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Monday, August 30, 1999 Published at 14:01 GMT 15:01 UK

World: Asia-Pacific

Singapore declares war on Singlish

Singlish is a legacy of Singapore's colonial history

Despairing at what it sees as Singaporeans' falling standards in English, the government of the high-tech city-state has launched a national campaign to eradicate Singlish - Singapore's own unique take on the English language.

The "Speak Good English Campaign" follows other government-led initiatives designed to encourage Singaporeans to have more babies, be more courteous to each other, stop smoking, flush the toilet and, according to one newspaper headline a few years ago, to "have more spontaneous fun."

[ image:  ]
The campaign is due to come into full swing next year under the Ministry of Information and the Arts.

Singlish is the product of Singapore's history as a melting pot of cultures, combining the influence of an English-speaking colonial master and a firmly multi-racial society.

The result is an English-based vernacular, spiced up with terms from Hokkien, Malay, Tamil and whatever other language happens to come along.

One of the principal features of Singlish is the liberal scattering of the Malay term 'lah' - used as a kind of verbal exclamation mark.

Singlish chat

[ image:  ]
There is already at least one website dedicated to Singlish with its own chatroom where users can banter away to their heart's content.

But now the Singaporean government says Singlish has become so widespread that it is in danger of undermining the country's competitiveness in the world economy.

Announcing the clampdown Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong said English was the essential language of commerce, science and technology, while Singlish was incomprehensible to outsiders.

Sticking to the rules

[ image: Singapore's muti-ethnic population has a strong influence on its language]
Singapore's muti-ethnic population has a strong influence on its language
"It is a big advantage for us if we speak standard English," he said, adding "we should ensure that the next generation does not speak Singlish".

"If we don't stick to the rules of common usage or if we mix English with other languages, then it is no longer English as it is understood throughout the world."

Singlish, Mr Goh said, was "English corrupted by Singaporeans."

Earlier this month, Singapore's main broadcaster said it would tone down the use of Singlish in its programmes following pressure from the government.

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