Another blunder involving the Tamil language has been flagged by Singaporeans. This time a poster for dirty towels at a clinic in the National University Hospital (NUH) – one of the top Government hospitals in Singapore – featured text in four languages: English, Mandarin, Malay and Hindi instead of the official Indian language of Singapore, Tamil.
Tamil is one of the four official languages of Singapore. It is the only Indian language among the four official languages, of which the other three are Malay, Mandarin and English. Singapore is one of only three countries in the world to make Tamil an official language. The other countries to have done so are India and Sri Lanka.
As such, Tamil is the most spoken Indian language in Singapore and is taught as a mother tongue language in the majority of local schools.
According to the last (2010) publicly-released census, 54.18 per cent of Singapore citizens and permanent residents who are of Indian ethnicity speak Tamil while the others speak one of more than ten other Indian languages spoken in Singapore.
Yesterday (11 Aug), Facebook user Vijaya Kandasamy shared a photo of a sign she spotted at NUH of a sign that substituted Tamil with a North Indian language. Outraged, Ms Vijaya wrote:
“What is happening? Honest Mistake done repeatedly? If need to add 4 languages please do a check before putting up any publicity materials n Remember we are in Singapore… NUH failed on this aspect. Obviously No checkings were done?”
She added: “Foreigners coming to work in Singapore must know basic English or any one of the four official languages. No lame excuse that this poster is for them.”
A quick check on Google shows that the North Indian language featured on the NUH poster is the Hindi language. While Hindi is considered the most widely spoken language in India, it is not one of the four official languages of Singapore:
Ms Vijaya later updated that NUH has taken down all the posters featuring the non-official language, as of 1pm on Monday (12 Aug). Despite this, many Singaporeans were frustrated – especially since this is not the first time such an incident has occurred:
NUH has since apologised for the blunder. The hospital wrote on its official Facebook page: “We are aware of social media posts and comments on a poster containing Hindi text in a clinic in NUH. We unreservedly apologise for the error.
“It was put up by our staff to advise our patients where to place the used blankets in that clinic. We have removed the poster. We have reinforced to our staff the importance of the use of official languages. We have contacted the feedback providers and are grateful for their understanding on this matter.”
This is not the first time Hindi has been used in place of the Tamil language in posters placed or distributed in Singapore. In March this year, Singaporeans were outraged when a public notice about the temporary relocation of a market in the Woodlands-Admiralty region bore the message in four languages: English, Malay, Mandarin and Hindi instead of Tamil.
It was later revealed that the notice created an issued by the market operator. The operator, who said that his team used Google Translate to come up with the flyer, drew even more flak when his apology letter contained another error.
Minister for Communications and Information, Mr S Iswaran, commented on this issue but his response ruffled more feathers.
Speaking to The New Paper (TNP), Mr Iswaran reportedly said that the market operator had the “right intentions” but went about it the wrong way by utilising Google Translate. Noting that the operator has apologised and made amends, Mr Iswaran said: “We do need to understand that from time to time, despite best efforts, errors may occur.”
TNP further reported: “When it is an honest mistake, Singaporeans need to find the forbearance as a society to accept such lapses, said Mr Iswaran.”
Interestingly, Mr Iswaran commented on this issue on the sidelines of the annual Tamil Language Festival.
Fellow People’s Action Party (PAP) politicians Vikram Nair and Amrin Amin echoed Mr Iswaran’s sentiments. Both Mr Nair and Mr Amrin are Members of Parliament representing Sembawang GRC. In a Facebook post, Mr Nair highlighted the plight of the market operator and said:
“I found out that the wet market operator had circulated a flyer to inform residents about this. He wanted to send it in the four official languages but mistakenly used Hindi rather than Tamil having used Google translate. This has understandably upset some of our friends in the Tamil speaking community.
“The operator is deeply apologetic and said his aim was to include all the languages but his team made a mistake. He is a small business operator and did not have anyone on his team who speaks either Tamil or Hindi.
“He has been working hard to arrange the new location for the Admiralty wet market and all the MPs have been trying to facilitate…”
Mr Nair’s colleague, Mr Amrin, added that the market operator is “sincere and genuine” and did not act maliciously.
Netizens, however, remained upset. Suggesting that it is convenient for the authorities to call such mistakes “honest” when it comes from parties affiliated with them, several netizens asked why such public notices are not proofread by the right individuals before being broadcast.