An un-Malay Majulah Singapura

I was mightily embarrassed when the young woman sang Singapore’s national anthem Majulah Singapura at the reception to mark the US Independence Day. She was a young Chinese woman, whose name I didn’t quite catch except for her surname Seow. Through her delivery, she showed how communally insular Singaporeans can be.

After the US Charge d’Affairs (the ambassador’s position is currently vacant) proposed a toast to Singapore’s President Nathan, she came out to sing a capella. She got her notes in pitch (though she did a painful variation of one part), but her diction was quite unbecoming. Not that it was slurred or unclear; it was all too clear. One could hear only too well that she had no clue how to pronounce Malay.

Even if one doesn’t speak Malay, after 12 years of school, surely one should be able to pronounce the words in the national anthem correctly? Surely living in Singapore, one should have developed an ear for the sounds of the Malay language?

Or do we live in isolated cocoons of our racial, linguistic, or maybe even religious groups, never mingling with others nor learning a little of each others’ languages?

The refrain of the national anthem is:

Marilah kita bersatu
Dengan semangat yang baru
Semua kita berseru
Majulah Singapura
Majulah Singapura

She murdered the words “dengan”, “semangat” and “Singapura”. For these words, she pronounced the “n” and the “g” separately, thus “den gan”, “semang gat”, and “sing ga pu ra” when “ng” should be a single consonant nasally delivered.

What an ambassador we had in her.

21 Responses to “An un-Malay Majulah Singapura”


  1. 1 prettyplace 5 July 2009 at 22:03

    HAHAHA….alot more funnier when the Law Minister says Singapore’s Law is alittle messier….bunch of clowns..

    • 2 Peter 6 July 2009 at 12:39

      He even said the law (referring to Delhi) was not changed.

      This is what joining the PAP does to Singapore’s top legal brains.🙂

  2. 3 Nekronot 6 July 2009 at 05:17

    die sia. hope someone was there to diao her, so as to deliver a big hint that something was very wrong with her delivery!

  3. 4 TanT 7 July 2009 at 01:10

    WE NEED TO TAKE A REAL HARD LOOK AT THE SORT OF SINGAPOREANS THAT THE SYSTEM IS PRODUCING.

    SOMETIMES I THINK THE YOUNGS ONES BELIEVE WE ARE IN THE STATES OR SOMWEHERE NEAR HAINAN ISLAND, TOTALLY OBLIVIOUS TO SINGAPORE’S HISTORY AND GEOGRAPHY.

    WE ARE STUCK IN SOUTHEAST ASIA AND THERE ARE TIMES WE NEED TO BE COGNIZANT OF THIS GEOPOLITICAL REALITY.

  4. 5 Lee Chee Wai 7 July 2009 at 09:51

    A result of years of policy that says “Don’t talk about race!” … to the point where any deep cultural or linguistic exchanges between individuals seem to be the exception rather than the norm.

    I learned more about Indian culture (northern) here from my friends from India than my early life in Singapore (not that I tried when I was young). Here, they feel proud and happy if you were to ask about their history and culture. Back in Singapore, I did not even dare open my mouth for fear of insulting someone (real or imagined) and getting in trouble with the authorities.

    Where the anthem goes, I had only recently shamed myself enough to look at the words used and what they mean in a Malay dictionary. And I might have been guilty of “Sing ga” instead of “Sing-a” if I were not careful.

    I wonder how many Singaporeans fit my (and that woman’s) mould?

  5. 6 faizah 7 July 2009 at 13:46

    I remember even back when I was in school Chinese kids would say ‘bersaya Singapura’ instead of ‘berjaya Singapura’ and “marilah kita bersedu’ instead of ‘bersatu’! My daughters who are now in their teens told me their friends do this too! Sad.

  6. 7 Sylvia 7 July 2009 at 18:14

    I was in the Maldives last year and a Singaporean woman in her mid 20s asked a group of several Singaporeans and Malaysians:

    “So what errr (she didn’t seem to know the term ethic group) are the people here?”

    Friend: Muslims?

    Woman: “Oh! So they are Malays lah!”

    I was stunned; surely one – especially a Singaporean – would be able to tell the difference between Malays and the locals who look more South Indian than anything else…

  7. 8 gambit 7 July 2009 at 21:53

    oh no she should be tried for treason, hung by the toes and burnt. such a travesty worth making a mountain of.not.
    what’s next for the self-appointed moral police, butchering the pledge?

  8. 10 Rapha 7 July 2009 at 23:00

    It might even surprise some to know that our national language is not mandarin but malay – bahasa kebangsaan…sigh…

  9. 11 what only 7 July 2009 at 23:31

    In the US, Muslims means Arabs and vice-versa.
    In Singapore, Muslims means Malay and vice-versa.
    In Singapore, Hindu means Indian and vice-versa.
    In Singapore, Chinese most probably Buddhist and vice-versa.
    And of course, if it’s an ang moh, it is assumed they are Christian.

    These are some of the narrow thinking most Singaporeans have.

    There are Chinese Muslims in Singapore as well as in China. The total number of Chinese Muslims in the world is in fact, MORE than the total number of Malay Muslims, as the western part of China alone (where the Chinese Muslims reside) has a bigger population than Malaysia and Indonesia’s Muslims.

