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English Language

barrier or unifier?


If it is true that the British and Americans are separated by a common language, then the difficulty in communication between two persons without the benefit of a common language is even greater. Some employers speak Singlish and are distressed when their domestic helper cannot undertand them. Even native speakers of English have difficulty trying to understand our Singlish.

There was this lady who asked her domestic helper Mary to fry an egg for her daughter little Jane. Mary could not believe what she heard or thought she heard and asked for confirmation: "Madam, fi egg?" (Did she mean "five" eggs?)

Madam was surprised that the maid who claimed to have worked for an expatriate in her own country for six years before coming to Singapore could not understand such a simple instruction. So she reaffirmed what she said rather impatiently: "That's what I said, fried egg."

Well, since the customer was always right, Mary did as she was told (or thought she was told) and promptly laid five fried eggs on the table for little Jane.

Sometimes the problem arises not from mispronunciation but from use - a flat is an apartment to some, a pucture to others. Sometimes they use a word wrongly and give the impression they are making a demand when it is a request.

Often they do not understand but say without hesitation that they do.