Review of Language, Society and Education in Singapore
Chapters/Sections on Part II, Language in Society

Handout for SARS 523,
Multilingual Education in South/Southeast Asia
Review of Chapter 6, A Framework for the Analysis of Singapore English
Anthea Gupta

  1. Introduction and Modes of Analysis
  2. Gupta begins with a review of the usual three options that we have seen applied to various other situations, including. Nagamese:

    Gupta used to use the second approach, but now favors the third. Now would like to make no comparisons with others, but uses only Singapore English as the subject of the analytic methods. Another approach to avoid is to attribute features of S. English. to other languages i.e. substrate and adstrate and languages with which it is in contact. Gupta says: exercise extreme caution in this. Attempts to find donor language must be consistent with historical study.

    For example, it is easy to attribute derivation of expressive (discourse, pragmatic) particles such as lah to Chinese; but probably it came through Malay (it is present in the spoken varieties of all S's languages.) because this is the language that was in contact with English; Hokkien did not arrive in Singapore until early 20th century, but lah arrived earlier. Such sentences as:

    Also can this side, lah!
    One/you can also go this way, you know.
    illustrate an number of different things; the meaning of lah here is, roughly "I assume you know this; I'll remind you, because I can't understand why you aren't acting as if you know it."

    Gupta also reminds us that we have to think about how English was learned, what schools were like, where the teachers came from, what their mother tongues were.

    We also need a definition of native speaker since

  3. Singapore Standard English and Singapore Colloquial English

    Gupta emphasizes the point of diglossia (Ferguson 1959) i.e. that there is a high variety and a low variety. She emphasizes a polar approach rather than a continuum (which would be like the post-creole continuum: graded variants from low (basilect) to middle (mesolect) to high (acrolect), passing through many stages.) How does this fit with Pakir's nested triangles (which appears to imply different levels, albeit of clines of proficiency and formality)?

    Expanding triangles of English expression by English-knowing bilinguals in Singapore:

    (Source: Pakir 1991:144)

    AGupta says the main difference between StdE and SCE is in the grammar. SStdE is very similar in grammar to other world varieties of English. Used in formal settings, formal education, in writing. SCE is for informal purposes, between friends, family, on the street, for speaking to small children (outside school).

    Idea of Sg.English being diglossic was proposed earlier, but tends to equate the informal speech of the educated (proficient) speaker with the SCE of the more limited speech range of less proficient speaker. If SE is a legitimate variety, we must base description on speech of competent speakers, not limited ones. Then we can compare the speech of competent educated speakers' SCE with the SCE of low-proficiency speakers. And we include native speakers of SCE who are not competent in St.English; this does not mean we base the analysis on the speech of children (who are the most frequent examples (of native speakers of SCE who are not competent in St.English.). They are monolectal

    There are two categories of Singapore English speakers:

  4. Features of SCE and Features of StdE

    SCE features:

    1. SCE particles: use of any (including. lah, ah, hor, what)

    2. Subjectless verb groups: presence of verb without overt subject. (subject-deletion? pro-drop? pronoun-deletion?) e.g. Still got fever? Can. Can, can. Can, can can

    3. Conditional clauses w/out subordinating conjunctions: (also found in AmE: Do that again, you're dead meat! ) Sometimes known as deletion/lack of if

    4. Verbless complements; use of ing forms w/out auxiliary (sometimes. known as BE-deletion, copula deletion): After coming, sir (spoken by my roomboy in Madras, to mean "I'll come back later, sir").

    Features of Standard English:

    1. Aux+subj in interrogatives: Would you like one? instead of Like one?

    2. Verbal inflections marking tense and number.

    3. Noun inflections: plural and possessive.

    4. Complex verb groups, especially. with HAVE and BE e.g. She's been going there for three years

    A proficient user shows patterned movement between SCE and StdE, e.g. shifting from talking to (foreigner) educated adult, to educated Singaporean, to mid-aged child, to young child; pattern would be to avoid SCE features such as pragmatic particles for the most part, introducing more of them in stage two, then other features in stages 3 and 4.

    Gupta's study of familiar use of StdE and SCE shows more use of SCE with small children, more StdE with less-young children, more StdE with adults, especially foreigners. Children thus develop a pattern, and a knowledge of StdE before school and begin to learn how to use it, where to use it appropriately.

    Focus on both users (the people, the speakers) and usage (how lgs. are used.)

  5. StdE and SCE in School

    Observing usage in schools, we can see that spontaneous use of SCE does occur in S. schools, e.g. in informal conversations, chatting, greetings, and as a transitional and explanatory device. AG gives example of how teachers socialize children as they learn to use the toilet. At beginning of the year, there is less StdE, more SCE; by the end, less SCE and more StdE. As grade levels rise, less and less SCE. Teachers tend to

    Sometimes in early grades, even Mandarin or Malay will be used for communication, explanation, as a bridge to English . As for teaching content content may override form, e.g. in the example with the picture of rectangles

    	|	     |
    	|	     |
    				  |          |
      				  |          |
    One child says: There are two circles             Second child says: Got two rectangle

    First child will be corrected in Math class; but second child will be corrected in English class but not in math class. Children must be allowed to communicate, and must not be error corrected constantly for form. SCE usage is what children communicate best in.

  6. English in the Wider Community Roles of English continue to expand; increase in literacy, wider and wider casual use observed. What is SCE used for most:

    AG gives various examples of interethnic use of other ethnic language (Tamils using Chinese, Ch. using Tamil) for interethnic solidarity, friendliness. This use is formulaic. and friendly.

    SCE has the role of interethnic language; StdE is ethnically neutral but not class neutral. (Others would say StdE is not neutral, because of its class marking.)

    Most people who become proficient in SCE, as from childhood, eventually learn StdE, but perhaps in future there may be large numbers who are proficient in SCE but not in StdE, which will make it more like other parts of the E-speaking world, e.g. Caribbean.

    The moral of this chapter is proficiency in SCEnglish is not the same as proficiency in Standard English.
last modified 11/26/06