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Abolish the Ban on Chinese Dialects Media in Singapore's Media

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Importance of Dialect Media to Singapore

Non-Mandarin Vernaculars (called "Dialects") such as Hokkien, Teochew, Cantonese, Hakka etc. are actually the true Mother tongue of majority of Singaporean Chinese , since majority of Singaporean Chinese originated from Southern China, such as Fujian, Guangdong, Hainan etc, which speak mother tongues such as Hokkien, Teochew, Cantonese, Hakka, Hainanese, Hockchew etc.

Mandarin, on the other hand, came from the Northern China, from Beijing. It's not considered to be the mother tongue of many Singaporean Chinese. One can only argue it to be sub-mother tongue or associate Mandarin as an "Chinese ethnic language or Chinese lingua franca" in Singapore.

Dialect Media in Singapore allows a Singaporean Chinese to be connected to one's cultural roots/heritage and prevents one from losing one's own culture. In this sense,  dialects are true cultural heritage to Singapore. They should be seen as cultural asset helping to contribute to a diverse, vibrant and rich culture of Singapore.

Benefits of Abolishing the Ban on Dialect Media to Singapore

Hokkien or Hakka entertainment media from Taiwan and Cantonese entertainment media from Hongkong allows one not just to reconnect with one's own mother tongue culture, but also for one to learn the language and the culture.

These ability to be exposed to "dialect" media allows one to learn it naturally, while allowing Singaporean Chinese to connect or communicate with the "dialect speaking region" such as Southern China, Taiwan, Hongkong, Malaysia etc.

This not only foster cultural development, but also allows one to improve business communication should one wish to venture into the "dialect speaking region".

Cultural Development in Singapore

Much had been said that Singapore's economic development was done at the expense of cultural development. Today, Singapore is an economically rich and developed country, but on the other side, Singapore has been criticized as a "cultural desert" lacking creativity in terms of "cultural creation", much of it was due to negligence in humanities education or language.

Much had been associated with Singapore government's negative attitude towards local languages such as dialects in Singapore. When a government does not respect her own people's mother tongue or cultural heritage, and instead is more interested in social engineering (i.e. replacing the people's mother tongue with another language), one argues whether there can really be a unique Singapore culture.

In another word, mother tongue self-awareness was supplemented by the pursue of "Mandarin" to replace these 'dialects', and in this respect, many "dialect culture" are eroded at a heavy cost.   

Cultural Values and Economic Benefits of "Dialects"

"Chinese dialects" such as Hokkien, Cantonese, Hakka etc, had more than 1000 years of history and cultural heritage in China. Many of these Chinese dialects are closely related to Old or Middle Chinese language, and are of importance to people wishing to research Classical Chinese or Classical Chinese literature.

Learning Chinese dialects can also help one learn Mandarin, since they are all Chinese languages. The argument that learning more than 2 languages is a "burden" is invalid, as linguistics studies show that the best way to learn more than 3 or 4 languages is for a young kid to be exposed to many languages before 7 years old. Therefore, language environment does help. Without language environment, a person will grow up finding it difficult to learn a language.

"The view that "dialect" has no cultural value is completely obsolete, as many of these Chinese dialects are actually languages with high culture seen in culture arena such as Movies, Opera, Religion, Literature, Poetry, Music etc, There are also "dialect" Idioms and phrases that convey philosophical cultural meaning that is important to Chinese culture. That means to say "dialect culture" is an important part of Chinese culture.

With Singapore's emphasis on economic development and pragmatism, it's not without understanding that Singapore government sees "dialect" as having no economic benefits. However, Singapore government should think in another way, i.e. to see dialects as not just connecting to one's roots, but also to foster business communication between "dialect regions" such as Southern China, Taiwan, Hongkong, Malaysia etc.

Creative Cultural Industry (such as movies, music, arts, literature etc.) should be seen as an important industry for development in Singapore. Not only will it benefit Singapore's economy helping to generate employment, it can also enrich the culture of Singapore, encouraging local creative production and works, making Singapore culture more vibrant. "Dialect cultural production" can be one area of development.

