Narcissus' Echo

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Wednesday, June 15, 2005

English: a pluralistic language & ersatz fools

If anyone recalls my rant against using Rap to teach better English on a certain city-island-state, here's an excerpt of an interesting article examining the linguistic phenonmenon of Singlish:

The birth of a particle: know in Colloquial Singapore English

LIONEL WEE (Department of English Language and Literature. Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences. National University of Singapore. Block AS5, 7 Arts Link, S(117570), Republic of Singapore)

ABSTRACT: The discourse marker you know has been widely noted and analyzed in different varieties of English. However, it is less widely recognized that Colloqual Singapore English (CSE), in addition to the marker you know, has also developed the particle know. This paper provides data showing that know has distributional and collocational properties that distinguish it from you know, even though their discourse-pragmatic functions are similar. The differences between you know and know indicate that the latter has become a member of a linguistic category, referred to in this paper as the discourse particle. This category is exemplified by more familiar forms such as lah, lor, and meh. The paper suggests that the mechanism by which know has joined other particles is that of analogical change, made possible because (1) CSE already contains a rich inventory of such particles, and (2) it is a pro-drop language. The first feature motivates the extraction of a category where members are monosyllabic, occur in clause-final position, and perform discourse-pragmatic functions. You know possesses two of the three characteristics, but is excluded because it is not monosyllabic. However, the pro-drop feature allows the monosyllabic know to emerge and join the category of discourse particles.


Colloqual Singapore English (CSE) contains a number of discourse particles whose functions have been investigated in a number of different works (Gupta, 1992; Pakir, 1992; Platt, 1987; Wee, 2002; Wong, 1994). Probably the best known and most widely discussed of these particles is lah (Platt and Weber, 1980; Richards and Tay, 1977; Tongue, 1974). Typically found in clause-final position, the particles are syntactically optional in their omission does not affect the grammaticality of the sentence as shown below.

a. He also likes oranges (wat).
b. She angry (mah).
c. The soup is hot (meh)?
d. Don't go there (lah).
e. Buy the book (lor).

However, the particles might be said to serve more discourse-pragmatic functions. For example, the Internet edition of the Oxford English Dictionary (2000) describes lah as "a particle used with various kinds of pitch to convey the mood and attitude of the speaker,' giving examples like Come with us, lah to indicate persuasion, Wrong, lah to show annoyance, and No, lah to demonstrate strong objection. Similarly, Wee (2002) argues that the particle lor acts as a "resignative," conveying the speaker's belief that a particular course of action is unavoidable, and Wong (1994: 57) suggests that wat is used by the speaker to signal that a piece of information contradicts and assumption held by the hearer. In a discussion of the particles lah and lor, Pakir (1992: 143) points out that they "express emotive attitudes of the speakers, and in this way, could be described as adding pragmatic meaning to sentence meaning."

(Source: World Englishes: Journal of English as an International and Intranational Language 22: 1 (2003): 5-13. Boston: Blackwell.)

As much as I find myself detesting it, Singlish possesses a richness and complexity of its own. How is the "English" in Rap and Ebonics superior to Singlish? By attempting to switch the younger population's mode/type of English through this manner, the authorities are merely trading one type of pidgin for another, and losing the badge of authenticity in the process.

Look, since it is already a given that you lack the socio-histori-cultural courage to embrace originality, and have resigned yourselves to be mimic men (and women) instead, at least find a better model to mimic?


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