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Fictitious mothers and Chinese language diversity
Thread poster: R. A. Stegemann

R. A. Stegemann
Saudi Arabia
Local time: 01:31
German to English
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Mar 10, 2004

Welcome!

I have opened this forum with a very specific purpose in mind. As I can see how it could easily be expanded to attract a larger audience; however, I have provided it with a general heading that can accommodate a wide variety of comments. If it should become to unwieldly, we can always go our separate ways and create new forum topics. Please write in English wherever possible, so that I may follow my own forum easily. I am only a very knowledgeable beginner of one Chinese language -- Cantonese.

The Singaporean government advertises that Singaporean students must study English and a mother tongue while in primary and secondary school. What the government calls a mother tongue is either Chinese, Malay, or Tamil. Although I am not familiar with Malay or Tamil, after a limited discussion on the English-Chinese Kudoz bulletin board I have nearly concluded that very many, but not all, Singaporean children are learning two second languages in school. With regard to most Chinese-Singaporeans the two second languages are English and Mandarin (Beijing Chinese).

If this is the case, then the language hurdle that Chinese Singaporean children must overcome is indeed very high, and many are not getting over it -- hence, the development of Singlish, a kind of Singaporean English that is barely intelligible outside of Singapore. Surely, a similar phenomenon is occurring with regard to classroom-acquired Mandarin -- namely, 華文.

I am aware of no fewer than seven different Chinese languages spoken in Singapore. From most frequent to least frequent these include Min Nan, Yue (Hong Kong Cantonese), Mandarin, Hakka, Min Dong, Pu-Xian, and Min Bei. Indeed, only those speakers of Mandarin, who make up about 10 percent of the entire population of Singapore are learning their mother-tongue in school. The problem, of course, is what happens to the remaining 65% of all Chinese Singaporeans whose mother tongues are not Mandarin. Some important problems to consider in this regard are the following:

1) Are Singaporean Mandarin teachers native speakers of Mandarin, or are they teaching some sort of hermetically recycled Singlese (Singaporean Mandarin)?

2) What is the medium of instruction for Chinese Singaporean learners of Chinese Mandarin? Is it Mandarin or one's own Chinese mother tongue?

3) In what language are non-language related subjects taught. Are Chinese Singaporeans learning mathematics in English, Mandarin, or their own mother tongue?

Obviously these questions address only a few of the problems related to language education in Singapore. Obviously these problems affect far many more Chinese than simply those living in Singapore. Certainly I am welcome to insight in this regard from all areas of the globe where Chinese is taught as a mother tongue, when it is in fact something very different.

Sinerely,
Hamo


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Denyce Seow  Identity Verified
Singapore
Local time: 00:31
Member (2004)
Chinese to English
Mandarin in Singapore Mar 10, 2004

Hi Hamo,

I guess as a Singaporean-Chinese, I should drop a line here to clarify some of your doubts:

1) Are Singaporean Mandarin teachers native speakers of Mandarin, or are they teaching some sort of hermetically recycled Singlese (Singaporean Mandarin)?

Our Mandarin teachers are definitely qualified in teaching the language. They teach in pure Mandarin and not "hermetically recycled Singlese" (whatever that is). When I was doing my Higher Chinese, I took Chinese literature as my other Chinese subject and some of the stuff I learned in class were 文言文,散文,唐宋诗词, etc. I guess some subjects cannot be taught with "hermetically recycled Singlese", can they???

Oh, if you have heard of 大专辩论会 (International Varsity Debates), you'll know that Singapore universities have carved themselves a good name there.


2) What is the medium of instruction for Chinese Singaporean learners of Chinese Mandarin? Is it Mandarin or one's own Chinese mother tongue?

Mandarin. I don't really know what you mean by "Chinese mother tongue". As it is right now, Singaporeans are having difficulty identifying which is their "mother tongue" (either English or Chinese). We speak dialects (Hokkein, Hakka, Cantonese, Teochew, etc) at home, with friends or when you're at the hawker center buying sugar cane juice. You'll not hear these dialects in a classroom.


3) In what language are non-language related subjects taught. Are Chinese Singaporeans learning mathematics in English, Mandarin, or their own mother tongue?

Except for Mandarin classes and any classes related to Chinese, all subjects are taught in English.


I do not think it is the education system which is screwing the Singaporean's languages. It is the society which we live in that does the damage. Singapore is a salad bowl which holds so many races and cultures. I grew up speaking four languages so sometimes I get really messed up with everything. I'm sure you've heard of SINGLISH. It is the result of such mix-up. We put English words into our Chinese sentence structure, e.g. "You go where?", "Eat already or not?" Personally, I do not approve of Singlish but it is a language that Singaporeans are comfortable with.

