The influence of English in Singapore — Singapore English, Singlish and the “Speak Good English Movement”

In our first seminar session we were asked to name different “signs of evidence” for the British Rule that can be found in the respective countries. The first things that came to my mind were famous statues or monuments built by the British — but what is even more evident in most countries, is the high status of the English language. I would even state that it is the most evident “relic” of the British Empire.

The status of English in Singapore

Alongside Malay, Mandarin and Tamil, English ist one of Singapore’s four official languages (Leimgruber 2011: 47). Since 1819 — the foundation of Singapore by the British, the English language took root and flourished. In Singapore virtually everyone speaks some English (Deterding 2007: 4). In addition to Standard Singapore English (a localised version of Standard English), people speak the vernacular, Colloquial Singapore English (CSE) which is also called Singlish. In the eyes of some scholars and the government this vernacular allegedly threatens the English language. While surfing on the internet and on YouTube, I found a whole website promoting “Good English”. There is a big committee of intellectuals who are passionate about the English language and their aim is to “encourage Singaporeans to speak grammatically correct English that is universally understood”. On the website you can find grammar rules, exercises and language quizzes — the organisation even advertises the “Inspiring Teacher of English Award”, a national award for Singaporean English teachers which love their subject and help their students to speak and write accurately. The “Speak Good English Movement” even has its own YouTube channel where you can watch episodes of “Queen of grammar” . I am astonished about the fact that some Singaporeans try to or see a need to “purify” their language. Normally, one would think that a country that became independent of the British would rather try to distance itself from their former oppressors but surprisingly this is not the fact when it comes to the English language. The English language as such does not seem to be the language of the oppressor but as it is said in one of the videos — a language that “ties” the people together and that guarantees Singaporeans to communicate and to stay competitive in a globalised world.

Sources

Deterding, David (2007) Singapore English. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

Leimgruber, Jakob, R. E. (2011) “Singapore English”. Language and Linguistics Compass 5(1): 47–62. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1749-818X.2010.00262.x/abstract