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Language The Singapore English English Language Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Language
Wordcount: 2938 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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The nations which were once part of the British colony now are referred to as new nations and address the importance of English as a language of communication (Platt, Weber & Lian:1984:1). “Any language has a dual character: it is both means of communication and a carrier of culture.”( Burke, Crowley & Girvin:2000:436)

“Language as communication has three aspects or elements. First is the language of real life. A human community really starts its historical being as a community of co-operation in production. Production is co-operation, is communication, is language, is expression of a relation between human beings and it is specifically human. The second aspect is speech imitates language of real life, communication in production. The third aspect is the written sign; imitates the spoken. Writing is representation of sounds with visual symbols. Communication between human beings is the basis and process of evolving culture (lead to heritage).” Language as communication and culture are products of each other. Communication creates culture: culture is a means of communication. Language carries culture, and culture carries, particularly through orature and literature, the entire body of values by which we come to perceive ourselves and our place in the world ( Burke, Crowley & Girvin:2000:438).

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New Englishes are used as an official or second language and is the regular language of communication used by a group of people in at least in some areas of everyday activities. The background of new English development consists of areas where education in English meant education in a language unlike the home language of the pupils or languages they may hear around them in street and markets (Platt, Weber & Lian:1984:6).

Dividing English according to background three different types emerge: local non-English language for wider communication, local English-based pidgin language for wider communication, English-based creoles (Platt, Weber & Lian:1984:9).

Singapore is an Island made of 4 million, 76.8% Chinese, 13.9% Malay, 7.9% Indian, 1.4% other races (Lim: 2004:2).

Singapore is a name derived from the two Malay words, singa meaning Lion and pura meaning city. The Lion city or Singapore has three major ethnicities: Malay, Chinese and Indian. On the other hand it has two minor ethnicities: Eurasians and Europeans. English language plays an important role in uniting these different ethnicities in Singapore (Lorenz: 2006:4).

The country has four official languages: Tamil, Chinese Mandarin, English and Malay. All children in Singapore achieve basic competency and reasonable fluency in two of the four official languages, mainly English and another language. Even though English of Chinese Singaporeans is very distinct from Malay Singaporeans they share similar features. For example, for pronunciation egg rhymes with vague but not with peg. For syntax both Chinese and Malay Singaporeans often use will to refer to a regular event and would to express tentativeness. For lexicon, all races use borrowed words such as kiasu (‘afraid to lose out’ from Hokkien) and makan (‘eat’, from Malay) (Deterding: 2007:5).

Singapore was established part of the British empire in 1819. At that time there were was a small population of Malay farmers living in the area, the immigrants started increasing in number gradually. First, the Chinese and then followed by the Indians. The Indian immigrants were small in number and many of them were teachers, this made their influence on Singapore English very distinct (Smith& Forman:1997:2).

British colonization of the Lion City, was not only physical it was mental as well. “Important area of domination of colonialism was mental universe of colonized: the control, though culture, of how people perceived themselves and their relationship with the real world”(Burke, Crowley & Girvin:2000:438-439). The goal of the mental colonization was to take control of the language of the people. The language through which they are defined because it is the carrier of their culture (Burke, Crowley & Girvin:2000:436-437).

The introduction of English to Singapore was during the colonial period. As part of the British empire, there were changes reinforced especially related to the educational system, so as to ensure the continuity of the English language. In schools the first English teachers were native speakers, but as the colony grew and more schools were established, local English teachers were recruited from whom were educated in the colony schools (Platt, Weber & Lian:1984:3).

The availability of education through English medium resulted in people speaking a whole range of different speech varieties from creole to a type close to standard English. This situation was called post-creole speech continuum. Speech between people who speak standardized English and those of higher education unlike speech between people of no formal education speaking creole or modified creole. Speech between people using standardized English and highly educated can be considered as new English (Platt, Weber & Lian:1984:8).

Pidgins are simplified languages excluding the standardized features such as verb tenses, difference between subject and object pronoun. Speakers of an English-based creole were taught English in schools in some parts of the world. A creole is a speech variety that has developed from pidgin (Platt, Weber & Lian:1984:7).

“New Varieties” of English refer to the varieties of the language spoken or written by a group of people. Criteria for New English: developed through an education system, developed in area where native variety of English was not spoken language by most of population, used for range of functions among those who speak or write it in the region where it is used, has become ‘localized’ or ‘nativized’ (Platt, Weber & Lian:984:2-3).