Okie, I have a class in 10 minutes so I have to end here. Just feel free to shoot if you have anymore questions.

Denyce


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R. A. Stegemann
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Singapore's majority and EM1 streamers Mar 10, 2004

Hermetically recycled Mandarin (Singlese) would be similar to hermetically recycled English (Singlish) -- namely, second languages that are transferred from teachers with insufficient mother tongue exposure to students, who later become teachers with equally insufficient mother tongue exposure.

I thank you for your contribution, Denyce, but unfortunately it was exactly the kind of response one could expect from someone who has passed through Singapore's EM1 filter.

It is easy for a nation's educational system to skim off top talent, provide it with the best education possible, and then show it off to the rest of the world as a finished product. It is quite another to educate an entire nation in a second language.

In a nation such as Singapore where the English language becomes an entry requirement to higher education, those who do not excel in it are immediately relegated to the middle or bottom. As a result they lose their desire to learn English and their teachers lose their desire to teach it to them. The end-product is Singlish. One cannot blame an entire society for that result -- only a government that makes English a requirement for advanced education.

What I am trying to understand is how this same phenomenon plays out in Mandarin.

Before responding again please read my intitial contribution to this forum. A native Cantonese speaker in Hong Kong cannot understand Putonghua (Mandarin) without special training. The same goes for Mandarin speakers who come to Hong Kong with no previous knowledge of Cantonese. Although they are both called Chinese in English, they are two very different, mutually unintelligible languages. Thus, if all Singaporeans are taught -- well at least nominally -- Chinese Mandarin, the only Singaporeans who can say that they study their mother tongue are those who were brought up with Mandarin in their homes.

The very fact that you call yourself a Singaporean Chinese rather than a Chinese Singaporean indicates either of three things: a misunderstanding of the English language, a preference for being Chinese over a Singaporean, or just plain carelessness when speaking about the subject in an international forum. I will let you explain where you fall into any of these three categories, or some other that you might well invent.

Now back to a more objective world. Have you ever heard of mix-coding? It commonly occurs in classrooms where the textbooks are written in one language and the instruction is given in another. What occurs is that the vocabulary of the textbook replaces the vocabulary of the language in which the textbook is taught, but the grammar of the language used for teaching is retained. In your own experience as an EM1 streamer did mix coding occur in any of your classes? You need not speak on behalf of those who have passed through the EM2 and EM3 streams unless of course you know some very well. Even then, please avoid over generalization.

In a population of well over 2,000,000 people with 21 different languages one should neither expect nor try to enforce complete uniformity.


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ysun  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 11:31
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you'd better be more polite! Mar 13, 2004

Hamo,

Denyce is just trying to help you! There is no point to argue about if she was wrong to call herself a “Singaporean Chinese”, especially when everybody is busy. I am a naturalized U.S. citizen. I don't care whether people would call me Chinese American or not, and I would still proudly call myself a Chinese! Anything wrong with that?

I have noticed that your have posted quite a few Kudoz questions on this site. For that type of Chinese language in that kind of level, a Chinese > English translator like you would nee a lot of help from other translators like Denyce. So, you'd better be more polite to such a young lady. Maybe, it was simply “carelessness when speaking about the subject in an international forum”. There are some common Chinese proverbs for such a behavior of attacking someone who just tried to help you with her warm heart. You may want to find out what they are! It will also help you in learning Chinese. Thank you!

Frankly yours,

Yueyin Sun


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Kevin Yang  Identity Verified
Local time: 09:31
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Let’s invite all the opinions with an open-mind Mar 14, 2004

Hello, Hamo, denyce, and Yueyin

Thank you for the discussion as I always do! Each of your inputs contributes in a unique way and helps to build the Chinese Forum as a platform where high quality and academically challenged discussions are being held and carried on. I have been reading your messages posted in this folder. I found they are informative and interesting. I have to admit that this is an area I have been ignorant about and did not put much thought in the past. I want to jump in now to add my input is because I would like to see more inputs from other translators and linguists before it gets side-tracked.

It seems to me that Hamo is well-informed about Singapore and its education system. I have very little knowledge about this country. The only thing I know about Singapore is that it still practices caning legally and can get away from many things that the American Congress would be so raged and would want to bomb the lights out if they were done in China. For a small country with such a diverse collection of nationalities and languages, I can imagine it must be a headache to make the clear cut that could make everyone there happy. I believe whatever is implemented there is for the best interest of and approved by the majority people there. If you really want to know something ridiculous and silly, I heard that some scholars in Taiwan are pushing the local government to make English as their official language. The new word such as Taiglish might be in use soon.

