Anthea Fraser Gupta A.F.Gupta at
Tue Mar 22 12:19:39 UTC 2005

Thanks to Paul for the message -- I'm glad the Bengali error will be
going at least (as some of you might guess from my name, some of my best
friends are Bengalis, so nothing personal against Bangla...). I  alerted
Ethnologue to the errors in 1996, in time for the new edition: my
frustration came from seeing them perpetuated in the subsequent edition.

There are two issues in the Ethnologue, the first of which should be

1) The need for information to be factually correct, from the most
reliable sources available, and as up to date as possible.

2) SIL has a model of language which is linked to concepts of ancestry
and indigeneity (some of my papers on this topic are on my website). In
countries where there is widespread multilingualism, ethnic mixing, and
language shift this model becomes problematic because people cannot be
assumed to speak the language(s) of their ancestors.

I would suggest that for Singapore data on literacy, religion and so on
could come from the 2000 census: this deals with the factual. There are
no reliable figures on native languages (though there are reasonable
guesstimates) since 1957. It is in line with SIL philosophy that
ancestral linguistic identification should be given, and the languages
associated with these groups are still in use, so I can understand why
they need to be there. I would suggest that the best way to reconcile
the past and the present are to have  a brief explanatory paragraph
explaining the ethnic figures. You could then retain figures for
paternal ancestry (they should come from the 1990 census -- the 2000
census ditched it).

I would suggest the following text:


Republic of Singapore. Official languages: English, Malay (national
language), Mandarin Chinese, Tamil. Total population of 4,017,733 of
whom 3,263,200 (81.2%) were residents: ethnic Chinese residents are
2,505,400 (76.8%) (2000 census). Literacy rate: 92.5%(2000). Many other
smaller groups. Foreign population very diverse. Buddhist/Taoist (51% of
residents), Muslim (14.9%), no religion (14.8%), Christian (14.6%),
Hindu (4%) (2000). Blind population: 1,248++ (1995, Lim). Deaf
institutions: 2 schools, 1 association.

Knowledge and daily use of more than one language is almost universal in
Singapore, in all age groups. Many people have switched from the
languages of their ancestors to official languages. Mandarin Chinese,
English, and Malay in particular have acquired speakers.  Other
varieties of Chinese, all Indo-Aryan and Dravidian languages, and all
Malayo-Polynesian languages have lost speakers. Singaporeans have an
official ancestral (paternal) ethnic group: the figures below indicate
this (1990 census). A good guide to knowledge of the four official
languages can be found in the literacy rates (2000 census). It cannot be
assumed that individuals can speak the language of their ancestry.
Conversely, many Singaporeans not of that ancestry can speak Hokkien and
Cantonese. There has also been widespread ethnic mixing, especially
since the mid-twentieth century.


Additional References

Lau Kak En. 1992. Singapore Census of Population 1990: Statistical
Release 1: Demographic Characteristics. Singapore: Department of

Leow Bee Geok. 2001. Census of population 2000. Advance data release.
Singapore: Singapore Department of Statistics.

Leow Bee Geok. 2001. Census of population 2000. Statistical Release 1:
Demographic characteristics. Singapore: Singapore Department of

Leow Bee Geok. 2001. Census of population 2000. Statistical Release
2:Education, language and religion. Singapore: Singapore Department of

Lim, K H. 1998. Registration of new blindness in Singapore for
1985-1995. Singapore Medical Journal 39:3. <>

PS Is Yinglish staying in the UK entry? Will Patwa make an appearance?


*     *     *     *     *
Anthea Fraser Gupta (Dr)
School of English, University of Leeds, LS2 9JT
NB: Reply to a.f.gupta at
*     *     *     *     *

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