Singapore can develop into a regional cultural hub in South East Asia. With diverse languages and at least more than 5 different Chinese dialects, Singapore government should make use of these cultural assets to develop itself into a cultural hub in South East Asia where many languages and culture flourish. Chinese dialects can help Singapore connects even better to China, Taiwan and Hongkong.

Removing the ban on "dialect" is respecting the mother tongue of many Singaporean Chinese. Without reviving the mother tongue, many young Singaporean Chinese will be unable to communicate with their elderly and will lose the cultural heritage.

Case Study of Taiwan

One should study the policy of Taiwan over the past 30 years, especially the relaxation and lifting of restrictions on local "dialects" (languages) such as Hokkien, Hakka and Aborigines languages. The liberalization policy towards these local languages in Taiwan allow local languages such as Hokkien, Hakka and Aborigine languages to flourish in Taiwan, making Taiwan's culture more liberal and vibrant. On the other hand, Mandarin continues to be the official language in Taiwan.

It is with this, that I ask the Singapore government to revise and change its policy.

The first step would always to remove the ban on "dialects" and the censorship in Singapore's media. This will liberalize and allow dialects to flourish in Singapore. 

Media in Taiwan, Malaysia, China did not ban "dialects". Therefore, Singapore should not ban "dialects" as well. Yet, they did not have trouble learning both Mandarin and Dialects, as well as English.

Sharp Decline of Dialects in Singapore

In 1950s Singapore, most Singaporean Chinese can speak at least 4 or more different Chinese dialects such as Hokkien, Teochew and Cantonese, including Mandarin etc.

In 1980s, 90% of the Singaporean Chinese still speak Chinese dialects at home such as Hokkien, Teochew, Cantonese etc. But today (2015), only 19% of Singaporean Chinese speak Chinese dialects at home.

The sharp decline in dialects is due to the following:

  1. Ban on Chinese dialects in Singapore's TV, radio since 1980s. It still exists today
  2. Government policy in promoting Mandarin, and discouraging speaking Chinese dialects to the point of replacing dialects with Mandarin. This has been criticized by Linguists in Singapore as perpetuating linguicide in Singapore.
  3. Government's wrong perception that dialects have no cultural heritage or even economic values, that it was not associated with Chinese culture. 

Actions to be taken

Without taking the initiative to revive them, Chinese dialects would one day disappear from Singapore. Many Singaporean Chinese will lose their dialect cultural heritage.

Today, Singapore has successfully promoted two languages: English and Mandarin to the Singaporean Chinese. English functions as the lingua franca or 1st language among all races in Singapore and is the working language in Singapore. Mandarin functions as the lingua franca (common language) among the different Chinese groups in Singapore. It is also the gateway to Chinese culture.

Petitions to Singapore government

With Singapore government's recent relaxing policy on "Chinese dialects" these few years, esp. with more advertisement made in dialects over the internet, it shows Singapore government's changing attitude towards dialects.

We kindly ask Singapore government to do the following:

1. Abolish all laws pertaining to "ban on dialects" in Singapore's media. This includes abolishing the ban and censorship on "dialect" media in Singapore's TV, radios etc.

2. All "dialect" media in Singapore, when broadcasted in Singapore's TV should not be dubbed in Mandarin. If it's Hokkien entertainment media from Taiwan, it should originally be in Hokkien, but should comes with Mandarin Chinese and English subtitles to facilitate learning the language. The same goes with Cantonese entertainment media from Hongkong.

3. Singapore government should encourage creative cultural production in the form of "dialects" including Hokkien, Teochew, Cantonese etc, whether it's in movies, dramas or pop music. This will help to enrich the culture of Singapore and make Singapore culture more vibrant and more diverse.

Hope this message will be clear and hope more Singaporeans can help our petition by signing it. 

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