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Monday, February 04, 2008

Culture Shock #3

I am shocked to realise that:

Most Singaporeans are flexible when it comes to the usage of gender-specific terms in everyday language, that is, the use of the gender-specific terms such as 'he/she' or 'him/her' have become interchangeable. In fact, the speaker may even change the gender of the subject mid-sentence, completely unaware that an error has been made (eg. "I spoke to him and she told me to go ahead.").

These errors are actually more common than one would suspect and do not appear to be related to race, age or educational level. I have grown used to hearing my fellow colleagues point to a man and say "I already asked about her pain levels". I have also grown used to patients gesturing towards their daughters and saying "Oh, this is my son."

MDH was very confused by this to begin with and wondered if, perhaps, transgender operations were actually rather rampant in conservative Singapore!

My theory is that this stems from the fact that culturally there are very few gender-specific words found in the asian languages used commonly in Singapore. In mandarin chinese for example, the words for 'he/her/him/he' (ta) although written differently on paper, sound exactly the same when spoken and thus are effectively gender-neutral. I asked around and it turns out that the bahasa melayu word for 'him/her' is also gender-neutral (dia). I haven't found out what the tamil words for 'him/her' are, but I wouldn't be surprised if they sounded similar as well.


Anonymous rayray said...

I think it's just bad english - plenty of that in Singapore.

7:42 pm  
Blogger JoBeth said...

As a future English teacher of Singapore surely you feel my pain.


12:12 am  
Blogger shyamala said...

Tamil does have gender specifics. "Avan" = him, "avil" = her...
BTW, i left a congratulatory post ystrdy, but somehow it got anonymised... Oops. Congrats again! :)

9:02 am  
Blogger Iml said...

Happy Lunar New Year!! Good to know you're back. I am sure you are in good hands with mum around fussing over you.

9:12 am  
Blogger tscd said...

rayray: I think Singaporeans (in general) have better grammar and spelling than the British when writing, but poor enunciation and sentence construction when speaking - it's all colloquial. No one speaks 'proper' english except snotty english public school kids.

jobeth: there, there. *patpatpat*

Shyamala: Damn! There goes my genius theory. But to be perfectly honest, it's not so noticeable amongst the Indian population (although occasionally there I notice there is some gender assignment of inanimate objects)

iml: Happy CNY to you too. :)

10:52 am  

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