Literature in Singlish: Reading Joshua Ip and Hamid Roslan

25 Mar 2022 04.00 PM - 05.30 PM Alumni, Current Students, Industry/Academic Partners, Prospective Students, Public
Organised by:
Cheryl Julia Lee

What does it mean to write poetry in Singlish? While the primarily spoken language variety has been the subject of considerable discussion in linguistics or cultural studies research, this presentation draws our attention to claims made upon Singlish as a literary register. Sonnets from the Singlish (2012) by Joshua Ip and parsetreeforestfire (2019) by Hamid Roslan are two recent poetry collections which describe their verse as Singlish, or “bilingual” between English and Singlish. Both employ the lexis, syntax and sonic rhythms of Singapore’s favoured patois to explore, performatively, the limits of official multiculturalism and the equivalences made between standard language varieties and racialised identities. In poems such as Ip’s “overheard at al-azhar,” the mother tongue as a nativist ideology is relentlessly and humorously deconstructed, while the section “tree” in Roslan’s collection features a Singlish-English debate on the impossibilities of speaking any language as a sovereign subject in a postcolonial condition. Singlish itself, in both Ip and Roslan’s work, is revealed as yet another language variety in flux that requires continual scrutiny for its historical and cultural asymmetries. However, such criticisms of Singlish are rendered poetically and performatively, as part of the lyricism of Ip’s and Roslan’s work, which greatly expands the potentialities of Anglophone poetry in Singapore, as distinguished from literature(s) in English. Nevertheless, as a culturally elite register, literature in Singlish exists at a distance from the living language, ironically referring us back to how Singlish in popular discourse, is the creation of Singapore’s Anglophone elite. 

About the Speaker:

Ann Ang is a DPhil candidate in English at Wadham College, Oxford and researches contemporary Anglophone writing from India, the Philippines, Malaysia and Singapore. Her research and reviews have previously appeared in the Journal of Postcolonial Writing, The Palgrave Encyclopedia of Urban Literary Studies, the Oxford Comparative Criticism & Translation Review and Pedagogies: An International Journal.