Handout for SARS 523,
Multilingual Education in South/Southeast Asia
Review of Chapter 8, Language Maintenance and Language Shift in the Tamil-English Community
Begins by describing the situation as the Tamil-English Community, not the Tamil community. In fact she is admitting that the situation in the so-called Tamil community is one of shift, with very little maintenance, as she will show. This is the only article in this compendium that actually declares this to be the case; in general in Singapore language shift since it is not part of the planned policy, is not dignified by giving it any attention.
She raises the following issues:
Despite planning measures and lg. maintenance measures, surveys of use show decline of Tamil, from generation to generation. Table 8.1:
Language Survey (of lg. use) among Tamil-English bilinguals. (Source: Census of Singapore, 1970, 1980, 1990).
|Tamil and English||19.1||29.5||45.1|
|English and Malay||9.4||16.0||27.0|
In Singapore since 1970, literacy supposedly increased during this period, since second-lg. learning (of the so-called "mother tongue" has become compulsory) but in fact this has not resulted in increased use of Tamil as a spoken language.
|60 and above||
These figures do show an increase in literacy, but they do not show an increase in use of Tamil. In 1990, principal family langauge was 43.7% though 64% of Indians are of Tamil-speaking origin. Number of Indian households speaking predominantly English increased to 34.8%, Malay to 13.5% with Tamil reduced. (Other Indians speak other Indian languages, Indo-Aryan or Dravidian.) 1990 census shows shift to English in all groups, largest shift being among Chinese and Tamils. Looking at specific domains, other surveys shows decline in play environment, social and friendship domains also declining. Language use data do not bear out the literacy increase data.
Table 8.3: Predominant Household Language, Tamils and Malays (percentages)
Tamils came to Singapore and Malaysia to work on plantations, displacing their usual linguistic situation. Two kinds of Tamils came:
They came in an indentured-labor system mainly in the 1930's and later (after War) in 1940's to work in harbor, transport and conservancy systems, and to construct roads and railways. If any had English high-school education they could work in British Navy and military bases. After plantation industry declined in Singapore (tho not in Malaysia) workers moved over into transportation, conservancy and construction. (Many now working as security guards, sweepers/cleaners, bus drivers, etc.)
Attitudes about language: Because of the bifurcation of the two categories above, Tamil as a home language became linked with the lowest socio-economic class, and English-educated Tamils began to abandon Tamil, which some referred to as a "coolie language." Educated people found it easier to move up into semi- and professional classes through English education; uneducated found themselves stuck in lower jobs and did not see room to advance. (Cf. article by Marimuttu in Indian Communities in Southeast Asia, A. Mani ed.) Their status was stigmatized and continues to be, esp. by English-educated, who do not want to be associated with the "coolies" ("lokal', "paLenge"). These people remain primarily monolingual (or perhaps speak some Malay; more so if they are Muslim) despite the English education track in schools. Many leave school early, after the streaming process after middle school.
Saravanan quotes some of the stigmatized labels used for these people: lokal, paLenge, maTTam, piDikkaada muTTaaL. They are streamed into the technological sciences and discouraged from abstract subjects. Thus Tamils have chosen, or have chosen for them, two paths: the less educated continue on a path of low socioeconomic outcome, and low prestige; the ones who can escape do so and leave the language behind.
Attitudinal and affective behavior of the Tamil community towards English and Tamil. VS Asks the following questions:
Language use can be categorized by domain; this well-known in diglossic situations. English is the dominant langauge of the work domain in Singapore; how much is there a choice outside this domain (as there seems to be for Chinese Singaporeans?) What other domains might one reserve for Tamil?
What seems to happen is that Tamils do not reserve any domains for Tamil if they are educated; only some age-related (friendships, other associations) might reserve Tamil, but not for younger people. Thus even educated older Tamils who speak English most of the time might use Tamil among friends of their generation, but younger Tamilians will not. English is thus the preferred code in almost all domains by English-educated Tamilians. As noted by others, Tamil does not have the same status as other languages; there are no jobs one needs Tamil for (except perhaps working for the Tamil Newspaper, or as a Tamil teacher), but in general, Tamil has no economic value.
Oftimes people spoken to in Tamil will reply in English, even if it is not grammatical. Few politicians or other public figures will speak Tamil in public, even to other Tamils. Tamil and the Tamil-speaking community are thus undergoing an identity crisis.