Singapore English is considered ‘natvized’ is due to the fact that is used widely and serves many functions. Part of the grammatical system in Singapore is the passive voice. Colloquial Singapore English contains two specific passive structures, the so-called kena passive and the give passive. The give – and kena- constructions are derived from the languages of Chinese and Malay respectively (Lorenz:2006:3).

Analyzing Singapore English, it can be divided into Standard Singapore English and Singlish. The Standard Singapore English is similar to the British or American Standard English. While the Singlish is a compound word formed from Singaporean and English, thus it is English-based Creole spoken colloquially in Singapore (Lorenz: 2006:5).

In colloquial Singapore English, there are four types of passive constructions. The regular passive with the auxiliary be and get passive. It is a superstrate language with English origin. Furthermore, there are two passive- like constructions, the kena passive of Malay origin and the give passive of Chinese roots. These two passive constructions form the main substrate languages. These two constructions are distinctive of the Colloquial Singapore English, unlike the get passive and the regular passive which can be found in both Standard English and Colloquial Singapore English. The following example to elaborate (Lim 2004:97-98):

John (was) scolded by his boss; the passive auxiliary is normally ‘be’ as demonstrated in this example which is identical in structure to the passive to Standard British or American English except for the copula verb’s optionality.

John got scolded by his boss; this construction is the so-called get passive. In most cases get has no expressed animate agent, however in this example get with an animate agent (‘by his boss’) is not unknown. Downing’s (1996:2003) research confirmed the general view that get passives are typically agentless. She argues that “the get passive construction carries with it additional meanings of causation and responsibility which are absent from the be-passive.” In formal style, the get passive is avoided. Even in colloquial English it is much more uncommon than the passive with auxiliary be.

John kena scolded by his boss; an example of kena passive. The kena passive is like the English passive shown in the first example semantically it patterns with the give passive which we can see in the next example.

John give his boss scold; give in this example is used as a normal verb( Lorenz: 2006:6).

Lexical innovation are visible as linguistic processes which introduce word-stock changes of a language. Common processes include: affixation (feminism, ageism, heightism), compounding (callgirl, downsize, born-again), clipped forms (sitcom, cab), backformations (typewrite, burgle, stinge/stint), blending (smog, motel, cineplex), grammatical shift (to chair, to head), common words from proper names (platonic, Machiavellian) and borrowing (loanwords). Singapore offers an example of a country where spontaneous daily interaction among speakers of several languages over a period of time has led to lexical innovation processes. Loanwords freely enter the lexicon from all the background languages (songkok, cheongsam, sari) as well as compounds unique to the context of Singapore such as orchid dress and orchid shirt. Semantic shifts also occur (e.g. deadline to dateline) and also some semantic extensions (stay and live are used interchangeably to mean the same thing). These lexical items are new emergent forms some of which have been recognized and identified but not yet fully analyzed and codified (85-86).

To get deeper insight of the language three English newspapers texts published from 1991 to 1994 were analyzed. The Straits Times (ST), The Business Times(BT), and The New Paper (NP). ST is morning daily close to 1 million readers, BT has small and focused readership coming from the finance and industry sectors, NP is an afternoon tabloid that caters to a wide and general readership by deliberately using less specialized terms and including more basic vocabulary items, especially those used by Singaporeans in general (86).

Compounds in Singapore English are unique of cultural meanings or Singaporean concerns which it reflects. Many of the lexical innovations are found in reference to food and utensils used in preparation of food. It also refers to dress, buildings or physical landscape, and relationships.

fish head curry: But imagine building up an apetite for tandoori chicken and finding fish head curry on your plate (89).

bird’s nest: Genuine bird’s nest is a delicacy too expensive to be found in most hawker centers.

chili crab: There Singapore’s gold medal heroes out away giant helpings of chili crab.

Fishball: Ah Liang ran a popular fishball guo tiau (kway teow) stall at Jahlan Batu.

Loveletter: why complain when like the feast of pineapple tarts, kuey bankit and loveletters you get everywhere, you get a galaxy of stars at cinema (90).


Claypot: this is a traditional Chinatown recipe, of rice and meat cooked in a claypot.

tiffin carrier: Sogo has a delightful three-tiered tingkat (tiffin carrier) tray.

Kwali: Remove all except a couple of tablespoons of the oil from the kwali.

Wok: Gentle “kwangs” on the wok and gentle soothing cooking motions are especially useful to punctuate twists of plots and also help stimulate tear ducts (92).

Dress: orchid dress: The designer of this creation spent two hours sketching orchids at the Bontanie Gardens before she was satisfied enough to start drawing out the dress. It was yet another attempt to redetine the orchid dress.