I know we have a few translators from Singapore who are active members at ProZ.com. Denyce is the best ambassador from Singapore. When you talk about something in Singapore, the discussion would be much more complete if we can hear the opinions of the Singapore people. If you are interested in something that is more specific or something that other people did not pick up from your message, then re-phrase your question and ask it again. From my observation, Denyce is very well educated and have a good command of Chinese and English, more importantly she cares about other people and has an up beat attitude. Let’s moderate our tone of voices and invite all the opinions with an open-mind.

Cheers!

Kevin

P.S.

If anyone wants to use Chinese characters in this thread, please be sure to use Chinese Unicode(UTF-8 ) setting. Right now the Chinese codes used in this thread is getting messy.


[Edited at 2004-03-14 01:58]


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R. A. Stegemann
Saudi Arabia
Local time: 01:31
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Source, representation, values, and content Mar 14, 2004

Kevin Yang wrote:

Hello, Hamo, denyce, and Yueyin

Thank you for the discussion as I always do! Each of your inputs contributes in a unique way and helps to build the Chinese Forum as a platform where high quality and academically challenged discussions are being held and carried on....

For a small country with such a diverse collection of nationalities and languages, I can imagine it must be a headache to make the clear cut that could make everyone there happy. I believe whatever is implemented there is for the best interest of and approved by the majority people there.

If you really want to know something ridiculous and silly, I heard that some scholars in Taiwan are pushing the local government to make English as their official language. The new word such as Taiglish might be in use soon....

When you talk about something in Singapore, the discussion would be much more complete if we can hear the opinions of the Singapore people...

If anyone wants to use Chinese characters in this thread, please be sure to use Chinese Unicode(UTF-8 ) setting. Right now the Chinese codes used in this thread is getting messy. [Edited at 2004-03-14 01:58]


Thank you for making an appearance Kevin. It was very kind of you.

I am not at all sure what is happening in Singapore is approved by the majority of the people. My impression of Singaporean democracy is a democracy of, for, and by the elite. It appears to resemble very much the kind practiced in ancient Rome and in Hong Kong -- not the democracies of the modern West. I have heard this from Singaporeans in Japan and even from Singapore's former prime minister here in Hong Kong. No, he did not use these words, but his message was so obvious. Moreover, my recent investigation into the Singaporean educational system confirms this view.

Unfortunately, the Singaporean voices that we hear in international forums such as this are for more likely to be voices like those of Denyce -- EM1 streamers; rather than the voices of the majority of the Singaporean people. This is not to say that Denyce's voice is not important; simply, that her view is overrepresented in the international community. This is because it is the well-educated Singaporeans that we, who do not live in Singapore, are most likely to meet, read about, and hear.

Although still a beginner of Cantonese, I find little resemblence between spoken Cantonese and the Putonghua spoken by visiting mainlanders. Moreover, in the Hong Kong subway and train systems, the automated telephone answering services, and the bank selection menus, everything is provided in three languages: Cantonese, Putonghua, and English. Which comes first depends on the provider and nature of the service. Nevertheless, the Singapore government is trying to sell standard Chinese as a "mother tongue" to all ethnic Chinese and the outside world. In contrast Beijing Mandarin does appear to be a mother tongue either for the majority of Singaporeans, or the majority of Singaporeans with Chinese ethnicity.

I am only familiar with Cantonese, thus I depend on others to help me with my understanding of other Chinese dialects. This is the reason I introduced this forum.

Many Chinese want to appear to the outside world as a single people with a unified language, culture, and history. Such an attitude is insulting and counterproductive to those of us, both Chinese and non-Chinese, who are trying to understand China, the Chinese people, and their culture -- no matter where in the world they might live.

Finally, what some might consider impolite, others might find refreshingly frank. I too, appreciate intelligence, but I also appreciate the values that motivate that intelligence. As you are probably well aware, the people are the servants of government in East Asia -- not the other way around. Well, this at least what most government officials that I have met appear to believe. Certainly the activity of the East Asian governments that I know well, does little to disconfirm this hypothesis. By the way, caning is a form of punishment; punishment varies from society to society. I would not mind being caned by any government for a wrong I have committed, if only I knew that I were fairly judged and those who performed the caning truly served my people. I would not want to wear the scars of a caning for my entire life knowing that I did not deserve them.

In the end, I would like to learn more about the so-called state-enforced mother tongues of Singapore and their effect on the lives of Chinese Singaporeans.

