The Speak Mandarin Campaign was launched in 1979 with the purpose of promoting the usage of a common Chinese language between the different Chinese dialect groups. The campaign that year was “多讲华语，少说方言” which would be translated as “Speak More Mandarin, Speak Less Dialects.”
Regional and dialectal differences were common as early Chinese Singaporeans and their parents came directly from different dialect backgrounds in China. My parents’ different dialect backgrounds could have been ingredients for a successful marriage, considering the lack of a common communication platform.
The Speak Mandarin Campaign was also an extension of the bilingual education policy of 1960. The Singapore education system stipulated bilingualism so that children could pick up at least two languages in schools – English and their mother tongue. The government then recognised a pragmatic need to operate globally using the English language but saw the need to maintain Asian languages and values of our respective cultures.
As a third-generation Singaporean, I was born into the fruits of this bilingualism policy. English remained as the common communication vehicle among the various language-speaking ethnicity groups in Singapore, and the mother tongues of Chinese, Malay or Tamil enabled children to be in touch with their heritage and cultural values.
While I do not use my mother tongue often these days, I have to admit that it still brings forth a sense of closeness and familiarity. Incidentally, the last campaign message for the Speak Mandarin Campaign 2011/2012 was “华文华语 多用就可以”, meaning “Mandarin. It Gets Better With Use.”
Glimpse into the early days of the Speak Mandarin Campaign in Singapore at Campaign City: Life in Posters at the National Library Building. Campaign City: Life in Posters is a lookback at memorable national campaigns in early Singapore.
Campaign City: Life in Posters
Level 11, Lee Kong Chian Reference Library
National Library Building
9 Jan 2013 – 3 Jul 2013
More information here.