PM Lee: S'pore's mother tongues will evolve

As live languages that are meant to be used, Singaporeans' mother tongues will evolve and change over time, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong yesterday.

But he emphasised in a Facebook post that Singapore pays a lot of attention to languages, and the Government would do its utmost to keep mother tongue languages alive.

He urged Singaporeans to write and speak these languages not just correctly, but colloquially too.

"Then we will really be cool, or as we say in Mandarin: ku," he said, using the Chinese character for the word.

Mr Lee's post was sparked by a BBC article online about how the Chinese language was changing in China.

"People are using English words in spoken and written Chinese directly, without translating them into Chinese or even transliterating them into similar sounding Chinese characters," he wrote.

The Chinese, for instance, use English abbreviations such as Wi-Fi, CEO and MBA without any translations.

The abbreviations refer to wireless Internet, chief executive officer and a master's in business administration.

This trend is causing controversy in China as some are supportive of such usage, saying it is practical since everyone knows what a term like Wi-Fi means, while others feel it would pollute the Chinese language with foreign words.

Noting that English words were also being incorporated into Malay spoken in Malaysia, and Tamil spoken in India, Mr Lee added that languages often take in influences from other languages.

"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," he wrote.

"Otherwise it becomes a dead language, studied by scholars but not spoken by ordinary people any more, like Latin or Sanskrit."

This article was published on May 5 in The Straits Times.

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