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Keeping mother tongues alive in Singapore – Lee Hsien Loong

I came across this interesting piece about how the Chinese language is changing in China. People are using English words in spoken and written Chinese directly, without translating them into Chinese equivalents, or even transliterating them into similar sounding Chinese characters. It is easier to say GDP than 国内生产总值, and Wifi is Wifi.

This is causing controversy in China. Some think it is the practical thing to do – everybody knows what Wifi is, so why invent some unfamiliar Chinese term for the same thing?

But others feel that the pure Chinese language is being polluted with foreign words. After all, some translations have been successful – Coca Cola 可口可乐 has a very appropriate meaning, and translating email into 电邮 is neat and succinct.

The same thing is happening to other languages too. If you listen to Malay spoken in Malaysia, or Tamil in India, you will often hear English words mixed in.

The reality is that a language is a live, changing thing. It constantly absorbs words, concepts and usages from foreign languages, so long as people are using it in their daily lives. Otherwise it becomes a dead language, studied by scholars but not spoken by ordinary people anymore, like Latin or Sanskrit.

We pay a lot of attention to languages in Singapore. We are doing our utmost to keep our mother tongues alive. These are live languages to be used, so we should accept that they will evolve and change over time.

We need to speak and write them correctly, but also colloquially. Then we will really be cool, or as we say in Mandarin, 酷! – May 4, 2014.

* This is a Facebook posting by Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insider.

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