What language would you guess comes first on a Singaporean subway? My bet is first English, then Chinese Mandarin -- the mother tongues of very few Singaporeans.


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Denyce Seow  Identity Verified
Singapore
Local time: 00:31
Member (2004)
Chinese to English
From my point of view Mar 14, 2004

I'll be honest here... the reasons why I didn't answer Hamo's second posting were because:
1) I was too bogged down with work
2) I do not need such aggravation

I've explained what I have to about Singapore and I did it in good faith. I do not need to be branded as the EM1 streamer or elite. I am not a political person but what Hamo said about the Singapore government was not very kind. Hmm, I wonder if I report this to the Government, will he get into trouble??? Don't forget we caned Michael Fay in 1994 in spite of America's opposition. *wink* I am proud of my country. Look at Asia and look at Singapore in Asia. We've come a long way and we did good!!

Quote Hamo: "This is because it is the well-educated Singaporeans that we, who do not live in Singapore, are most likely to meet, read about, and hear."

Well, why don't you take a four hours flight to Singapore and go meet those people who are not "well educated"???? How can you say that my views are "over-presented in the international forum"?? I do not blast speeches on a loudspeaker and expect everyone to pay attention to me.

I maintain that Singaporeans can speak good English and Chinese. In fact, I always get praises from cab drivers, stall owners and students that my spoken Chinese is better than that of some native Chinese in China!! Believe it or not, I have students who are taking Hanyu classes because they only speak Changzhou dialect. Now Hamo, would you like to extend your discussion to include China?

I find it a waste of my time to discuss further on this topic. No matter what I explain or say, I'm pretty sure it would not get through to the other side.


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R. A. Stegemann
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In search of perspective... Mar 14, 2004

denyce wrote: I've explained what I have to about Singapore and I did it in good faith. I do not need to be branded as the EM1 streamer or elite. I am not a political person but what Hamo said about the Singapore government was not very kind....


You branded yourself, Denyce. No one knew that you were an EM1 streamer until you told the world.

For a non-politcal person you are certainly very pro-establishment.

denyce wrote: Quote Hamo: "This is because it is the well-educated Singaporeans that we, who do not live in Singapore, are most likely to meet, read about, and hear."

Well, why don't you take a four hours flight to Singapore and go meet those people who are not "well educated"???? How can you say that my views are "over-presented in the international forum"?? I do not blast speeches on a loudspeaker and expect everyone to pay attention to me.


Are you an EM1 streamer or are you not? Are you a Singaporean university student or are you not? Are you a pro-government advocate or are you not? Are you not a part of Singapore's Chinese ethnic community? None of these things are in and of themselves bad, but they have gone along way in defining a point of view shared by a minority of Singaporeans.

You do not have to broadcast your viewpoint. It is magnified many times by others that share the same attributes with which you brand yourself.

denyce wrote:I maintain that Singaporeans can speak good English and Chinese.


This is your opinion, and it is welcome. Please do not be offended by the fact that I have better identified the source.

Denyce, you do not live in a social vacuum. Your ideas are shared by others that have passed through the same system of education as you and in a manner similar to your own.

After EM1 streaming, might I venture to say that you were also streamed through secondary school as a special student, took the GCE O Level, entered into a junior college, took the GCE A Level, and entered one of three national universities, whereupon you selected the program of your choice? Now what do you have in common with 20% of other Singaporeans that 80% of the rest of Singaporean citizens do not share?

Do you realize how much more of Singapore's tax dollars went into your education, than went into that of say a Normal T graduate? That you are thankful and proud of your government only shows that you do not bite the hand that feeds you. It does not make you an expert on parents of the remaining 80% of Singaporean society that put you through school.

Certainly you know more about Singapore society than I or anyone else that has contributed to this forum, so far. Simply that you understand that you know it from a perspective that is different from 80% of your fellow countrymen and -women.

denyce wrote: In fact, I always get praises from cab drivers, stall owners and students that my spoken Chinese is better than that of some native Chinese in China!! Believe it or not, I have students who are taking Hanyu classes because they only speak Changzhou dialect. Now Hamo, would you like to extend your discussion to include China?


I am happy to hear that Singaporean taxi drivers, merchants, and students praise your Chinese. What I am wondering is why anyone would praise you unless they thought you needed more work. If your Mandarin Chinese were so good, no one would need to praise you. They would simply believe that you were a native speaker and nothing would be said.

By the way, I have not closed the discussion with regard to China. Simply, no one claiming Chinese citizenship has yet to enter into it.

denyce wrote: I find it a waste of my time to discuss further on this topic. No matter what I explain or say, I'm pretty sure it would not get through to the other side.


