Does Dialect Content in Singapore Promote or Undermine Cultural Unity?
Government agencies need to coordinate their messages about what Singapore stands for, urged the late Dr Balaji Sadasivan.
In a 2008 report by Mica, NAC and NHB, there was concerns with “the erosion of artistic expressions using the traditional arts or vernacular languages” among young people who are more comfortable with English. In 2010, Mica announced that the restriction of dialect content was to avoid undermining the Speak Mandarin Campaign and the usage of dialect will be reserved for the elderly.
Ministry of Information, Communications and the Arts (Mica), National Arts Council (NAC) and National Heritage Board (NHB) jointly published the report Renaissance City Plan III in 2008 – “A Strategic Plan for developing Singapore into a Distinctive, Global City for the Arts.”
It was noted that Singapore’s language and education policies have “led to a younger generation of Singaporeans who are often more comfortable with English than their ‘mother tongue’ or the vernacular dialects’”.
Art practitioners have raised concerns that “the erosion of traditional arts or vernacular languages, dwindling audiences and lack of leadership succession in key cultural institutions” will lead to “cultural discontinuity”.
The report also emphasised the need to expose arts to young people, as NAC “strongly believes that exposure to quality arts programmes from young not only aids in a child’s development, it also helps to inculcate a life-long engagement in the arts.”
“The plan aims to usher in the “golden” phase of the arts by harnessing our rich multi-ethnic arts and cultural heritage to produce distinctive works of art that capture the imagination of the arts world.” said Edmund Cheng, Chairman of NAC in the report’s foreword.
In a recent article by The Straits Times, Mica has reasoned that “allowing full dialect content on all mediums would undermine our ongoing efforts to promote Mandarin”, and it will be catered to the needs of elderly who may have difficulty in understanding the mainstream media.
“We have achieved progress with our bilingual education in the past few decades. Many Singaporeans are now fluent in both English and Mandarin. It would be stupid for any Singapore agency or NTU to advocate the learning of dialects, which must be at the expense of English and Mandarin,” said Chee Hong Tat, Principle Private Secretary to the Minister Mentor, in response to a reader’s article in 2009.
In Parliament during Cos Debate, the late Dr Balaji Sadasivan said that as the government has a responsibility to “market and promote Singapore internationally for a more consistent Singapore brand”, government agencies need to coordinate their messaging to relay “ a common language about what Singapore stands for”.