Wednesday, March 18, 2009


Dialects add to burden

Time, energy better spent on mastering English and Mandarin: MM Lee

By Goh Chin Lian

MINISTER Mentor Lee Kuan Yew yesterday reiterated his stand against Chinese dialects, saying that learning dialects adds to a child's burden.

Also, it takes away the child's time and energy from mastering English and Mandarin, he said.

In addition, English and Mandarin differ in their vocabulary, phonetics and syntax and adding on dialects will cause 'negative interferences' in the learning of the two languages, he added.

In defending the decision to promote Mandarin over dialects, he also noted that the value of a language is its usefulness.

With Mandarin, the reach is far greater than dialects: 'If you speak Hokkien or Cantonese, you reach some 60 million in Fujian and Taiwan, or about 100 million in Guangdong and Hong Kong. With Mandarin, you can speak to 1,300 million Chinese from all provinces in China,' he said.

Mr Lee was speaking at the launch of the annual Speak Mandarin Campaign, which he introduced 30 years ago.

Since then, most Chinese Singaporeans have adopted Mandarin over other dialects.

However, about a fortnight ago, the acting head of Nanyang Technological University's (NTU) Division of Linguistics and Multilingual Studies, Dr Ng Bee Chin, sparked a debate when she reportedly said at a language seminar:

'Although Singaporeans are still multilingual, 40 years ago, we were even more multilingual. Young children are not speaking some of these languages at all any more.

'All it takes is one generation for a language to die.'