This excuse is no better than the second one with which you opened. Whatever you say will certainly get through. Simply it will not be received in the same way that you serve it up. Rather, it will be received in proper perspective.

In the end I find what you have to say informative, but if you are going to get anything out of this forum yourself, then you must also understand what is written. Taking what I say as a personal attack is both wrong and inappropriate. I am not attacking your person; rather, I am seeking to place your point of view in perspective.


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Kevin Yang  Identity Verified
Local time: 09:31
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Let抯 keep the emotion down, and bring the reasoning up. Mar 14, 2004

Hamo and Denyce,

I have never seen you debate something so passionate before. I think it would be much more beneficial to the readers if you can control the emotions to a level that is easier for people to carry on a discussion. Lets keep the emotion down, and bring the reasoning up.

Hamo, I do not see the necessity for you to be so strong on Denyce, who might possibly be a person who happened to be benefited from the current Singapore education system. It is not her fault to be an individual student under that system. I can understand she would defend it every way she can. Denyce is a serious researcher and translator with the flare of cheerful personality. To me, if an education system can bring out someone like that, I think something must be working right. We might get lucky to hear from someone else from Singapore, who can represent the voice of the victimized majority as you may call it. I encourage those who have the good understanding of Singapore education system and government speak out and give us the opportunity to hear something that might be silenced by the Singapore government or is different from what we have heard before.

The arguments Hamo presented here is quite long and scattered. Let me summarize them for the sake of easy comprehension. Please feel free to correct me if I am wrong or missed your points. According to what I read here, the core of Hamos argument is that the Singapore current EM1 streamers policy in its education system only caters a small percentage (20%) of the students who must have a good command of English and Mandarin Chinese. As for the majority (80%) of the children of the population who speak many other languages and dialects, they have been filtered out by this system and lost the opportunity to get ahead in education. Therefore the Singapores education system is unfair and should be reformed, because it only can take care of a small group of elites and miss out the majority. Denyce defended the Singapore education system and disagree with what Hamo is arguing here.

I am confused with one thing here is the Mandarin Chinese that Hamo mentioned. I speak perfect Mandarin Chinese and served as radio announcer from the primary school through university that I went to. But, that is only a dialect referring to the pronunciation and speaking style of the Han Chinese language. All the formal examinations in schools and universities do not test that (unless one is in the broadcasting major), but focus on the written Chinese which is fortunately to be the same regardless what dialects one speaks. When you mention Mandarin Chinese , do you mean the dialect or the written Han Chinese based on the grammars of this dialect, or both?

To me, I think it is wise for the government to utilize the limited education funds by focusing on the elites while giving the general attention to the rest of the students. This is what the Chinese government has been doing. Look at me if you may, I am not from any elite Chinese university or school. But I am as good as you can get. If there is someone from a Chinese elite university is better than me, I wish he or she can show me. My point is that school or program can help, but it does not mean the rest will no longer have any chance to get ahead. What I do not understand is that Singapore is such a small country with such small population comparing with China. Why it is necessary to do something like what Hamo described here?

I remember a famous quote from the Dream of Red Chamber, it says A large family has a large familys difficulties. By the same token, a small family also has to deal with its own unique difficulties and challenges that the outsider would have hard time to understand.

Cheers!

Kevin


[Edited at 2004-03-15 09:44]


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R. A. Stegemann
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There are many paths to same mountain peak. Mar 15, 2004

Kevin Yang wrote:The arguments Hamo presented here is quite long and scattered. Let me summarize them for the sake of easy comprehension. Please feel free to correct me if I am wrong or missed your points.[Edited at 2004-03-14 20:34]


Thank you once again for your participation Kevin. It is obvious that you are interested in this topic, but perhaps from a different angle than myself.

With regard to the scatteredness of my thoughts, please understand that they all focus on the same general problem that can and must be approached from many viewpoints simultaneously. The issue is government language policy, its effect on the citizenry of a country, and its efficacy in promoting cross-cultural understanding.

Although my true interest is how this plays out with respect to the English language and globalization in general, what I have discovered since I began researching this topic in Hong Kong more than a year ago, is a parallel phenomenon with regard to Chinese in East Asia. Singapore is particularly interesting to me, because so many Hong Kongers use Singapore as a benchmark for their own performance.

For more information with regard to this topic please see the HKLNA-Project at http://homepage.mac.com/moogoonghwa/earth/current/hklna/

Soon there will be a sub-section devoted at least in part to Singapore under the headings Quality Assessment and Data Collection .

