Chinglish. A brief Critique of the Chinese critique of British English

A critique of language is simultaneously a critique of how we perceive ourselves in relation to others. Hence, language usage can be appreciated as a Freudian slip diagnostic of the perspectival condition of a people. ~ a2ed

Some years ago, I read a widely circulated and supported criticism of the way the British expressed themselves by those partial to ‘Singlish’, or more accurately, ‘Chinglish’(fusion of Chinese languages with English) in singapore. In the following, the ‘Briton’ vs. ‘’Singaporean’ styles of communication are illustrated in varying scenarios. However, it has to be noted that it would be more accurate to state, ‘chinese singaporeans’ instead of ‘singaporeans’ as most of the approaches illustrated are complemented by a similar approach in all other arenas by the Chinese, as opposed to the Malays and Indians who have distinctive forms of communication and process information very differently. It must also be said that such a distinction is more true of singapore-past as opposed to the present as all have generally succumbed to quite the sinical approach toward life for want of true and egalitarian multiculturalism. And the fact that people can view ‘singlish’ as ‘singlish’ instead of ‘chinglish’ is itself evidence of self-absorption and associating all-things-chinese with ‘singaporean’. I suppose the assumption of similitude amongst all does go a long way in validating what we do as beyond question.


“While blog surfing, this article came across and i really agreed with it. Why do we use singlish you might ask? Well… take a look for yourself..

Use Singlish. It’s so much cheaper, shorter, faster. Why do we insist on using the Queen’s English, when Singlish is so much more economical and effective? Compare and see!

When going shopping…

Britons : I’m sorry, Sir, but we don’t seem to have the sweater you want in your size, but if you give me a moment, I can call the other outlets for you.
S’poreans: No Stock!

When returning a call…

Britons : Hello, this is Mr Bean. Did anyone page for me a few moments ago?
Hello, who page?

When someone is in the way…

Britons : Excuse me, I’d like to get by. Would you please make way?
S’poreans: Siam lai! or Siam, hor! or Skius!

When someone offers to pay…

Britons : Hey, put your wallet away, this drink is on me.
S’poreans: no need lah.”


Generally, for language to be ‘cheaper, shorter and faster’, one has to be shallow, self-absorbed, self-centred and have a generally opportunistic view of reality. For instance, when one compares a child's usage of language as opposed to an adult, the difference that might arise is not only due to the former being less versed in language, but also in thought and concepts. And if one looks at the way words of American origin, or which are pervasively used there, and unfortunately promoted globally, such as 'cool', 'whatever', 'so so so like', amongst others, one will also appreciate the kind of self-absorbed and shallow appreciation of reality it takes to use them whilst mistaking them for explanatory terms.

The problem with chinglish is that it does not provide much of a canvas for the expression of ideas which require more than a few syllables for elucidation. Hence, where the medium of communication is constricted, overtime, so is thought.

In the British ‘shopping’ example for instance, we see the appreciation of the individual as more than a diminutive ‘consumer’ as there is an effort to service the needs of the individual despite there not being an immediate, if any, gain on the part of the sales-assistant. However, in the Chinglish example, the value of the individual is reduced to a mere consumer, and given the absence of stock, which denotes the absence of personal gain, the individual is simply dismissed with a, ‘no stock!’.

I personally can verify both examples given my experiences in both countries. Such experiences are indeed pervasive in singapore. For instance, if you were to dial a wrong number, the person would be ‘economical’ in their response with a sharp ‘wrong number’ followed by an abrupt hang-up. And if you were to receive a wrong number, you can either expect an abrupt cut without an apology, or, at best, a ‘sorry’ with an abrupt cut. If you were to sell items door to door, you can expect the door not to be opened, or to be ‘economically’ shrugged off without so much as a word before an abrupt close of the door.(I've had 'door-to-door' experiences in both the UK - as the 'betterware man' - and singapore)

This is again illustrated in the other examples. When you put together, ‘No Stock!’, ‘Hello, who page?’ and ‘Siam lai!’ or ‘Siam’(‘Out of the way! I’m coming’ or ‘out of the way!’, in one Chinese dialect.), and the abbreviation of 'excuse me' with a 'skius', what is illustrated is the predominance of the self and self interests.

When one correlates this with the translation of the Mandarin words for ‘China’, which is ‘middle kingdom’ or ‘central land’; the temple rush on the night before Chinese New Year when people push each other aside to get their supposedly fortne-inducing joss-stick into the temple urn; gambling as part of the celebrations; when one constantly encounters people who discount western ideas as irrelevant because it is ‘not our culture’; when one hears members of the youth wing of the ruling party denouncing those who agitate for human rights and democracy as ‘western devotees’; when one sees the phrase, ‘that’s company policy’ being used as a response to any argument; when one asks a question in response to a response, and has the prior response repeated even if it doesn’t answer the question; amongst a myriad of other instances, the reader will begin to appreciate how there are a host of perspectives complementing and serving as the perspectival vocabulary founding ‘chinglish' that has thoughtlessness and self-absorption as its pillars.

But we cannot blame 'race' for this as culture is the midwife of proclivities, and the socio-political-economic system, the conceiver of culture. Given that the people have been trained out of empathy by a demanding government that requires opportunistic self-absorption for their demands to be successfully satisfied, and fascist policies identical to the BNP that relieves the people of consideration of thought-inducing difference, amongst others, everyone has been reduced to self-centredness and an opportunistic or self-serving depreciation of people. Hence, where the self cannot be immediately gratified or gratified at all, it is no surprise that a 'faster, cheaper, and economical' language emerges in tandem with the reduction of everyone else to an opportunity or a hindrance to self-interests.

This perspective is not confined to the use of chinglish but in how information is also processed 'faster' and 'economically'. In the realm of ideas for instance, if it is not popular, commonly accepted, initiated by the prominent or powerful, agrees with the existing perceptions of the individual, or requires more thought than it takes to follow tradition, the usual responses range from, ‘this guy is so long-winded’, ‘this guy talk too much’, ‘why you complain so much’, ‘this guy twist words a lot’, ‘you think too much’, ‘that’s the way it is’, ‘why complain? Just move on’, to a simple silence. These, again, serve as cultural elements that contribute to the founding perspectival principles of ‘chinglish’. There is a pervasive observance of the principle, ‘if it requires thought, than it is not worth thinking about’.

However, if you think along similar lines, then you will find nothing amiss as you would reflexively treat others as you’ve been treated. In other words, if I appreciate myself as nothing but a consumer, then a ‘no stock!’ wouldn’t be offensive as being nothing more than a consumer, I would find any other words superfluous. But personally, I’ve always found such approaches extremely rude as it attempts to diminish my person into that which fits in well with their diminished personas. In that, lies the essential reason why I’ve personally been at loggerheads with everyone I met in singapore, and why I’ve always felt most at home in the UK.

Whilst many might take issue with my calling ‘singlish’, ‘chinglish’ because it does certainly contain words from the Malay language as well, the perspectival structure of the language is quite typically Confucian (I cannot say ‘chinese’ exactly since this would not apply to Chinese from multicultural states or from the west) and tends to illustrate a highly superficial view of reality that is reinforced by the subservience, traditionalism and aversion to difference that everyone, regardless of ethnicity, is trained into within such a state. You could say that ‘chinglish’ is not unlike the Orwellian ‘newspeak’ that compresses language for the sake of inducing and accommodating a superficial and childish view of reality.

Personally, I find this entire state of perspectival affairs a tad bit unsettling as this freudian slip of a language of verifiably self-absorbed connotation is consciously lauded and preferred.




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