Edwin Thumboo on English as a Literary Medium

Ee Tiang Hong

In Singapore, as Edwin Thumboo describes it, English is 'the property of a class, not of a particular racial group, a fact which makes it all the more important' (c.1970: 7). And since there are no institutionalised barriers to an individual's upward mobility, ownership of the title deed is a matter of innate ability and application rather than wealth or skin colour. Moreover, since English has been so extensively used as to become virtually an individual user's first language, writing in English has become a fact of its national life. . . .

Unlike in Malaysia, as Edwin Thumboo points out, the literatures have not been brought into any explicit, doctrinal relationship. The present bilingual push, he says, if sustained and successful, could perhaps produce bilingual poets, or poets sufficiently bilingual, to become aware of a second, perhaps third, culture as resources for their own poetry (1976: xxxv). Put differently, the last sentence implies that as long as 'English is used as a major language in Singapore, it will generate the literature that goes with it. Broadly, the official policy is that English will be the language of development and the mother tongue will serve as 'cultural ballast.' [7]

The preceding passage has been quoted from the late Ee Tiang Hong's Responsibility and Commitment: The Poetry of Edwin Thumboo, ed. Leong Liew Geok (Singapore: Centre for Advanced Studies/Singapore University Press, 1997. It can be ordered from Singapore University Press, 10 Kent Ridge, Singapore 119260 [GPL].

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