Tamil is a diglossic language exhibiting differences between Literary and Spoken. Official support of Tamil is all for the LT variety, and not the spoken. Spoken Tamil used more by less-educated; nobody speaks LT, but educated people know it and can read and write it. School and other officials do not want to allow ST to be used in school, for any purposes. Students have to memorize much material, incl. Tirukkural slokas, which they do not retain. (This is part of moral education agenda.). Purists accept only a pristine or cleansed kind of "pure" Tamil and reject any borrowings or code-mixing. Some of this now changing in lower grades, but as students progress, more and more emphasis on LT. Teachers often use ST to teach LT, but deny it (e.g. the Tamil teacher at St. Joseph's Institution.)
Clear that the excessive prescriptive and purist attitudes of teachers turn students off. Students know that colloquial Tamil is the natural language to use in informal domain, but teachers rail against it. Students end up tongue-tied (a term that occurs again and again.) All these arguments have been evinced again and again; cf. e.g. my own work on what I refer to as the "paradox" of egalitarian language policies.
Attempts have been made to expand use of Tamil in religiuos and cultural activities, but some see this as too little, too late. Often the language of the temple is mixed English and Tamil. Young artists are not drawn to these activities, but see themselves perhaps in resistance to them: they are old, stodgy, not innovative and modern.
Tamil and the Media.
Some use of Tamil in the media in Singapore: radio, TV, Indian film industry. Film language is spoken dialect, not LT; this is popular. Indian media (in Tamil) are more relaxed than Singapore. Singapore media (SBC) uses LT almost exclusively, except for one sit-com. Now a new emphasis on talk-show format, audience participation, call-in shows etc., quiz shows, variety shows. Use of mixed codes (Tamil-English-Malay); spoken language, now tolerated on these shows.
Tamil as an Intra-ethnic Language: Indian Muslims, Malayalis, Chettiars.
Tamil to some extent used by a number of "different" communities: Muslims, Hindus, Malayalis, Chettiars (why mention them specifically?) but not Panjabis, Hindis, Bengalis etc. The latter Indo-Aryan groups now can choose their own languages (taught at community centers) or Malay. Muslims are 26% of the Indian population; among them 45,000 Tamil speakers. Some intermarry with Malays and become Malay; others speak English, even at the Mosque. But some also bring brides from India, which helps keep the language alive. And conservatism among the Muslim women anyway keeps them more monolingual.
Malayalis community finds it easy to use Tamil and supports it. They have prospered with Tamil and do not find it hard to learn; don't want to replace it with classical Malayalam in schools.
Tamil in Sembawang.
There used to be a strong Tamil community in and around the naval base at Sembawang, and Tamils dominated there; it was one domain dominated by Tamil under British rule. (VS calls it an ethnic community space.) But Tamil has also declined here, since the housing has been torn down and replaced by HDB housing, and everybody was relocated. However in the religious domain, in temples around Sembawang, there is more Tamil maintained than in other places in Singapore. In the work environment there (Seagate factories making disk-drives) there tends to be a lot of mixed Tamil-English tho work instruction is given in English. In food stalls Tamil predominates; in the home Tamil used by older people, women using more Tamil. But the higher the work quals, the more English will be used. NIE Tamil faculty report that Tamil survives in the curriculum mainly because it is required, not because the users want it.
Summary Table 8.4 of some factors that influence language shift and language death.
|Little future in indigenous language
No significance in national politics
[NNA, ESG, Tbh, ST, S]
[ESG, ST, TBh]
Social and occupational stigmatization
[ESG, Tbh, ST]
Little social and economic mobility
|Absence of loyalty to traditional languages [NNA, ST?]
Little future in their own culture [NNA, ST], ESG
Lacking in self-identity, self-image
Low status [ESG, ST]
Stigmatized in schools [ESG]
Little functional use [ST]
Marginalized; ceased to be socially acceptable, socially dominant [Tbh, ESG, ST]
|Replacive, Shift to English
Loss and decline leading to language death [NNA, ESG, Tbh]
No self-renewal [Tbh, NNA, ESG, S, St?]
Dominant elite language replacing indigenous languages [NNA, ESG, Tbh, ST]
Using English as a vehicle for universalism and pan_Indianism [NNA]
Self-renewal and government intervention
Leading perhaps to a delay in the process of shift [ST] but this may not stop shift [ST]
Key: ESG: East Sutherland Gaelic; TBh: Trinidad Bhojpuri; ST: Singapore Tamil; NNA: Native North American languages; S: Sekani
Tamil will remain a 'classroom language' only, not functioning in other domains, given the prescriptiveness and purism of teachers and other advocates for Tamil in Singapore. Indian children know that it is their success in English that will determine their success, not their success in Tamil. Students only take it to pass the A-level and O-level exams to get into university. What can the community do? Be more proactive, expand the roles, use Tamil more... [and be less purist, less die-hard elitist: hs]
last modified 4/9/99