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Friday, March 29, 2013 | 1:02 PM | 0 comments

Throughout his studies and his teaching career, Arthur Yap pursued poetry writing as a passion and craft. His works focused on the daily aspects of life in Singapore. In my opinion, his writing style was iconic of Singapore, capturing the mundane routines and concerns of the local heartlanders on paper. His prose was constructed in an approachable and understandable manner with minimal use of ostentatious vocabulary that might alienate the audience. All in all, his poems were about the people and for the people of Singapore.


The Correctfulness of Flavour

waiting for the lime sherbert to arrive,
mother turned around to her vacuous child:
boy, you heard what i said earlier?
nowadays, they emphasise english.
boy rolled his squinty eyes to the ceiling.
waitress returned, flustered, and started
on her own emphases:
lime sherbert today don't have.
mango got. strawberry also don't have.
mother, upset and acutely strident:
today DOESN'T have.
today DOES NOT have.

Written in simple language, The Correctfulness of Flavour highlights the concerns of speaking proper English at the time. With the establishment of the modern port in 1819, British English was introduced to Singapore. Also, the port attracted migrants from neighbouring countries like China and India, resulting in a melting-pot of a host of languagesOver generations, these languages have influenced the syntactic and phonological structure of traditional British English to create our local brand of the language, Singaporean English (also known as Singlish).

This colloquial manner of speech has been frowned upon by the government; with ex-Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong describing Singlish as "English corrupted by Singaporeans". According to them, mastery of Standard English was essential to communicate in the "global language of commerce, business and technology". This was to the extent that the government pushed forth with an annual campaign to improve the standards of English. Dubbed the 'Speak Good English Movement', it aimed to foster a sense of pride in using proper English and discourage the notion of having Singlish as part of our national identity.

The poem captures the citizens' take on the issue. The mother, who incorrectly 'corrects' a grammatical error, plays the role of a one who means well, but inadvertently commits another error in the process; provoking emotions of endearment. It would seem that even with the desire to master standard English, Singlish is something deeply rooted in our community and cannot be easily erased from our identity. Even the fabricated titular word "correctfulness' points to this. In essence, The Correctfulness of Flavour is a social commentary which gently pokes fun at the locals' struggle to code-switch with light-hearted irony.

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