Kevin Yang wrote: According to what I read here, the core of Hamo’s argument is that the Singapore current “EM1 streamers” policy in its education system only caters a small percentage (20%) of the students who must have a good command of English and Mandarin Chinese. As for the majority (80%) of the children of the population who speak many other languages and dialects, they have been filtered out by this system and lost the opportunity to get ahead in education. Therefore the Singapore’s education system is unfair and should be reformed, because it only can take care of a small group of elites and miss out the majority.[Edited at 2004-03-14 20:34]


Unfortunately, this summary distorts the primary, if not original thrust of my argument. Although unfairness is an important issue, efficacy with regard to cross-cultural communication is paramount. For further insight you might like to consider the following entry to the HKLNA-Project:

http://homepage.mac.com/moogoonghwa/earth/current/hklna/ff/quality/medium.html

The issue of fairness has been emphasized, because of the defensive attitude that Denyce has taken with regard to her own necessarily (please see previous discussion entries) biased point of view with regard to what you have so appropriately highlighted with the phrase "victimized majority".

Certainly many Singaporeans have benefitted materially from Singapore's democracy of the elite, but there is more to life than where one's nation rates among other's on the OECD's top ten for GNP per capita. Mind you, I am not against commercialization and industrialization, for these appear inevitable. Notwithstanding, these trends must be tempered, or they will consume our globe like a vicious cancer ravaging our physical, biological, and social environments.

Kevin Yang wrote: I am confused with one thing here is the Mandarin Chinese that Hamo mentioned.... When you mention “Mandarin Chinese” , do you mean the dialect or the written Han Chinese based on the grammars of this dialect, or both?[Edited at 2004-03-14 20:34]


Although Hong Kong children are required to master written Mandarin 中文, the requirement for Putonghua 普通話 (spoken Mandarin) has only recently been introduced. In this discussion both are at issue. That these two terms are treated differently in the written Chinese of Singapore and Hong Kong highlight's the entire issue of cross-cultural communication in a Chinese context in a profound way.

Also in this regard, but with the emphasis on the English language, miay I refer you to the following HLNA-Project webpage:

http://homepage.mac.com/moogoonghwa/earth/current/hklna/ff/quality/tool.html

Kevin Yang wrote:To me, I think it is wise for the government to utilize the limited education funds by focusing on the elite while giving the general attention to the rest of the students. This is what the Chinese government has been doing. Look at me, I am not from any elite Chinese university or class. But I am as good as you can get. If there is someone from a Chinese elite university is better than me, I wish he or she can show me.[Edited at 2004-03-14 20:34]


Streaming is a method of education that addresses an issue far greater than the topic of this forum. Although it is very relevant to this forum, I will not take a firm stand on it here, as I am still developing a point of view with regard to it. With special regard to the previous discussion, however, it is important to note how streaming can mould our opinions of both our own and other's nations.

Kevin Yang wrote:What I do not understand is that Singapore is such a small country with such small population comparing with China. Why it is necessary to do something like what Hamo described here?

I remember a famous quote from the “Dream of Red Chamber”, it says “A large family has a large family’s difficulties.” By the same token, a small family also has to deal with its own difficulties and challenges that the outsider would not be able to understand.[Edited at 2004-03-14 20:34]


I would like very much for you to teach me the Chinese that corresponds to the above quotations. Certainly China and Singapore are two very different nations with very different problems....


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isahuang
Local time: 12:31
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Singaporean Chinese Apr 3, 2004

Hamo wrote:

My impression of Singaporean democracy is a democracy of, for, and by the elite. It appears to resemble very much the kind practiced in ancient Rome and in Hong Kong -- not the democracies of the modern West.
...
Although still a beginner of Cantonese, I find little resemblence between spoken Cantonese and the Putonghua spoken by visiting mainlanders.


Hamo,
Not only Singaporean democracy is a democracy of, for, and by the elite, but also the so-called modern western democracy. This is not only my impression, many of my American friends share my opinion. But anyway, back to your original question, I think Singaporean Mandarin is just as good as the Beijing Mandarin. I remember years ago, Singaporean sitcoms were very popular in Mainland China. And all of them were dubbed into perfect mandarin done by Singaporean staff, or they were probably originally made in Mandarin. Anyway, what I want to say is Singaporean Mandarin is not "hermetically recycled Mandarin". But of course not every Singaporean Chinese speaks good Mandarin, that is probably because they didn't make an effort or didn't think it was important. When I was in France, one of my classmates was from Singapore, and she regarded English as her native language, not Mandarin. As for Singaporean English, I don't have much experience, cannot give my comment. But I have heard that people there are mixing their dialects with English between friends, but won't often do that with strangers or people from other English-speaking countries. Try to make a difference between Singaporean Mandarin/taiwan Mandarin and Beijing Mandarin is like try to differentiate between British English and American English.


