“What Lee Kuan Yew did was to attempt to take a polyglot Chinese community made up of Cantonese, Fujian and Hakka among others and, in a bid to weld them into a single community to give them a common mother tongue that basically belonged to all of them - Mandarin. He reinforced the bilingual policy that started some 40 years ago by encouraging the use of Mandarin and the avoidance of dialects within the Chinese community. And he ordered a ban of dialect programs on television and radio in the early 1980s – a move so effective it explains why those under 30 now barely know much of these dialects.
On my part, I wish I had learned Mandarin well and to be as proficient with it as I am in English since it is considered my mother tongue after all.” Asia Sentinal
If a common language was required to bring about unity amongst the Chinese ‘race’ without unity-compromising dialects, then Mandarin becoming a 'dialect' of all Chinese in multicultural singapore would compromise unity amongst the race of Singaporeans wouldn't it? Of course, one could say, that English would then come in to unite all. But if that is to be accepted, then there ought to be no reason why dialects amongst the Chinese should not be allowed to continue, televised or otherwise, without any interference by the government since Mandarin could come in to unite all Chinese just as English was expected to unite all singaporeans.
The ‘scholar’ seems to recognise the value of a common ‘mother tongue’ over a simple ‘common language’. The closer identification and personalisation that comes with the former in the face of all the other events that went along with it in historical times is stronger than the latter which is just a simple facilitator of communication. Hence, ‘mother tongue’ is more potent in bringing about a speedier unity as opposed to a ‘common tongue’. So, given the multiracial/cultural milieu of singapore, I have to ask why a stronger identifier was used amongst the Chinese whilst a simple ‘common language’ was used for all singaporeans of all cultural genres. I dare say the government underestimates the ability of the Chinese to learn in the face of difference and become, through the imposition of an English ‘mother tongue’ by its taking the place of Mandarin, a race of singaporeans. After all, the Chinese weren’t always ‘Chinese’, and nor was ‘Mandarin’ the ‘mother tongue’ of the people till the passage of time and tide? So why could this strategy not have been replicated in Singapore with English then? If the unity-enhancing value of a ‘mother tongue’ is based on common experiences attached to it overtime, then why could not English have been the ‘mother tongue’ of singapore and singaporeans with the passage of time? - and especially if this enables the integration of different perspectives borne of varying cultural experiences which has been scientifically verified to bode well for the intellectual, creative, and perspectival progress of any mind.
I think that singapore could learn quite a lesson from India where one major state, a couple of years ago, actually considered replacing its ‘mother-tongue’ with the Java-programming language. It even came to the point that it was debated in parliament as well. Whilst I thought that was quite ridiculous as it would only facilitate their integration with chips and motherboards, I do appreciate its forward-mindedness and cognizance of integrating with a changing milieu as opposed to simply doing one’s best with the past.
Again, some could say that ‘English’ is a ‘western tongue’ and not ours. To this, I would say, that in the face of difference, a common facilitating language, such as English, would enable the integration of all perspectives for the purpose of creating one singular race. After this, the English ‘mother tongue’ of Singaporeans would be able to could be used to communicate the result of said integration in ways and perspectives that no western English-user would be able to. An affinity to a ‘mother tongue’ is not simply engendered by past experiences but in experiences with difference as well. In using a ‘mother tongue’ that has facilitated our appreciation of difference, and the ensuring perspectival growth, we will not feel ‘western’ in using it, but very much ‘asian’ since it had facilitated our growing appreciation of reality from a host of perspectives that may not be found in the west of today.
However, what seems to have transpired is that with the dilution of difference amongst the Chinese, and given that Confucian culture has historically not embraced difference, as might have been embraced by Indian culture, just as dialect programmes were banned on television and radio to create said unity, this was similarly levelled in the face of other cultures. For instance, the overt celebrations of one culture over others, the promotion of one language and culture over all others, media under representations, favouring one ‘race’ over others in populational composition, and so on. Given this, what was done to the various Chinese dialect communities was thereafter done to all difference in favour of a singular Confucian culture. After evicting the difference within, difference without became the next victim. If people can still appreciate this as progress, it can only come with the diminution of the human mind to the point that it is not able to appreciate more for want of a personality, reduced by a relatively singular experience of things, to appreciate more.
I've often wondered if Mandarin could have been enforced amongst the 'Chinese' without the exclusive self-absorption that transpired thereafter - these are facts as evidenced in the media, common perceptions, being oblivious to obvious instances of bigotry, etc. What ought to have been done is that English should have been forwarded as the 'mother tongue' of all singaporeans, whilst their respective attributed languages be a 'dialect' of choice by the members of any race. It is 'cross-lingualism' - where races learn each other's languages when difference between them is the greatest - that can serve to unite all singaporeans whilst this is further reinforced at the 'mother tongue' (English) level. In this, we will be able to see cultural fusion as opposed to dilution or exclusivity. I say that it has to take place when difference is the greatest because it is only then that difference are not diluted enough - such as the Indians becoming more Confucian for instance - that various races are able to impart their concentrated perspectives to each other for the purpose of fusion.
Additionally, to ensure that there is enough respect of other cultures by all, all cultures have to be equally lauded and celebrated so as to prevent cultures and races, other than the 'preferred' ones, from oscillating between non-persona(non-existent) and persona non-grata(not welcome). When there is enough mutual respect, people will naturally consider different perspectives, not only in the face of different cultures, but in the face of any contradiction. That, in the singapore of today, is highly conspicuous by its absence. I suppose in the promotion of 1, both traditionalism and an aversion to contradiction is simultaneously strengthened, and which goes a long way in explaining the present singaporean distaste for contradiction of any sort, or being extremely unresponsive to new ideas and perspectives unless it is imposed via prominence or imposition.