Wednesday, February 5, 2014


I have often noticed that those who pride themselves as the guardian and watchdog of standard English in Singapore don't really know much about the language in the first place. They have no knowledge of grammar and usage but what they seem to have (at least some of them) and in abundance too is an aversion to anything Singaporean. When they see any sign or poster in Singapore, they are very quick to assume it contains non-standard English. The question that is always on their lips is, "Are foreigners (who use standard English) able to understand what we say?" That is the main goal of the Speak Good English Movement - that we must speak a language that is understood by foreigners from other English-speaking countries.

That is a lofty goal and nobody can fault them for it. My only complaint is simply that they are not qualified to teach Singaporeans English, and I have shown enough evidence of it in my various blog posts, two very recent posts of which can be found here and here.

What happens when our language watchdog sees a public sign? The first thing he does is to ask himself if it's "typically Singaporean". If it is, I suspect he will immediately dismiss it as Singaporean pidgin English or "Singlish" and insist that it be re-written in what he understands as standard English. This is probably what happened when our language watchdog encountered the sign "STICK NO BILLS" in Singapore.

I attach here a photograph from page 27 of ENGLISH AS IT IS BROKEN, a book published by the Speak Good English Movement and the Ministry of Education whose "panel of English Language specialists" were generous enough "to answer and comment on the questions and queries sent in by the public".

As you can see, this is a sign by the Land Transport Authority . The panel of English Language experts from the Ministry of Education state quite categorically that it is quite common to see this sign in Singapore but the language is "not something that a foreigner would be able to understand".

I really don't know what to say. Don't the language experts from the Ministry of Education travel or read books that aren't published in Singapore? Some things are just too stupid for words.  I will just say it all in pictures.

Here is a 19th century cartoon.

A street boy is warning another boy not to stick bills on the walls because of the STICK NO BILLS sign (see top right hand corner). I don't think the language experts from the Ministry of Education will say this is a Singaporean cartoon and the street is Change Alley in the 19th century?

Here's another photo of the Royal Academy of Music in London.  Look at the red arrow I've drawn on the photo.

It's of course possible that they were expecting hordes of Singaporean tourist who might just stick bills on their walls and a bit of Singlish wouldn't harm, would it?

And here are examples of STICK NO BILLS signs posted all over India. I like the second sign that also prohibits spitting. I wish I could say it's a sign found in China and increase my list of countries where Singlish is used but no, it's from India.

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