European Journal of Language Policy

Singlish: an illegitimate conception in Singapore’s language policies?

European Journal of Language Policy (2017), 9, (1), 85–104.

Abstract

Singapore, like many post-colonial states, longs for a common language to unite its linguistically heterogeneous population. Singlish, which comprises primarily elements of English, Malay, Hokkien, Mandarin-Chinese and Cantonese, is a language spoken by almost every Singaporean, and can be considered to be Singapore’s common language. Unfortunately, this common language, Singlish, is also a language that the authorities are eager to get rid of. The Singaporean state holds the belief that Singlish is a corrupted and incorrect form of English, and is detrimental to the image and development of the nation. Singlish, has therefore, since 2000, been the subject of a large scale, state-run language campaign, the purpose of which is to delegitimise and eliminate this language. This paper traces the development of Singlish and argues that the birth of Singlish would not have been possible without the socio-political and historical factors that have created it. Applying, for the first time, Mufwene’s (2001) theory of language ecology and evolution to the field of language planning and policy, I will show that Singlish is in fact an inevitable but unwelcomed conception of state language policies.

Symptomatique de beaucoup de pays postcoloniales, Singapour, c’est-à-dire l’état singapourien, désire une langue commune afin de mettre en unité ses citoyens qui partagent entre eux des langues hétérogènes. Et cela est en dépit du fait que presque tout Singapourien parle Singlish, une langue qui se constitue des éléments de l’anglais, du malais, du hokkiène, du mandarin et du cantonnais. L’état vise cependant à supprimer le Singlish puisqu’il croit que ce dernier est une forme corrompue et défectueuse de la langue anglaise et qu’elle compromet l’image et le progrès du pays. Dès 2000, le Singlish a ainsi été la cible d’une campagne étatique de grande envergure cherchant à le délégitimiser et à l’éliminer. À l’encontre de la perspective de l’état et de son rejet du Singlish, cet article trace la généalogie du Singlish en s’appuyant sur la théorie du langage écologique et évolutionnaire de Mufwene (2001), et met en avant l’argument que la naissance et l’existence continue du Singlish, bien que contestées, sont essentiellement indéniables, étant donné les facteurs historiques et socio-politiques qui l’ont effectivement créé.

Access Token
£25.00
If you have private access to this content, please log in with your username and password here

All government speeches are obtained from the archives of the Singapore National Heritage Board at http://nas.gov.sg. Google Scholar

Ansaldo, Umberto (2009) Contact Languages: Ecology and Evolution in Asia. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Contact Languages: Ecology and Evolution in Asia Google Scholar

Bao, Zhiming (1995) ‘“Already” in Singapore English’, World Englishes 14: 181–8. “Already” in Singapore English World Englishes 14 181 8 Google Scholar

Bao, Zhiming (2001) ‘The Origins of Empty Categories in Singapore English’, Journal of Pidgin and Creole Languages 16: 275–319. The Origins of Empty Categories in Singapore English Journal of Pidgin and Creole Languages 16 275 319 Google Scholar

Bao, Zhiming (2005) ‘The Aspectual System of Singapore English and the Systemic Substratist Explanation’, Journal of Linguistics 41: 237–67. The Aspectual System of Singapore English and the Systemic Substratist Explanation Journal of Linguistics 41 237 67 Google Scholar

Bao, Zhiming (2010) ‘A Usage-based Approach to Substratum Transfer: The Case of Four Unproductive Features in Singapore English’, Language 86(4): 792–820. A Usage-based Approach to Substratum Transfer: The Case of Four Unproductive Features in Singapore English Language 86 792 820 Google Scholar

Bao, Zhiming and Lionel Wee (1998) ‘“Until” in Singapore English’, World Englishes 17: 31–41. “Until” in Singapore English World Englishes 17 31 41 Google Scholar

Bao, Zhiming and Lionel Wee (1999) ‘The Passive in Singapore English’, World Englishes 18(1): 1–11. The Passive in Singapore English World Englishes 18 1 11 Google Scholar

Bickerton, Derek (1984) ‘The Language Bioprogram Hypothesis’, Behavioral and Brain Sciences 7: 173–221. The Language Bioprogram Hypothesis Behavioral and Brain Sciences 7 173 221 Google Scholar

Bickerton, Derek (1990) Language and Species. Chicago: Chicago University Press. Language and Species Google Scholar

