08 April 2014

Dialects and the Pioneer Generation

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Finance Tharman Shanmugaratnam told Parliament that the Pioneer Generation Package ("PGP") beneficiaries did not need not worry even if they were unsure of the PGP's exact benefits because the benefits would be provided to them automatically.

Notwithstanding that, the Government is embarking on an extensive drive to reach out to PGP beneficiaries, possibly because politicians mostly find it difficult to resist being associated with providing a lifetime $8 billion freebie to an estimated one out of every six voters.

As part of this outreach, the Ministry of Communications and Information ("MCI") recently released a video showing a "fortune teller" using the Hokkien dialect to explain the PGP to an elderly woman.

MCI said that the objective was to help seniors understand the PGP because many pioneers were not conversant in any of the official languages.

So when it comes to publicising the $8 billion PGP, the Government acknowledges that many pioneers are not conversant in any of the official languages!

If many pioneers are not conversant in any of the official languages, then:

▪ Their numbers would have fallen over time because many have died.
 
▪ The degree of each pioneer's inability to converse in any of the official languages would have been decreasing, or at worst remained constant, over time.

In other words, there were many more of such pioneers who were not conversant in any of the official languages 20 or 30 years ago.

These pioneers found themselves in this predicament because of the Government's drive to emphasise the use of Mandarin over dialects among ethnic Chinese Singaporeans. This had the following impact on members of the dialect-speaking community (both pioneers and non-pioneers):

▪ They were unable to understand Government policies without assistance from others who were conversant in one of the official languages and their respective dialects.
 
▪ They were unable to communicate effectively, if at all, with their grandchildren, most of whom did not speak dialects.
 
▪ They were deprived of entertainment after dialect programmes and movies were no longer available on free-to-air television and cinemas.

Perhaps, as part of its move to honour the pioneer generation, in particular the older pioneers, the Government should do the following:

▪ Apologise for the difficulties that they were forced to face for three decades or more.
 
▪ Allow free-to-air television to broadcast some programmes in dialect so that those who cannot afford cable television can at least enjoy some entertainment in their twilight years.

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