Politeness in Singapore

1 June, 2020

Photo: ‘Playing with dogs: A moment where a woman interacts with a stranger’s pet dog.’ from SRN’s SG Photobank

Many may recognise the iconic gold lion wearing a white shirt with a heart logo as the national mascot of the Singapore Kindness Movement (SKM), started in 1997. However, did you know that the movement began as the National Courtesy Campaign (NCC), launched on 1st June 1979 by our founding father Mr Lee Kuan Yew?

Being well-known for his pertinent foresight, the late Mr Lee had an objective of building a country with a culture where people were kind, considerate, and caring of each other. This culminated in a slogan for Singapore’s very first courtesy campaign in 1979, ‘Make Courtesy Our Way of Life’ and the birth of Singa the Lion as the campaign’s mascot, now a ubiquitous symbol of the Singapore Kindness Movement.

The level of kindness, and indeed politeness, which Singaporeans display, both towards each other and foreigners, has always been a topic of much debate. In Chapter 10 of the book Politeness in East Asia (Cambridge University Press, 2011), titled ‘Politeness in Singapore’, Associate Professor Lee Cher Leng (NUS Department of Chinese Studies) looks at what constitutes politeness in Singapore Chinese society and discourse from a post-modern perspective. In this chapter, Assoc Prof Lee elaborates on how traditional Chinese customs relating to politeness are adhered to in modern Singapore Chinese linguistic exchanges, including how such exchanges are influenced by national campaigns such as the NCC. After corroborating her perspectives with analyses of real-life exchanges between Chinese-speaking participants, she concludes with the interesting fact that unlike many other countries, Singapore’s government takes politeness rather seriously, to the extent of initiating national campaigns to perpetuate such a culture. Politeness, therefore, can be viewed not just as an issue between individuals but a national concern as well.

Get the book here: https://www.cambridge.org/sg/academic/subjects/languages-linguistics/semantics-and-pragmatics/politeness-east-asia?format=HB