Bloom, David (1986) ‘The English Language and Singapore: A Critical Survey’, in Basant K. Kapur (ed.), Singapore Studies: Critical Surveys of the Humanities and Social Sciences. Singapore: Singapore University Press, 337–452. The English Language and Singapore: A Critical Survey Singapore Studies: Critical Surveys of the Humanities and Social Sciences. 337 452 Google Scholar

Bokhorst-Heng, Wendy (1998) ‘Language Planning and Management in Singapore’, in Joseph Foley, Thiru Kandiah, Bao Zhiming, Anthea Gupta, Lubna Alsagoff, Ho Chee Lick, Lionel Wee, Ismail Talib and Wendy Bokhorst-Heng (eds) English in New Cultural Contexts: Reflections from Singapore. Singapore: Oxford University Press, 287–309. Language Planning and Management in Singapore English in New Cultural Contexts: Reflections from Singapore 287 309 Google Scholar

Bokhorst-Heng, Wendy (2005) ‘Debating Singlish’, Multilingua 24: 185–209. Debating Singlish Multilingua 24 185 209 Google Scholar

Bruthiaux, Paul (2010) ‘The Speak Good English Movement: A Web-user’s Perspective’, in Lisa Lim, Anne Pakir and Lionel Wee (eds), English in Singapore: Modernity and Management. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 91–108. The Speak Good English Movement: A Web-user’s Perspective English in Singapore: Modernity and Management 91 108 Google Scholar

Chng, Huang Hoon (2003) ‘“You See Me No Up”: Is Singlish a Problem?’, Language Problems and Language Planning 27: 45–62. “You See Me No Up”: Is Singlish a Problem? Language Problems and Language Planning 27 45 62 Google Scholar

Collins, James (1984) ‘Malaysian and Bazaar Malay: Polarity, Continuity and Communication’, in A. H. Omar (ed.), National Language and Communication in Multilingual Societies. Kuala Lumpur: Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka, 151–74. Malaysian and Bazaar Malay: Polarity, Continuity and Communication National Language and Communication in Multilingual Societies 151 74 Google Scholar

Faradas, Nicholas, Don Walicek, Mervyn Allyne, Wilfredo Geigel and Lui Ortiz (2007) ‘The Complexity that Really Matters: The Role of Political Economy in Creole Genesis’, in Umberto Ansaldo, Stephen Matthews and Lisa Lim (eds), Deconstructing Creole. Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 189–264. The Complexity that Really Matters: The Role of Political Economy in Creole Genesis Deconstructing Creole 189 264 Google Scholar

Goh, Chok Tong (2000) Speech at launch of Speak Good English Movement, 29 April, Institute of Technical Education Headquarters Auditorium, Singapore. Speech at launch of Speak Good English Movement Google Scholar

Goh, Eck Kheng (2010) Speech at the Speak Good English Movement launch 2010, 7 September, Singapore. Speech at the Speak Good English Movement launch 2010 Google Scholar

Gupta, Anthea Fraser (1994) The Step-Tongue: Childrens’ English in Singapore. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters. The Step-Tongue: Childrens’ English in Singapore Google Scholar

Gupta, Anthea Fraser (1998) ‘The Situation of English in Singapore’, in Joseph Foley, Thiru Kandiah, Bao Zhiming, Anthea Gupta, Lubna Alsagoff, Ho Chee Lick, Lionel Wee, Ismail Talib and Wendy Bokhorst-Heng (eds), English in New Cultural Contexts: Reflections from Singapore. Singapore: Oxford University Press, 106–26. The Situation of English in Singapore English in New Cultural Contexts: Reflections from Singapore 106 26 Google Scholar

Hau, Caroline, and Victoria Tinio (2003) ‘Language Policy and Ethnic Relations in the Phillippines’, in Michael Brown and Sumit Ganguly (eds), Fighting Words: Language Policy and Ethnic Relations in Asia. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 319–50. Language Policy and Ethnic Relations in the Phillippines Fighting Words: Language Policy and Ethnic Relations in Asia 319 50 Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

Koh, Tommy (ed.) (2006) Singapore: The Encyclopedia. Singapore: Editions Didier Millet. Singapore: The Encyclopedia Google Scholar

Kwok, Kian Woon (2000) ‘Singapore’, in Lynn Pan (ed.), The Encyclopedia of the Chinese Overseas. Singapore: Chinese Heritage Centre; Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 200–17. Singapore The Encyclopedia of the Chinese Overseas 200 17 Google Scholar

