We Cannot Get Our Official Language Right On The Signboard

A Lau Pa Sat signboard is making its rounds on Facebook because of an embarrassing error. The sign that reads in English, Chinese, Japanese and Tamil includes wrong Tamil translation of the location.

Lau Pa Sat refers to “old market” in the Hokkien dialect. While the Tamil words for Lau and Pa are correct, the word Sat has been translated into Sani, which means Saturday in Tamil. It can also mean Saturn in Tamil.

The Singapore Tourism Board is usually in charge of putting up these signs. Someone probably used Google Translate much to the amusement of Singaporean Facebook users who know Tamil.

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“They should have really done their homework,” said Mr Samikannu Sithambaram, president of the Singapore Tamil Teachers’ Union in reports.

This is not the first time that Tamil translation has failed, despite being one of the four official languages in Singapore. Seniors recently received a Pioneer Generation Package “in Greek” because the Tamil font was not available. Tamil signs at Gardens By The Bay were also wrong before they were amended.

While Singapore tries to be inclusive with its multi-language signs and advertisements that feature the token minority races, a failure like this begets the question about its superficiality.

Beyond An ‘Official Language’

There is no doubt that racial diversity is celebrated in Singapore. From the arts to food and places of worship, our repertoire is brimming with colour. But between individuals, the racial dynamics are far more fragile than it appears.

People of different races are sensitive and careful around each other. But this politeness often leads to a lack of honesty in relationships, which the Internet has uncovered.

Amy Cheong’s snarky comment about Malay weddings on Facebook was taken down in a dramatic fashion, but she is not the only one. Many vent on social media about cars blocking the roads during Friday Prayers at the mosques or the smell of coconut oil of someone on the bus. People’s closest friends are usually those of from the same race. There’s also the debate about Chinese Privilege that made its round online a few months ago.

While most enjoy off days from the various religious holidays, some have never been involved in the festivities, tradition or culture outside of their own. All these show that while we have no problem accepting racial differences, we are quite clueless about what these differences really are. Perhaps its time to stop simply being tolerant about racial differences and start being intolerant about racial ignorance.


With reference to The Straits Times
Featured image via The Straits Times