Dialogue, Non-standard English, and Authenticity in Ming Cher and Rex Shelley

Anthea Fraser Gupta, University of Leeds

Cher does not manipulate dialogue as "realistically' as Shelley. The non-standard features of the narrative are not the diagnostic features of Singapore Colloquial English, and appear to be motiveless in artistic terms. Language is not being used in a way that reflects the use of English and of other languages in Singapore. The non-standardisms are similar to those of Amos Tutuola's novels, which were described by Afolayan (1971) as "a temporary intermediate point in the bilingual evolution of a dialect" rather than as a register of English. Cher's unaided writing would presumably have features that result from his limited education in early life, plus his wide experience and reading in later life. His English is better described as a learner variety than as the "authentic' street voice of Singapore. Shelley, on the other hand, (like Chinua Achebe or Wole Soyinka, or James Kelman) works at using a variety of Englishes from the wider repertoire that he has at his disposal. One of the varieties that Shelley, along with these other writers, has at his disposal, is Standard English. Shelley's text is therefore crafted, in the sense that the use of standard and non-standard varieties is a result of his stylistic decision, in an effort to create a sense of the differences in varieties of English in Singapore, and to use English to characterise languages other than English. Cher appears not to have Standard English at his disposal, and his choice of variety appears not to be motivated by his stylistic decision, but by the writer's more limited repertoire of Englishes.

Note: This mini-essay forms part the author's "Marketing the voice of authenticity: a comparison of Ming Cher and Rex Shelley," which will appear in Language and Literature (2000).

Postcolonial Web Singapore OV Singaporean Literature Ming Cher Rex Shelley