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OPINION: There’s such a thing as too much Singlish

After being dead, buried and out of the picture for nearly 13 years, Mr Kiasu was revived once again (just in time for Halloween) by the National Library Board (NLB). Oh the horror!

NLB paired up with Mr Kiasu’s creator Johnny Lau to create a comic book called, Everything Also Want To Be S.U.R.E for online literary workshops. S.U.R.E in the title stands for “source, understand, research and evaluate”. The cartoon character is part of the National Library Board’s latest campaign to get Singaporeans to understand online information.

With the help of Mr Kiasu, the NLB hopes to teach locals how to become web-savvy.

The campaign was first introduced last year as the National Information Literacy Programme. But unfortunately, in an attempt to make it relatable (and dumb it down to an unfathomable extent), it was rebranded as S.U.R.E – and sure enough, it drew attention. The book version of the campaign will be launched on 15 December and will have limited copies available, thankfully.

While I applaud the NLB’s efforts to stay vigilant and educate the public about the online sphere, I can’t help but question if the campaign ironically negates its “Speak Good English” campaign.

Kiasu, in Singlish, literally means “fear of losing”. Well, I feel NLB should have been more kiasu for this campaign. Through the mascot, NLB has chosen a character with no love for proper English.

Mr Kiasu has always been a hit with locals precisely because of his comic relief with interjections of “Aiyoh’s” and “Lah’s” in conversations and incomplete sentences.

Another peeve of mine with the NLB campaign is the way it abbreviates things that are, well, not worth abbreviating. While S.U.R.E might sound clever, it still feels somewhat forced.

Shouldn’t the NLB, the sanctuary of words, be promoting the beauty of words and complete sentences rather then chopping them down to mere alphabets. I can’t help but feel as though my four-year education in the English language has been a waste.

While I write this, I have to highlight my grievance is not with Singlish, but the numerous instances this year where bad Singlish has been used to promote a good product. Take Subway’s recent campaign for example.

While no doubt it has cut through the noise and got people talking, I can’t say it gives a good impression of us Singaporeans. The National Environment Agency’s recent BRO campaign to encourage people to stop smoking was no better, or no less annoying.

Our market has, over the years, seen its fair share of good Singlish campaigns as well. While not the best, the SARS campaign, which was launched ages ago, did a fairly decent job with its Singlish jingle sung by the beloved Phua Chu Kang. To this day, I can still recall the chorus. HPB’s “Ong and Raj” campaign on colon cancer, despite being riddled with Singlish, was another campaign which was well-executed.

As for Mr Kiasu, I feel some things should be left dead and buried.

(Photo courtesy: twtrland.com )

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