Singapore elitism at its best
This is a gem of a letter. It contains elitism of two kinds:
FOR umpteen years, a group of 12 of us have followed some good writers like Tan Bah Bah, Koh Buck Song, Ravi Velloor, Christopher Tan, K.C. Vijayan, Janadas Devan and Ms Chua Mui Hoong. We loved reading their articles.
I refer to Mr Janadas' article, 'It's en bloc, not end block' (ST, July 15).
We were taught by St Andrew secondary school teachers V. Quek, Edwin Thumboo and Srinivasan in 1951-65. We had expat teachers at Tg Rhu Girls School too.
Forty-four students of 4A, Tg Katong Girls School, passed with A1 in English in 1965. Ms Chee Keng Soon, then principal of Raffles Girls Secondary School, was the proudest senior teacher on March 2, 1966. I passed with A1 in GP in 1967.
We had top teachers. Words like en bloc, encore, envelope, entrepreneur, Pois and Les Miserables were pronounced as on bloc, on core, on-evelope, ontrepreneur, Pua and Lay Miser Rub.
The word, 'en bloc', is now so much in the news and, often, I hear many people pronouncing the word 'end block'.
We thank Mr Janadas for bringing up the pronunciation of en bloc in his article. My uncle, Mr Wee Seong Kang, the principal of Raffles Institution, had also taught me the same correct pronunciation.
We concurred that we should at least try our level best to pronounce words accurately, so to speak.
Nancy Loy Hwee Boey (Ms)
The first elitism is linguistic elitism.
Like if I really wanted to be pedantic, I could point out that "en" is technically not pronounced like the English "on" with the un-nasalised open-mid back rounded vowel, but rather with a nasal (unrounded) open back vowel. I could point out further that "Les Misérables" (note the accented closed é!) is actually pronounced "Lay Meezayrahbl", with an ending /bl/, and where "ee" and "ay" represent monophthongs, not the usual diphthongs. That the "-eur" found in "entrepreneur" is pronounced with a rounded open-mid front vowel, not the English r-coloured schwa found in "doctOR", and that the French "R" is actually an uvular fricative, not the alveolar approximant found in native English.
On top of this, many American speakers pronounce "envelope" like "ennevelope" anyway. This is not just a Singaporean trait. But nevertheless Nancy Loy, with her top school, top results and her membership in Singapore's top social classes, wishes to look down upon the rest of her Singaporean peers.
And apparently despite her uncle being the principal of Raffles Institution (let us hail her highness again!), what apparently her uncle did not teach her was tolerance.
Like the fact that "enne bloc" is a perfectly acceptable pronunciation.
And if this Nancy Loy says it like "onne block", with accompanying denasalisation of the /ɑ/ and the aspiration of the /k/ in "bloc", then I will truly laugh at her bigotry. These pedants are the worst. They correct other people for apparently failing their high standards when their own pronunciation does not meet the standards of the original language. Their pronunciation is neither native nor faithful. They have completely invented their own pronunciation, self-assured in their superciliousness.
It is this kind of elitist attitude towards English that explains why Singlish has been so unfairly persecuted. This leads to the second elitism -- Singapore class elitism.
Yes, she had top teachers. Went to top schools one. Wah, she even post her exam score on her letter to show to the world how top she is. Got top peers. Even got expat teachers some more! Must bow to her one! Duchess of Singaporean Standard English you know! Wan sui, wan sui, wan wan sui!
She should also stop offering corrections so haughtily if she does not know what she's talking about, especially if she is writing a letter to a national newspaper.
This letter struck such a nerve in me, for it reminded me of many grievances I have with the Singaporean press and the way the government has pushed its peddle-cart of arguments in general. This post is not related directly to Singlish, but the letter contained both class elitism and linguistic elitism, both of which are often combined together whenever the government launches an attack on Singlish. The government continues to push for linguistic extermination of the dialects and the cultural extermination of the minorities through elitist arguments such as this. Has anyone ever said to this girl (or old lady, actually), that you should not cite what schools you have gone to in a debate? (Unless naturally it's pertinent to the debate, e.g. a debate on educational policy, like your experiences with public education versus private education.) Why do many Singaporeans still think like this?
I hope at least the public has learnt to discard such arguments.