There was a recent buzz in Singapore over comments made by the leaders of the country, encouraging the usage of mandarin and saying that learning or maintaining of other languages; specifically dialects, hinders the learning process of children and thus preventing them from being proficiently bilingual in English and Mandarin.
Such comments (or any comment by the government actually) stirs the hearts of many Singaporeans, especially those who are fluent in English, Mandarin and other dialects in which they treasure.
I suck at mandarin and it’s no wonder, considering the environment that I was brought up in. My parents and relatives speak English dominantly and throughout school life, I formed a pretty high resistance towards learning Mandarin and it came to the point of hating the language during a certain phase. The reasoning behind leaving a trail of blank Mandarin spelling test papers and frustrated Mandarin teachers was that English is the world’s universal language. Why should I waste time learning Mandarin when I use English to answer 10 of my other subjects. My computer games were in English, newspapers and magazines were in English, most of my friends spoke in English, I use English if I met a foreigner or somebody of another race. Hell, I even think in English.
If I felt so strongly about not needing Mandarin in my life, imagine how dialects are to me. Dialects to me, were used to communicate with the older generation and the occasional swearing I need to have a place amongst the cool ah bengs and ah lians. Apart from that, there wasn’t much reasons to pick up dialects at all.
Some people argued about the statements of our leaders that if the older generation is able to be multilingual, why not the younger ones? Some lamented that dialects contain rich heritage and shouldn’t be allowed to die off. Some pointed at our roots and called shame upon us for not speaking the language of our forefathers.
Seriously, what’s the point of preserving more languages?
Frankly, I would prefer everyone in the world to just pick up one language as it improves consistency and it would really help us understand one another better. But in the real world, there is just too much culture and tradition in languages such as dialects. Having them die off may be a pity. And I do find myself in many situations when my lack of proficiency in Mandarin or Hokkien left me frustrated.
But, isn’t it easier to learn just one language that is widely adopted than to learn many?
Are the reasons for preserving languages more important than a step towards one, universal language for the sake of peace?
*insert Miss Universe music*