By Justin Lim (16A01B)
“Ew-noi-va? Innova? The new school’s name sounds like that school in Woodlands – that Innova, right?” I can’t help but sigh as my mother offers her own take on Eunoia JC’s rather unique name: not because it’s yet another detraction from the proposed pronunciation of “Eu-no-ya”, but because after three whole days, the furore hasn’t been settled.. It’s not just my mother who seems to put her own charming spin to pronouncing the school’s name, even “language experts” who’ve studied Greek seem to be proposing their own alternatives – my favourite being “Eff-ni-ah” by an Edward C. Yong.
The whole affair is messy and embarrassing. Judging from just how many articles and notices have emerged from official authorities like MOE, mainstream media outlets like the Straits Times, and non-mainstream sources, it’s quite clear that there’s still some confusion over the new JC’s name. But it’s certainly embarrassing on our part. If anything, it’s probably the name-givers of the JC that ought to face the brunt of the blame for both the name, and the clumsy handling of the situation.
But what’s there to be blamed for? Isn’t this just another silly instance of Singaporeans unable to pronounce “cheem, ang morh” names? Not really, because this isn’t some condominium that we’re talking about here, it’s a school. Schools and public opinions have always had a tenuous relationship: in that public opinion either makes or breaks schools and their students. Take Raffles, for instance: From Mr Chan’s speech that took on claims to our “elitist nature” head-on, to forum articles from alumni members, the whole school was almost up in arms in trying to defend our name. But what came of it? If anything, the impact of this public debate was the terms ‘Raffles’ and ‘elitism’ being even more conflated in the public eye.
The Eunoia saga will see the same kind of impact: as more individuals try to justify or clarify the meaning or pronunciation of its name, the only thing becoming certain is the inaccessibility of the Greek name. When the public could already deem Eunoia exclusive from the fact that it is to take in the IP-stream students from various schools, giving it such a name only serves to create a more inaccessible image of the school. All MOE seems to have done now, is to draw the line between those who can and can’t pronounce the school’s name, those who can and can’t understand its true meaning, and those who do and don’t appreciate it.
So, in terms of first impressions, Eunoia has already missed the mark with its name by giving forcing the public to take sides with regards to its name. But what really is to come of such debate? One definite outcome is definitely going to come upon the school’s incoming batch of students: “Eunoians” are likely to face a spectrum of opinions regarding their school’s name. At best they may receive a friendly jab from a family friend, and at worst they’d have to face the age-old question again: “How do you pronounce your school’s name?” On hindsight, it’s probably just annoying to be in their shoes, but on a much larger scale it’s likely to be harmful for the school as well.
The public’s preoccupation with its name, for instance, would completely divert the attention away from more important aspects like the school’s culture, teaching methods, or facilities – factors that have far more influence over shaping the student’s education. The situation at present is a prime example of this: virtually no one seems to be interested in how the school may set itself apart in terms of teaching or culture. Instead, everyone is still literally harping over its name.
So how do we bring this whole debate to its closure? For authorities like MOE, the best course of action would probably be to highlight different characteristics of the new school: talk about anything, anything but Eunoia’s name. Let’s face it, the handling of the entire affair had been incredibly inadequate: it had been pointless to reassert the name’s accepted pronunciation, and almost irresponsible to put little effort in trying to redirect the public’s attention away from the name. The only course MOE can and should take is to direct public attention to what really matters.
And what about us? What are we to do after learning how to pronounce Eunoia? Well, we stop talking about it, and move on.