As both my parents were educated in English-language schools (run by Christian missionaries, as most English-language schools were in their day), the family language that I grew up with was English. My parents speak to me in English; all my teenage rows with them were in English.
So, regardless of the Singapore government’s silly notion that one’s mother tongue is determined by one’s race or ethnicity, I have always maintained that my mother tongue is English. I think in English, I dream in English, and as is apparent from this site, I write in English.
I love people who confuse those who think in stereotypes, and this guy is a funny, acerbic writer to boot. I got a kick out of his rant about Chinese who “perceive Singapore as an extension of the Chinese world”; it includes, among much else, a discussion of a “unique habit” of Singaporeans:
We first draw some conclusion about a person’s race before we decide what language to use. A Singaporean would not speak to someone who looks Indian in Chinese. Generally, we would use English to him without a moment’s thought.
In most other places, people use the lingua franca of their country or province regardless of the colour of the person they’re speaking to, unless the person is very evidently a foreigner (e.g. a Caucasian man in Thailand). In Thailand, the Siamese use Thai when addressing people of Punjabi, Chinese or Burmese ancestry. In France, they use French to everyone, whether you’re white, yellow, brown or black.
In China too, if you look Han Chinese (or East Asian), people will mostly speak to you in the provincial language first, e.g. Shanghainese or the Sichuan dialect, and if that fails, they will switch to Putonghua. If you don’t look Han Chinese (e.g. if you’re Egyptian or Uighur), then they will assume you’re not from the locality, and they’ll speak to you in Putonghua from the start. Putonghua is the lingua franca, the link language for communication across ethnic groups.
And a fascinating excursus on the name of an area of Singapore called Geylang:
It’s an old name, predating the arrival of the British in 1819. This means its origin was almost surely from the Orang Laut people who inhabited this island before the empire-builders came ashore.
The Chinese immigrants, of whom a plurality were Hokkien (from the Xiamen region of Fujien province) , learnt the name of the area from the original inhabitants and they too pronounced it as “geylang”. In written form, the Chinese found two ideograms, which in the Hokkien pronunication sound like “gay lahng”. Thus, so long as one pronounced the Chinese ideograms using the Hokkien dialect, it came out right.
Then we decided to get rid of Chinese dialects insisting that all Chinese characters should be pronounced the putonghua way. Thus, those same two ideograms had to be pronounced as “ya long” (“yah” + “long”, where the second syllable is a long “oh”).
Meanwhile, Singaporeans continued to know the place as Geylang, and even when we speak Mandarin, we insert the place name into our sentences without mutating its pre-existing pronunciation. It doesn’t have to be a Chinese name to fit into a Chinese sentence, just like how Australians might say, “we’re off to Joondalup”, knowing full well that “joondalup” is from a native language.
The result is that some Singaporeans, otherwise fluent in Mandarin, do not know that Yalong is Geylang, since they never say “Yalong”.
(He has a box showing the characters, but they’re images rather than Unicode, so I can’t reproduce them here.)
I have to correct him on one point. He says:
In Bangkok, the road names Witthayu and Silom mean, respectively “wireless” and “windmill”. But we’d be a fool to get on board a taxi and say, “take me to Windmill Road”, or “take me to Wireless Road”, using the translation of the meaning of the Thai words. We’d say “Silom” or “Witthayu” as close as possible to the way Thais say it. We’d think it useless to have a map in hand that marks the roads as Windmill Road and Wireless Road.
But in fact they do say “Wireless Road” in Bangkok (where I used to live), and it is so marked on English-language maps.
Thanks for the link, Charles!