11/16/2005

speak mandarin campaign, a tentative moment

every year around this time when the speak mandarin campaign is launched, my non chinese friends would feel a little uneasy. there is a little tentativeness in our daily contacts. to the minorities, a speak mandarin campaign always evokes that kind of unfamiliar feelings, that the majority are at it again. singapore is going to be a chinese country. mandarin is emphasised again. and who knows, it may become our national language, replacing english. the sensitivity and apprehension over the speak mandarin campaign is expected. can't say it is understandable after so many years and explanations of why there is a need to conduct this campaign. it is to rebuild the cultural ballast into a people that has lost it. many chinese in singapore have lost that chineseness in them. from a certain perspective it is good, becoming more singaporean and more international. but from another angle, it undercuts all the roots and history of that person, what he is or was. this, among all races, not looking at it from a racist viewpoint, is not a welcome thing as the person no longer knows who he is. he loses his bearing once he has lost his anchor to a fixed point, like a ship floating aimlessly in the ocean. it is ok as long as it is moving and heading towards a destination. but a time will come when it has to come to rest and not able to settle down in a place. the 'who am i' question will pop up sooner or later. the majority of the chinese in the republic are very comfortable in the english language and western culture. and this is seen as undesirable if it goes too far. the govt feels that it is important to arrest this slide and a speak mandarin campaign becomes a tool to serve this purpose. there are also other reasons for it. the economic reason for facilitating communication and commerce are most often quoted. but speaking mandarin will only be a social and commercial interest. singapore will forever be an english speaking nation, a language that is a leveller to all the races. the minorities should have no fear on this regard. they are not expected or force to speak mandarin. why no speak tamil campaign or speak malay campaign? if there is an erosion in the two communities with the same problems facing the chinese community, i think their leaders will raise the issue at the appropriate time to protect the identities and cultural ballasts of the respective comunities.

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