Campaign City – National Language Class

National campaigns —  against littering and breeding mosquitoes or encouraging the speaking of  good english and to have more babies — are part and parcel of everyday life in Singapore. A new exhibition, “Campaign City: Life In Posters”, celebrates this aspect of the country’s heritage by inviting 50 individuals from its creative community to design posters based on their personal memories of various campaigns. The works are currently being exhibited at the Lee Kong Chian Reference Library, on Level 11 of the National Library Building, until 3 July together with a historical survey from the library’s poster archives.

I was fortunate enough to have been invited to contribute a work for this event organised by The National Library of Singapore, in partnership with Salon Projects. Since I was a writer, I figured my best bet would to be create “word art”:


Here’s what this “pledge”, made up of a mish-mash of campaign slogans over the years, meant to me:

As a writer, language is how I define my world. Growing up as a student under Singapore’s two language campaigns — first the Speak Mandarin Campaign, then the Speak Good English Movement — I always felt caught in-between.

The Chinese language was suppose to root me to my ethnic culture, but it was alien to my English-speaking family and my elders who spoke Cantonese, Teochew or Hainanese. When I discovered Singlish connected me with my family and friends in Singapore, I was told to speak English to plug in to the world outside.

Made to grow new roots and taught to cater to strangers outside of home, what have I become? A successful hybrid Singaporean or a failed translation of our bilingual policy?

As the campaign slogans over the years reveal, language for a Singaporean is so we can speak to everyone outside of this city, but never amongst, nor for, ourselves.


One comment

  1. Gan Yangi says:

    Strange that Mandarin is to be understood in Malaysia and Batam?
    Maybe, this is due to the lack of understanding of History, Social Politics and Civilization.

    Here’s a reason why Mandarin can be understood by the writer’s generation and not his older times generations ..

    Mandarin is a Northern Chinese Language.
    It’s a language of a unified China language.
    The word is unified.
    Most of Chinese that came to south east asia are the Southerners, Hoklo people hence they have their own language.

    China is a vast country and the reason how it has grown to such size isn’t accidental. It is through suffering and hardship of older generations that was cause by various wars and conflicts to unify different ethnics group and tribes.

    To simplify the scenario in the modern layman term…
    If China were to colonize Philippines,
    After 3 to 4 generations , Filipino will think they are Chinese too.
    Which one of the reasons why older generations “Chinese” in South East Asia refuse to communicate in Mandarin as it is an enemy’s language.

    Chinese speaks Mandarin (unified language)
    Indian speaks Hindi (Official Language in India)
    Only the Malays speaks their own language, Malay
    because technically, they still have a King.
    (Johore state is the previous Melaka Sultanate)

    Just like Japanese speaks Japanese (Emperor)
    English speaks English (Queen)
    American speaks English because they have no Monarch.

    So, technically, Malay is still the lingua franca language of south east asia which include Batam and Malaysia
    In History, Batam used to be part of Johor Riau Lingga
    Technically, they speak still speak Malay rather than Indonesian language.

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