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R. A. Stegemann
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Yes, but more importantly no. Apr 3, 2004

Tingting Huang wrote:Not only Singaporean democracy is a democracy of, for, and by the elite, but also the so-called modern western democracy. This is not only my impression, many of my American friends share my opinion.


Society will always be run by intelligence, wealth, and power. It would be unnatural otherwise. What is at stake with regard to universal second language requirements and other similar rules imposed by governments on society is accountability. In short, it is not a problem of who, but the system that puts those who into place and keeps them there. In this regard there is a huge gap between Western democracy and that which I have experienced in East Asia for the past twelve years.

Singaporean Mandarin is just as good as the Beijing Mandarin.


With regard to those who have risen to the top of Singaporean society I have no reason to doubt what you have mentioned in this regard. Can you also say the same when comparing the bottom of both societies? This is the issue.

Try to make a difference between Singaporean Mandarin/taiwan Mandarin and Beijing Mandarin is like try to differentiate between British English and American English.


Bring top diplomats from Beijing, Taipei, Singapore, and Hong Kong and put them in two rooms: those who claim fluency in English in one room, and those who claim fluency in Mandarin in the other. Then do the same for a randomly selected group of Chinese, Taiwanese, Singaporeans, and Hong Kongers and compare the results.

My very strong suspicion is a near complete breakdown in communication in the latter instance, and the kind of comparison that you are making in the former.

... I have heard that people there are mixing their dialects with English between friends, but won't often do that with strangers or people from other English-speaking countries.


I heard many things about East Asia before my arrival, and most of it was very contradictory. I am now much better able to sort out fact from fiction. Was it not the same for you with regard to the United States?


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isahuang
Local time: 12:31
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various Apr 3, 2004

Hamo wrote:

I heard many things about East Asia before my arrival, and most of it was very contradictory. I am now much better able to sort out fact from fiction. Was it not the same for you with regard to the United States?


yes, fiction is very different from the fact. The fiction I heard about the US before I came here is too beautiful. The \"fact\" that I see now with my own eyes is another story. I wish the US were like the fiction I heard abotu before.

Back to the original topic, blaming the messy language situation in Singapore completely on the government is unfair. Had the British not colonized Singapore a long time ago, I don\'t think the government there would ever make English their official language. Malaysia has the same problem.

The Singaporean Chinese grow up speaking their Chinese dialects, if they don\'t study Mandarin at school the way they are required to, then they won\'t be able to speak the language. And I wouldn\'t consider their broken Mandarin as Singaporean Mandarin. As for Taiwanese Mandarin, there is no difficulty at all between Taiwanese and Mainland Chinese to understand each other. The majority of my classmates from my translation/interpretation class are from taiwan. We use Mandarin as one of the instruction languages. The communication cannot be more efficient. However, I admit Hongkongers\' Mandarin is terrible. But this is probably because they never really studied the language.


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R. A. Stegemann
Saudi Arabia
Local time: 01:31
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TOPIC STARTER
Take away the pencil and paper and what is left? Apr 3, 2004

Tingting Huang wrote: [Y]es, fiction is very different from the fact. The fiction I heard about the US before I came here is too beautiful. The "fact" that I see now with my own eyes is another story. I wish the US were like the fiction I heard abotu before.


There is an English proverb that comes to mind here, that you might find instructive. Perhaps it has a Chinese equivalent: "the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence".

Back to the original topic, blaming the messy language situation in Singapore completely on the government is unfair. Had the British not colonized Singapore a long time ago, I don't think the government there would ever make English their official language. Malaysia has the same problem.


Levi Strauss, a well-known French anthropologist, once wrote that viewing history is like looking through the rearview mirror of a forward moving car. Exactly why he used this phrase I was never really sure. Over time I have understood it to mean that dwelling on the past will surely finish with an accident in the future.

From what I learned during my investigation of Singapore, Malaysia is a very different story. In fact, it is for this reason that I did not attempt to analyze it in my most recent HKLNA-Project subsection:

http://homepage.mac.com/moogoonghwa/earth/current/hklna/ff/quality/neighbors.html

The Singaporean Chinese grow up speaking their Chinese dialects, if they don't study Mandarin at school the way they are required to, then they won't be able to speak the language. And I wouldn't consider their broken Mandarin as Singaporean Mandarin.


