Thursday, October 14, 2010

Singapore and Yale (and Singlish)

Sorry people, kind of hectic down here. So, I am writing this in the middle of cooking dinner haha. But rest assured, though I am all over the place, I am still surviving (barely).

This is kind of way overdue but well, some related stuff are sitting on (and clogging up) my desktop, so I might as well, just write it here anyway. The Yale-NUS college saga is still kind of ongoing, though the climax has probably blown over. So there was this period of time, where Yale admin asked some of the Singaporeans here at Yale (apparently we made up the 8th largest of the country demographics here) to give our opinions on the Yale-NUS college issue. Well, most that turned up were mostly undergrads, a couple of graduates, a law assistant prof and some "friends" of Singapore who had studied in Singapore before. It was a pretty informal meeting, unlike what I expected. But nonetheless, there was quite a rigorous discussion perpetuated mostly by the undergrads who were here for quite some time already; it wasn't probably surprising to find they were all from either Raffles and Hwa Chong.

I am pretty impressed with the extent and depth of research the Yale administrators did on Singapore: from its history right to the future directions, schooling systems, current status of the education system etc. I am totally intrigued to listen to how Singapore is viewed from an outsider point of view and the fact that the undergrads (probably more attached here than the rest) have to grapple with taking a stand for both their college and home country.

Probably one of the main things Yale administrators wouldn't know (first-hand) is the culture and mentality of the local Singaporeans. Skeptical and pragmatic as we are, Singaporeans are still mostly conservative and most (especially the parents) have a somewhat ingrained mindset that college is meant for professional training, career preparation and subsequently income generation. A liberal arts college somehow might not fit into that description very much. Here are some of the issues discussed:

1) what is the proportion of international students and local students that the college would want; what kind of variety are we talking about? Knowing the system in Singapore, if cream of the crop were to be picked, then wouldn't most of the students be from Raffles or Hwa Chong or the top schools?

2) is the quota fixed? such that the quality would be compromised?

3) is Yale going for the long haul? since Singapore is the only side forking out the cash... IMO, it seems like an experiment that Yale is doing to try to create some utopian educational institution from scratch. Although Yale is not totally free of the woes of contributing resources (in terms of expertise), this is something I feel, Singapore is giving them a 'blank check'. Yale's side backed up with some insider which I thought sounded sincere enough, and made me realize this could very much be actually be a win-win situation: that Yale has an extremely strong tradition of shaping schools of higher education in the US especially liberal arts system. And they recognize the inevitable shift of the world's focus from the west to the east, so to them, this is the golden opportunity to have a stake in the East's cultivation of their future leaders - Yale becomes relevant moving forward.

4) brand dilution in borrowing the brand (this is for Yale naturally)

5) curriculum - how to make it such that it's truly a 'east meets west'? definitely, a carbon copy of Yale in Singapore is not feasible and in any case, not desirable. The school should be a stand-alone college of prestige and distinction.

6) is the 'Yale' name essential in the naming of the college? yes - because the name would provide a reputation for a new school for employers. everybody would be looking at the first batch of graduates; no - brand dilution, "2nd yale", shadow of yale, no graduates would want that.

7) Singapore stands to gain, because they do realize that Singapore has one of the best secondary school systems in the world such that there are a lot of students are extremely sufficiently equipped for college - but have nowhere to go! This new college would set up a new avenue for these students (or just more competition in my opinion)...

Well having said all these, the discussion was done in this cool-looking room, totally what I imagined in a Victorian typical New England style; you will never find this in Singapore LOLX.

And during the height of these, a couple of articles on Singlish (!!!) came up on Yale Daily News. I am also putting up some other interesting articles here. If you guys are interested, you guys are google Yale Daily News and these articles =) Enjoy.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010
Another perspective on Singlish
In his Sept. 10 column, “The Queen’s Singlish,” Sam Lasman ’12 comments on Singapore’s “Speak Good English Movement” that has been intensified this year.

As co-president of the Yale University Malaysian and Singaporean Association, and in light of the recent announcement about a Yale-affiliated university in Singapore, I wish to provide additional commentary on the social context behind the Movement and offer another perspective on this topic.
For much of its history, Singapore has relied on its strategic position as a major trading post to fuel economic expansion. The practical concerns of business made it important (even necessary) for the multi-racial populace to learn English not only in order to communicate with the international community, but also to become mutually intelligible among themselves. English is, for the most part, the language of instruction across the education system. Likewise, English has also been the predominant language in mainstream media and arts. The central issue has always been — and remains — how a country of less than five million, with few natural resources, could flourish in the global marketplace. Language skills rank among the most crucial for the accumulation and deployment of human capital.

With this in mind, it is not hard to understand why the government of Singapore actively promotes the use of correct, idiomatic English in its citizens. The concern, then, is what defines “correct”?
Lasman rightly points out that the concept of correctness in language is perhaps too vague in itself, since “there isn’t actually anyone with complete authority to say what is, or isn’t, grammatical.” I agree with this statement — English does, after all, evolve with time, and that which conforms to the commonly-defined standard in one period may not in another. But the purpose of Singapore’s “Speak Good English Movement” is less about having people speak like antiquated robots than it is about encouraging them to speak in a way such that someone of similar English proficiency from New York, Paris or Tokyo would easily understand the conversation. It’s about phrasing what one has to say in an elegant and cosmopolitan way, so that even any English-speaking listener can grasp the varied nuances of that particular exchange without having prior knowledge of Chinese, Malay, or Tamil (the other ethnic languages of Singapore).

I appreciate Lasman’s decision to explore the quirky intricacies of Singlish in his column — not many people are aware of this fairly obscure version of Southeast Asian creole, and fewer follow Singapore’s domestic policy towards it. I take pleasure in knowing that a fellow Yalie is well-traveled — and erudite — enough to be able discuss the dialect and allude to common instances of its usage verbatim.
Janice Chen
Sept. 13
The writer is the co-president of MASA and a junior in Branford College.

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