Go with a smile!

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Bolo Santosi

One vocal acting performance that has gathered a lot of attention recently is that of Bolo Santosi in the computer game “Just Cause 2”. There’s this chick talking accurate enough but not completely accurate English in an exaggerated Singlish accent. I don’t know what sort of reactions people have to this Bolo Santosi character. OK, she’s designed to be some parody of a Hollywood parody of an extra in a second rate Miami Vice action series. I don’t know whether to be proud of her for speaking with a Singlish accent or appalled that Singaporeans are portrayed like that.

I suppose, for many Americans, the existence of an English accent which is almost completely unknown to them is quite disturbing. Singaporeans tend to switch to ang moh accents when talking to other English speaking people. But our accent is totally unique. It’s different from American, British, Cockney, Caribbean, Jamaican, Indian, African, or even Honkie or China accents. The most jarring aspect, I suppose, is the mixture of more or less standard English, but spoken in a totally foreign accent.
I’ve never fully appreciated how incomprehensible the Singlish accent is to foreigners, and I used to wonder why the Americans would get glassy eyed when talking to me, often repeating my last sentence in order to make sure they understood what I said. This has happened before: I lapsed into Singaporean English while talking to my sister in front of her landlord, and then she asks me what language that is.

Yes, folks. Singaporean English has been around for around 100 years, maybe more. Yes, guys, it is more or less our native language. Yes, we are actually quite proud of it. You see, I think we want to have it both ways. We want to speak the world’s language and be understood by the rest of the world, yet at the same time we also want to put our unique stamp on it. We don’t want it to be the white man’s language. (Actually to a great extent, it is not the white man’s language since the country with the greatest number of English speakers is probably India). People will get mercilessly pilloried for speaking it in a caucasian accent (unless they’re Caucasian), because they’re sell outs. People will often adapt because it’s good clean fun. Foreigners can try to fit in the lehs and lahs but unless you grew up in a Hokkien speaking environment, it’ll be a little off.

I suppose people with a new accent will try to carve an identity for themselves. The Jah maykan accent is cool because of the popularity of Reggae music. Punk music has helped to make Cockney cool, although when you have hot chicks like Audrey Hepburn in “My Fair Lady” you don’t really need to press your case. French accents means you're posh and snobbish. German accents mean that you're an evil genius. Hungarian accents mean that you're a blood sucking vampire. Indian accents are greeted with bemusement, if not completely mocked. Sorry, but there’s only 1 foreign accent in the Simpsons and it’s played for laughs. (To be fair: what aspect of the Simpsons is not played for laughs?) Outkast named one of their albums “Atliens” because they were pioneering a new kind of rap in an Atlanta accent. Nelly, from St Louis also called one of his albums “Country Grammar”

I suppose that the image of the Singaporean accent will need to be backed up with some pretty solid cultural achievements. Otherwise we might end up coming across as the nerd trying to gatecrash the party.


Post a Comment