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Languages in Singapore

During the British colony, the nearest thing to a common language had been Malay which was been used by ethnic groups to communicate in the marketplace while the administration used English with translation employed when necessary. The most of the Chinese used simplified form of Hokkien while other ethnically Chinese population spoke Cantonese, Teochew, Hainanese or Hakka. The large number of Chinese Schools and the rising of Chinese nationalism during the early year of the twentieth century led to an attempt to teach Mandarin and use the language on formal occasion. Languages such as Hindi, Tamil or Punjabi were also used at home and in gathering of members of the same speech groups.

To foster national unity and national identity the Singapore government promoted four official languages namely- English, Malay, Chinese (Mandarin) and Tamil: Malay is the country’s national language; English serves a language of administration; Mandarin is use as lingua-franca for the Chinese in place of dialects like Hokkien, Teochew, Cantonese, Hakka, Hainanese and Foochow; Tamil is widely use by Indian communities.

The entire Malay population in the country virtually speaks Malay, though they are considered minority in status the position of the language is not threatened for both neighboring countries Malaysia and Indonesia use Malay as their national language. The Malay is utilized in conducting daily affairs of the country’s government. The most commonly Malay language spoken in Singapore is the Johore-Riau which is similar to the spoken language of those in Malay Peninsula. During the 1970s Malay was the most important language for intergroup communication with almost all the Indians and the almost half of the Chinese population in Singapore claim to understand.

Most of the Indian population in Singapore was originated from South-East India thus about 60% of the Indian community use Tamil as their native tongue. Some Indian communities in Singapore speak Hindi, Gujarati, Malayalam and Punjabi. Singapore along with India and Sri Lanka use Tamil as an official language. The language is characterized by the use of retroflex consonants and agglutinative grammar however it is seldom used in the country which resulted in fast deterioration of Tamil literacy.

During the early time most ethnically Chinese population use varieties of Chinese particularly Cantonese, Hainanese, Hakka and Teochew. In the late 1970s the government of Singapore concluded that the use of different Chinese dialect was a discordant and so a Mandarin Campaign was launched to convince the Chinese population to use Mandarin instead. The ethnic Chinese were required to study Mandarin through secondary school and passing a Mandarin examination were required for university admission while 162 hour Mandarin conversation course was a requisite for those Chinese civil servants. The mainstream Chinese media in Singapore was dominated by Mandarin. By the late 1980s the Chinese population in Singapore claimed to be able to speak Mandarin. Improvement of communication between Chinese speaking groups, teach people to read Chinese and promote Confucianism were the goal of the Speak Mandarin Campaign.

English is the most commonly use language in the country. The English language serves as a common platform between the diverse ethnic groups in Singapore. The English was introduced by the British. During the colonial period English language was used by government for communication with translation if needed. Singapore decided to keep English as a language of administration and work after gaining its independence in 1963. By 1987, the primary medium of all education in Singapore has been English.

English is taught in school and used at home so children do not forget the language. About 30% of the population speaks English at home and it is one of the first languages thought to pre-school children.

Singapore English or more popularly known as Singlish was originated during the establishment of English Schools of colonial Singapore. Singlish is a mixture of other languages into English. During the colonial times those children of Europeans and other foreign nationals go to English medium schools, later on other small minorities such as Chinese, Indians and Ceylonese start going to the same schools. The interaction between different races and those non English speakers created an informal colloquial English language.

Singlish is a mixture of Standard English and other spoken languages particularly Malay and Hokkien. Singlish is considered to be “Broken English”. One might encounter hearing a Singaporean using “ah”, “lah”, “leh”, “mah” as an expression. “Ah” is a form of conformity to the person you are speaking to (eg, “This boy ah, very naughty!) while “lah” and “leh” shows assertion (eg, “The price is too high lah”, “Very far leh”). “Mah” is used in statement that is already obviously true. Another very commonly used word in Singlish is donno (don’t know), alleady (already) and habis (finished).

Singapore is a truly unique country; it is fair enough to say that Singaporean have their own distinctive way of speaking the English language and that what makes it Singaporean English.

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