    Jesus was a Jew, a semitic race (Middle Eastern), and semitic races do not have blond hair and blue eyes but are closer to Arabs (another semitic race).

    Also, Steve Jobs and Richard Gere are Buddhists, and Buddha was originally an INDIAN prince.

    It’s all perception and interpretation.

  10. 12 yawningbread 8 July 2009 at 10:16

    What only –

    I don’t think that the number of Muslims in China outnumber that in Indonesia and Malaysia. The usually accepted figure for China is that 1 to 1.5 percent of its population is Muslim, i.e. 13 – 20 million.

    The Buddha was born in what is today’s Nepal as a Hindu prince.

    • 13 Anonymous 9 July 2009 at 14:47

      aint that a huge number already, mr yawning bread? But i have to add one more thing, you can ask a malay or an indian to differentiate a muslim to a malay and probably more often that not, they will pass. But our chinese counterparts seem to fail miserably… ignorance? i would think so…even my mainland chinese friends faired better.

    • 14 HIHI 21 July 2009 at 19:17

      if I’m not wrong M<ulsim in China is about 200million…i know China has the 2nd highest number of Muslims in the world…

  11. 15 Rhubikon 8 July 2009 at 12:08

    Just my 2 cents worth on this issue:

    i don’t think we ever got proper diction lessons though we sang this everyday at school and i had loads of malay friends and teachers!

  12. 16 Robox 9 July 2009 at 01:24

    YB, in all due respect, the Buddha’s birthplace is indeed today in Lumbini, Nepal on the Indo-Nepali border, but it really doesn’t mean anything if you consider the following fact.

    The kingdom that the Buddha’s father ruled from was Kapilavastu which is located in the state of Bihar, India. It was the custom – still is for many communities – for a woman to return to her mother’s home when she is birthing. The Buddha’s grandmaother’s home was in Lumbini, which was then part of the same kingdom that his father ruled. She returned to Kapilavastu after the requisite period. The Buddha was completely raised in what is still India today, where he formulated the faith and gained Enlightenment.

    I don’t know why there are so many Chinese Singaporeans who are so hung up on where the BUDDHA’S birthplace is, but refuse to give sufficient credence to where BUDDHISM’s birthplace is.

    If a Singaporean woman happened to give birth – expectedly or unexpectedly – in Sweden and then returns to Singapore to live life as a Singaporean, does that make the baby Swedish, Swedish citizenship rights aside which would make this analogous?

  13. 17 Ape 12 July 2009 at 00:38

    Sing-GA-pu-ra?!?!?! You sure?!?! Ape not surprised if there are some non-Malays really clueless about Malayu (afterall, some Chinese don’t even know some basic Mandarin) but to make a mistake like Sing-GA-pu-ra, in a formal reception?!?!

  14. 18 Anonymous 13 July 2009 at 21:11

    From what I know of singing technique, the singer may have to forcefully enunciate the ‘G’ when singing, rather that keep it as part of ‘-NG’ which may be more difficult to sing out. This issue may just boil down to singing style, rather than a lack of knowledge of the Malay language.

  15. 19 ChineseMan 16 August 2009 at 21:42

    Don’t be RIDICULOUS.

    “Even if one doesn’t speak Malay, after 12 years of school, surely one should be able to pronounce the words in the national anthem correctly?”

    That poor girl didn’t get the WORDS wrong, she got the PRONUNCIATION wrong.Who on earth really knows (or cares) how the Singapore National Anthem should be pronounced? Definitely not the US Charge d’Affairs. I don’t think most people even know what the words mean. Everyone knows it’s just appeasement politics for the national language and the national anthem to be Malay.

    “Surely living in Singapore, one should have developed an ear for the sounds of the Malay language?”

    Oh really? Can EVERYBODY rattle off all the words in the MRT announcement in Tamil with all the words pronounced perfectly? After all, we hear it EVERYDAY on the train, sometimes a few times a day, for plebians like me who actually take the train. It’s much shorter than the National Anthem, and we hear it as often. What excuse do we have for that?

    I’m CHINESE, and proud of it. Why on earth do I have to learn to pronounce Malay and Tamil properly? Especially since it’s just appeasement politics for the national anthem to be Malay.

    SINCE WHEN DOES ANYONE TELL THE MALAYS AND INDIANS TO LEARN HOW TO SPEAK MANDARIN (I know it’s not the native dialect for most southern chinese, but bear with me here) PROPERLY? WHY MUST WE THE MAJORITY “develop an ear for the sounds of the Malay language” WHEN WE DON’T EVEN HEAR IT AS MUCH AS THEY HEAR MANDARIN?

    “Most of the articles here in Yawning Bread are either about gay issues, or at least tangentially touch on homosexuality.”

    STICK TO BLOGGING WHAT YOU ARE GOOD AT.

  16. 21 NON-CHINESE MAN 2 September 2009 at 11:25

    Reply to ChinaMan, oops, ChineseMan.

    I can’t help but agree partially with him. I wouldn’t give a fuck pronouncing his Chinese name.
    Had one colleague whose name was Lee Fook Yew, another was Lim Poh Kee (puki means cunt.
    Had great time calling their names in public.


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