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Monday, July 26, 2004


I read this article in the 'Life' section of The Straits Times Interactive , and it struck a chord.

It was about Singaporeans changing linguistic gears whenever we talk to ang mohs. The term for this = Bi-accentism.

... 'bi-accentism' is a perfectly understandable social coping mechanism. In sociolinguistics, there's a theory called 'convergence' where a speaker moves towards the speech style of his interlocutor so as to reduce social distance, he says.

..... To him, bi-accentism is more acceptable than those who affect a foreign accent even among fellow Singaporeans. 'You know the type - lived all their life in Singapore, then go study overseas for a couple of years and come back with a potato stuffed in their mouth - the annoying 'Hellew, dew yew play Polew?' sort I used to encounter when I studied in England,' he says. 'Now, that's a real sign of cultural (and personal) insecurity.'

THEN again, being able to switch accents isn't necessarily the mark of a confident individual either.

...bi-accentism is part of a bigger cultural debate: that despite Singapore's progress as a nation, Singaporeans still subconsciously emulate the West.... switching accents is the most pragmatic way to be tapped into the global village yet not lose my identity as a Singaporean.

Ultimately, the best way to speak, as Straits Times TV editor Jennifer Lewis will tell you, might be a 'consistent Singaporean sound with clear and precise speech'.

Strangely enough, I've seen this happen so many times (to blend in and not stick out like s ore thumb), and sometimes it sounds so fake that I actually want to cringe. I'm unaware that I do this though. Since the time I went back home during summer in the first year, I was asked countless times how come my accent hasn't turned British (when so many of my friends who went back had posh Brit accents or Cockney ones), to which I retorted that I didn't feel the need to. Even my mum commented on it while talking on the phone one day.

Something said in the article, however, holds very true. It doesn't mean that once you drop the 'lahs' and 'lors' and stick to grammatically correct English, you will be understood. 'Once you stress different consonants or syllables, they'll not understand you... I'm just trying to be understood'.

Lucky for me, I do not have that problem, yet. In fact, maybe this is due to a slight American twang. I didn't even realise this, until questions started popping up, ranging from 'Are you from America?' to 'Which part of the US are you from?' Hmm... maybe I'm in the wrong part of the world here. =p Then again, think it's all those American dramas like ER and CSI that are to blame. =p


Further thoughts

I just read Re-minisce's blog (taggies' duly noted =p) and his views on this issue. Feel the need for a disclaimer here....

I didn't say that the Singaporean accent is the best in bi-culturalism. Neither did I agree with the article in the Straits Times. In fact, I put that up on my blog for debate and reference (esp when I re-read my entries some time later in life).

In fact, I agree with some of the things he said.

1) The Singaporean accent (bits of language/grammar, etc) is actually ugly, in a way. You can tell (at least in London and parts of Europe) when a Singaporean is within range. It's not so much as the look of the person, but rather the way the forced pronunciation is so unnatural (the older generation who did not grow up speaking English but trying their best to pronounce words succintly) to the younger generation with letters missing from the words making it sound as if they are lisping (think: sumtink like dat). I still can't believe that there is actually a dictionary on Singlish! (why, oh why do people want to lern Singlish?!)

2) Singaporeans are accentual elistists i.e. elitists abt accents. Okay, maybe not all, but I would make a guess of at least half of SG's population (rough estimate lah...) Just go into retail shops in Orchard Road with a Chinese person with an American accent. See who they will pay more attention to (and usually yes, it's the person with the accent). After your business and you're leaving the shop, they either look at you disdainfully, or they look at the friend suspiciously (trying to distinguish fake vs genuine article), or they can't be bothered (not often the case). Another example: Singapore Airlines. I've been sitting this almost every time I fly home. It shows in the way the stewardesses serve the customers.

Right now, I've no problem switching between 'accents'. I like the versatility and flexiblity of it. But I wonder what will happen in the further 3+ years that I'm intending to live here. More problems perhaps? Who knows? One thing I do know is that I dislike the pretentiousness, the condemnation of those who can't speak like 'natives', but put on an accent.

Well, I say, up yours.