So what would you consider it?

If I understood you correctly in your previous entry, you have never been to Singapore.

East Asians that can afford to study in the United States are for the most part well-off or scholastically speaking at the top of their class. In short they have eaten the best educational fruit of their respective societies and are poor representatives of the majority. These are the kinds of East Asians that we are most likely to meet when we are overseas. Thus, the impressions we receive overseas from other East Asian people about their respective countries are necessarily distorted and not representative of the majority.

The only reason that I have taken the liberty to speak about Singapore as I have, is because I examined the data thoroughly AND I have lived in East Asia for the past twelve years. Moreover, both Hong Kong and Singapore are former British colonies. Thus, they share a common political, economic, and social past.

As for Taiwanese Mandarin, there is no difficulty at all between Taiwanese and Mainland Chinese to understand each other. The majority of my classmates from my translation/interpretation class are from taiwan. We use Mandarin as one of the instruction languages. The communication cannot be more efficient.


The principal Chinese language group in Singapore is Min Nan. It is composed of three distinct dialect groups including Hokkien, Teochew, and Hainanese. As these are dialects of the same language, I assume that members of each group are able to understand one another. To the best of my knowledge Mandarin and Min Nan are very different languages, however. Cantonese and Hakka are the next two important Chinese language groups. Obviously these are very different from Mandarin.

The principal language spoken in Taiwan is that spoken on the Chinese mainland just opposite Taiwan -- the language of Fukien Province. If this is a dialect of Mandarin, then your observation would not surprize me. Linguistically speaking, how close are they?

However, I admit Hongkongers' Mandarin is terrible. But this is probably because they never really studied the language.


Many do, many do not, but Hong Kong is further south than Fukien, and the principal language of Hong Kong's nearest mainland neighbors is Cantonese -- once again, a very different language from Mandarin (Putonghua).

What does make the Chinese languages different from English is that over the centuries the Chinese script has permeated all of Chinese society. Notwithstanding, when a Hong Konger reads a text written in Mandarin, he reads it in Cantonese with important grammatical adjustments to his own language. If Hong Kongers are at all respresentative, then I suspect large numbers of mainlanders are reading Chinese script in very different ways.

Where Hong Kong, Singapore, and other Chinese diaspora must differ from mainlanders is the influence of the national media and a national system of education emanating from Beijing. With 90% of Chinese mainlanders still classified as rural, even this influence has probably been slight across broad swaths of the mainland, however.

Surely, you cannot become a party member without Mandarin, but just how many Chinese mainlanders care enough about the party to be active?

It is quite possible that with pencil and paper randomly selected groups of Beijingers, Taiwanese, Singaporeans, and Hong Kongers would not suffer a breakdown in communication, but take away the pencil and paper, would a very difficult situation not be the result? I fear so.


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isahuang
Local time: 12:31
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If you speak some of those languages, it would help you understand better the subject u r working on Apr 3, 2004

Hamo wrote:

Levi Strauss, a well-known French anthropologist, once wrote that viewing history is like looking through the rearview mirror of a forward moving car. Exactly why he used this phrase I was never really sure. Over time I have understood it to mean that dwelling on the past will surely finish with an accident in the future.


I guess you must have removed the rearview mirror in your car in order to avoid any accident in the future.

So what would you consider it?.


Broken Mandarin. What do you think of the ghetto English here in the US? You can find its great impact in rap music. But I wouldn't consider it as American English. Every society has its disadvantaged group of people. They don't represent the whole society just as the elite doesn't speak for the rest of the population.

The principal language spoken in Taiwan is that spoken on the Chinese mainland just opposite Taiwan -- the language of Fukien Province.


The principal language spoken in Taiwan is Mandarin, not Min Nan, even though now Min Nan is becoming more and more popular because of taiwanese nationalism. Many of my taiwanese classmates don't speak Min Nan at all. Min Nan basically means the south of Fujian province. Min Nan Hua is the name of the dialect, though people from Taiwan renamed it Taiwanese. I don't think either Cantonese or Min Nan is a very different language from Mandarin. They are patois rather than a "very different language". My friends (Chinese from North China) pick up Cantonese easily after working in HK for a year without any formal school training or deliberate study of Cantonese. Can a foreigner without knowledge of Mandarin do that? I doubt. How can you be so sure those Chinese dialects are very different from Mandarin when you don't really speak them? They are different but not in the way as English is different from Chinese. They are variants of Mandarin Chinese. If you read Chinese, there are a lot of reference books talking about the different dialects in China that you can refer to.


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