CHT we forgive you.

In 2009, Chee Hong Tat replied to a ST forum letter ‘(‘One generation – that’s all it takes ‘for a language to die‘) in his capacity as then Principal Private Secretary to the late former Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew.

In today’s context, this would be a ‘fake news’ of sorts because of the hyped and misleading headlines.

Clearly, Chee is not stopping anyone from learning dialects. He just thinks that we should not promote dialects and the reason he gives is that most people (or, as some other might say, lesser mortals) already have problems learning just English and Mandarin, and having to learn a dialect on top of English and Mandarin is going to compromise their mastery over English and Mandarin.

Even if such a claim is wrong, perhaps the concern is genuine and justifiable. Do we want our kids to take a Cantonese Exam in the PSLE when they have trouble even ordering fishball noodles in Mandarin?

There are linguistically gifted individuals who can handle multiple languages but Singapore’s experience over 50 years of implementing the bilingual education policy has shown that most people find it extremely difficult to cope with two languages when they are as diverse as English and Mandarin.”

Fast forward to 2017. Chee Hong Tat is now a Senior Minister of State in the Ministry of Communications and Information (MCI) and sings in Dialect in front of live audiences to promote government messages and with the hope that it could connect with the older generation.

Learning Mandarin might not seem like an obvious choice in the past but today, Mandarin IS the standard language of Chinese and those who can speak and write it well has gained an immeasurable advantage.

Despite naysayers, we think there is wisdom in deliberately encouraging Mandarin over other dialects in the past because dialects did not ‘die’ as a result of the policy and are still being used in Chinese households today as a form of their identity.

BUT because of the resolute (and painful) push for the use of Mandarin (coupled with the mastery of English), Singaporeans today are able to connect (e.g professionally) with the rest of the world (especially China) more than ever before.

If you can sing in dialect just like CHT, hey why not, even better. Otherwise Mandarin is alright too if you can manage it.

“I grew up speaking #Hokkien with my grandparents . . . – CHT