Japanese slippers: He wore a singlet and bermudas and Japanese slippers.

baju kurong: Baju kurong is a must-wear for Malay women on Hari Raya, and the show displayed traditional as well as updated versions of the baju kurong.

sarong and songkok: A quick change, then dressed in sarong and songkok, “members” would head for Friday prayers at the nearby Sultan Mosque (93).

Buildings: void deck (93): There are Cosy Corners — each with a kitchen, toilet and Tv area — in the void desks of four blocks for the residents to mingle.

terrace apartments (96): The project comprisescondominium units, terrace apartments and a clubhouse in Johor Baru.

People and relationships: people bonding: Spirits roused by the Singapore Cheer, the show of Singaporean solidarity was visible proof of the “people bonding” that Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong had spoken of in his National Day Message.

confinement dish/dish: Says Ng Soing Mui in her book The Chinese Pregnany and Confinement Diet.. (96).

Some of the terms used in Singapore English may sometimes be misunderstood by speakers from other countries because of the Semantic shifts that occurred. For example, Australians might find the describtion of ‘windy’ for homes as a negative feature in a ‘for sale’ advertisement but Singaporeans consider ‘windy’ as ‘breezy’ and therefore a positive feature. The term bungalow as used in Singapore is positive, and this particularly unit of dwelling is the most highly sought and priced on the property market. But in the American context, it could refer to shack or a hovel.

Examples of semantic shifts:

bungalow: Residents of neighborhood say another vacant blue bungalow is also being used as a teen hideway.

stay vs. live : Failure to stay within the deficit may endanger plans to get new loans from abroad. Some of them are regular customers and some are those who live nearby who come to dispose of cans and paper (Kawaguchi, Minegishi & Durand:2009:96-97).

Teachers and language educators should be well informed of the distinctions between lexical terms in standard international English and the innovative forms that they have taken in standard Singapore English. For example, a SSE bath is cold water, while a SBrhE bath is a hot tub. In SBrE bungalows ‘are often located at the seaside and are popular as retirement homes for old people because they have no stairs’ (Brown 1999:38). In Singapore, the meaning of bungalow has been extended to form its original to ‘detached dwelling’ not necessarily single single storey to mean ‘a large private house’.

In SSE people ‘get burned’ while doing foolish acts such as investing in stock markets during uncertain times, while in SBrE, It is the ‘fingers that get burned’ doing similar foolhardiness (Kawaguchi, Minegishi & Durand:2009:99).

Distinct developments and innovations are recognizeable on both fronts, the standard and the non-standard varieties of Singapore English because English is used both as an international lingua franca as well as a national lingua franca by Singaporeans (Kawaguchi, Minegishi & Durand:2009:99-100).

The most colloquial varieties are used among friends, families, relatives and work mates. Singaporeans are aware that their many local terms and expressions used in day to day spontaneous interactions such as the ubiquitous use of pragmatic particles ( lah, hor, meh, ah, is it etc) as well as lexical items such as goondu (from the Tamil, to mean ‘a fool’), gabra (from Malay to mean, ‘easily shaken and panicky) may make them mainly unintelligible to others from outside Singapore. They would most likely not use these lexical items with outsiders. However, they are sometimes unaware that some lexical innovations in their SSE may give rise to some miscommunication in international conversations (Kawaguchi, Minegishi & Durand:2009:100).

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“The distinctive cultural identity must show through the new texts, spoken as well as written, and the new writing of cultures. Singapore is multilingual and multiracial has a local educated local variety of English that is internationally intelligible , this variety has not been codified. It had been serving as an intra-nationally lingua franca for the different ethnic groups. It is used in daily social exchange processes. It gained institutional support and has been used as a medium of instruction. It carries Singapore identities and context in Singaporean text in English” (Smith& Forman:1997:176-177).

” Multilingual populations have a greater linguistic threshold and are sharper in their linguistic reflexes. Innovations mean keeping abreast not achieving purification. To accept that innovation is an essential characteristic of World Englishes is to recognize its implicitly that borrowings, loan words and new collocations (grammar and phraseology) are inescapable” (Smith& Forman:1997:178).

Depth, Rigidity, and Opacity form one end of the spectrum; Breadth, Flexibility and Transparency form the other end. These features will ensure vital, volatile and vibrant new Englishes with unique expressions such as found in Singapore English: “choose, choose, choose. Choose the whole shop and then don’t buy” or “people bonding” or “incense burning bins” and “confinement servants” (Smith& Forman:1997:179).


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