Adventures in Colloquial Singaporean English (Singlish) – Singlish in Society

Our final part of Adventures in Colloquial Singaporean English covers the controversy surrounding this creole of English. In Singapore, you may notice newspaper articles and educational materials are written (or more rather, typed) in grammatically correct English, but the English you hear on the streets tend to be rather ungrammatical (with respect to Standard English). So why has Singlish only deserved a place in the colloquial context?

Firstly, we have to understand the importance of English in Singapore. After independence, English retained the special status of language of public administration, government, business, and enjoying the semi-official status as a “working language”. Many officials have regularly highlighted the importance of English, and it has been seen as a tool for Singapore’s economic success. Given its importance to the survival of the city-state, there is a need for Singaporeans to be proficient in English. And so started the various policies to maintain Standard English in Singapore.

The Speak Good English Movement, or SGEM, was the most well known and influential language movements pertaining to English in Singapore. With the notion that Singlish lacks the professionalism and diminishes the economic competency of Singapore, the SGEM strives to maintain the upkeep of proficiency in Standard English, whilst discouraging the use of Singlish, as it is attributed to “bad English”. Another policy, showing the status of Singlish in Singaporean media, describes:

Standard English, which is grammatically correct, should be used for programmes such as news, current affairs and info-educational programmes. Local English, which is also grammatically correct but pronounced with a Singaporean accent and which may include local terms and expressions, could be used for programmes like dramas, comedies and variety shows. Singlish, which is ungrammatical local English, and includes dialect terms and sentence structures based on dialect, should not be encouraged and can only be permitted in interviews, where the interviewee speaks only Singlish. The interviewer himself, however, should not use Singlish. (MDA Free-to-air TV programme code 2011)

This policy has effectively restricted the use of Singlish in television programmes, and also shows how the hierarchy of English is in Singapore. It seems that on the apex comes Standard English, then Standard Singapore English, and at the base is Singlish, or Colloquial Singapore English.

Despite these efforts to discourage Singlish, the creole is still thriving in our society, albeit restricted to daily communication. People believe that Singlish has become part of the Singaporean identity, as such blending of linguistic features of various languages into English has created a rather unique vernacular. Today, Singlish is a subject of interest to many linguists, as they study the Englishes which varieties exist worldwide.

So this concludes our series on Singlish, let us know what you think about Singlish and its place in society.

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