Reconstituting the Language and Resistance versus Reversal

Parts 4.3 and 5.1 of Drama in English from Singapore and Malaysia

Thiru Kandiah, PhD, formerly of the Department of English Language and Literature, National University of Singapore

Adapted from Post-Colonial Literatures in English, ed. Rajeev S. Patke, 1998, by George P. Landow, Professor of English and Art History, Brown University; Distinguished Visiting Professor, NUS, 1998-99.

4.3 Reconstructing the Language

The range of linguistic registers that Emily uses for a whole variety of purposes is very wide, extending from standard Singapore English to different forms of colloquial Singapore English, including rich code-mixing and code-switching. For her exploration and explanation of herself she uses an intimate, informal version of her standard language which takes her audience into the inner recesses of her complex motivations, in a manner which repels, moves, and also compels assent. She reserves her choicest colloquialisms for the fishmonger and other menials. In each case, she can be sure that her audience, fellow members of her speech community, will respond spontaneously to every nuance in her register, thus collaborating with her in constructing a shared experience. A Research Project (suggestion 4) could compare the different forms of language used in Emily as well as in other selected Singaporean plays to see how they contribute to the development of the themes in them.

5.1 Resistance versus Reversal

The play earns its success, but the paradox of the Singaporean theatre remains unaddressed. The General Introduction to this Study Guide points to where the gap in the account might lie. It seems insufficient to see post-colonialism simply as the assertion of a different national identity that fills the space vacated by the coloniser. That would be a simple reversal of the hierarchical order which leaves intact the 'metaphysics' and the world-view that 'can polarise centre and periphery in the first place' (Ashcroft et al., 1989, p.33), namely those of the coloniser. What post-colonialism seems to have found more meaningful instead is an adversarial act of resistance that unsettles, subverts and abrogates the colonial presence. A radical restructuring of realities is brought about through a destabilising interrogation of the modes of understanding and the perspectives of the Centre, and out of that emerge the distinctive identities sought by the post-colonial.

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