and very audibly. So I just listen and observe with no guilt.
The other day I listened in on a conversation between three teenagers who truly epitomised Singaporean linguistic habits. Singaporeans do not just code-switch a lot (switching from one language to another). They code-mix too, jumbling two, three or even more languages and dialects into each sentence.
Here’s a small sample of what the teens said:
我的 friend 说…
你可以选 day 的吗?
Given our socio-cultural milieu, it is perfectly understandable that Singaporeans speak in such a linguistically multifarious manner. We are multicultural, schooled in a bilingual education system and live in a gateway between East and West. However, if we entertain any hopes at all of mastering a language, any language, we need to curb our code-mixing tendencies. I would strongly encourage all students to purify their language, that is, to try to speak in a less linguistically mixed way but in purer English, Chinese, Malay, Tamil, or whatever language you speak. And even when we code-mix, let us try not to mix too much or too recklessly. There is a fine line between a rich, diverse blend of languages and a dreadful, disjointed, uncultured mess.
Hence the aforementioned teenagers could perhaps consider saying what they said in pure English or Chinese, ie
My friend said…
Can you choose the day?
Diversity in language can be rich and colourful, but purity is important too. Just as you wouldn’t recklessly mix different kinds of food together (imagine dipping a prata into a bowl of sliced fish soup), you shouldn’t recklessly mix languages together either. Language is a cultural treasure, formed in the crucible of centuries of human culture, creativity, thought and refinement. We must respect it.
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