Labov, William (1968) ‘The Reflection of Social Processes in Linguistic Structure’, in Joshua Fishman (ed.), Readings in the Sociology of Language. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter, 240–51. The Reflection of Social Processes in Linguistic Structure Readings in the Sociology of Language 240 51 Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

Lim, Lisa (2007) ‘Mergers and Acquisitions: On the Ages and Origins of Singapore English Particles’, World Englishes 26(4): 446–73. Mergers and Acquisitions: On the Ages and Origins of Singapore English Particles World Englishes 26 446 73 Google Scholar

Lim, Lisa (2010) ‘Migrants and “Mother Tongues”: Extralinguistic Forces in the Ecology of English in Singapore’, in Lisa Lim, Anne Pakir and Lionel Wee (eds), English in Singapore: Modernity and Management. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 19–54. Migrants and “Mother Tongues”: Extralinguistic Forces in the Ecology of English in Singapore English in Singapore: Modernity and Management. 19 54 Google Scholar

Mishra, Pritipuspa (2012) ‘The Mortality of Hindustani’, Parallax 18(3): 71–83. The Mortality of Hindustani Parallax 18 71 83 Google Scholar

Mufwene, Salikoko (2001) The Ecology of Language Evolution. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. The Ecology of Language Evolution Google Scholar

Mufwene, Salikoko (2003) ‘Genetic Linguistics and Genetic Creolistics: A Response to Sarah G. Thomason’s “Creoles and Genetic Relationships”’, Journal of Pidgin and Creole Languages 18(2): 273–88. Genetic Linguistics and Genetic Creolistics: A Response to Sarah G. Thomason’s “Creoles and Genetic Relationships” Journal of Pidgin and Creole Languages 18 273 88 Google Scholar

Mufwene, Salikoko (2005) ‘Language Evolution: The Population Genetics Way’, in Günter Hauska (ed.), Gene, Sprachen, und ihre Evolution. Regensburg: Universitätsverlag Regensburg, 30–52. Language Evolution: The Population Genetics Way Gene, Sprachen, und ihre Evolution 30 52 Google Scholar

Mufwene, Salikoko (2008) Language Evolution: Contact, Competition and Change. New York: Continuum. Language Evolution: Contact, Competition and Change Google Scholar

Pakir, Anne (1991) ‘The Range and Depth of English-knowing Bilinguals in Singapore’, World Englishes 10: 167–79. The Range and Depth of English-knowing Bilinguals in Singapore World Englishes 10 167 79 Google Scholar

Platt, John, and Weber, Heidi (1980) English in Singapore and Malaysia. Kuala Lumpur and New York: Oxford University Press. English in Singapore and Malaysia Google Scholar

Rappa, Antonio (2000) ‘Surviving the Politics of Late Modernity: The Eurasian Fringe Community of Singapore’, Southeast Asian Journal of Social Science 28(2): 153–80. Surviving the Politics of Late Modernity: The Eurasian Fringe Community of Singapore Southeast Asian Journal of Social Science 28 153 80 Google Scholar

Rubdy, Rani (2001) ‘Creative Destruction: Singapore’s Speak Good English Movement’, World Englishes 20: 341–55. Creative Destruction: Singapore’s Speak Good English Movement World Englishes 20 341 55 Google Scholar

Schneider, Edgar (2007) Postcolonial Englishes. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Postcolonial Englishes Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

Singapore 2010 Census of Population (2010) Singapore: Singapore Department of Statistics, Ministry of Trade and Industry. Available at: www.singstat.gov.sg (accessed 7 July 2016). Google Scholar

Tan, Ying Ying (2014) ‘English as a “Mother Tongue” in Contemporary Singapore’,. World Englishes 33(4): 319–39. English as a “Mother Tongue” in Contemporary Singapore World Englishes 33 319 39 Google Scholar

Wee, Lionel (2010) ‘“Burdens” and “Handicaps” in Singapore’s Language Policy: on the Limits of Language Management’, Language Policy 9: 97–114. “Burdens” and “Handicaps” in Singapore’s Language Policy: on the Limits of Language Management Language Policy 9 97 114 Google Scholar

Wee, Lionel (2014) ‘Linguistic Chutzpah and the Speak Good Singlish Movement’, World Englishes 33(1): 85–99. Linguistic Chutzpah and the Speak Good Singlish Movement World Englishes 33 85 99 Google Scholar

If you have private access to this content, please log in with your username and password here

Details

Author details

Tan, Ying-Ying