[lg policy] dissertation: Modelling Variation in Singapore English

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at GMAIL.COM
Wed Jan 6 16:47:52 UTC 2010

Modelling Variation in Singapore English

Institution: University of Oxford
Program: Faculty of English Language and Literature
Dissertation Status: Completed
Degree Date: 2009

Author: Jakob R. E. Leimgruber

Dissertation Title: Modelling Variation in Singapore English

Linguistic Field(s): Sociolinguistics

Dissertation Director:
Suzanne Romaine

Dissertation Abstract:

This thesis seeks to shed light on the issue of sociolinguistic variation
within the English spoken in Singapore. The variable usage of the
co-existing Standard English and the localised vernacular, often called
'Singlish', has been explained in two major ways. The continuum hypothesis
first formulated by Platt (1975) describes it as a seamless succession of
sociolects, ranging from the standard to the basilect, Singlish. Speakers
have at their disposal a given span of this continuum, depending on their
position on a scale of educational attainment. In contrast to this
approach, Gupta (1989, 1994, 2006b) views the situation as one of classic
diglossia, where Standard English is H and Singlish is L. Alternative
models have been proposed, usually based on either of these two approaches.

The empirical part of this thesis aims to provide quantitative data with
which to select the model most appropriate for the Singaporean case.
Thirty- six informants (average age 17.5 years) were drawn from three
post-secondary schools stratified by academic requirements, and came in
equal numbers from the country's three majority ethnic groups (Chinese,
Malays, Indians). They were interviewed in four settings designed to
trigger decreasing levels of formality: an individual interview, a dialogue
recording, a task-based group recording, and an unmonitored
radio-microphone recording. The variables investigated are Singlish's
ubiquitous discourse particles, substrate-influenced aspect markers,
existential constructions with got, and properties of the verb (inflexions,
modals, and the copula).

Findings from the quantitative analysis show the need for a more
qualitative- based approach, which in turn suggests that the traditional
frameworks within which Singapore English was analysed, typically as
consisting of two (or more) individual codes between which speakers
alternate, need refinement. A model based on indexicality (Silverstein
2003, Eckert 2008) is shown as providing a better way of explaining the
high levels of variation observed. Rather than alternating between
homogeneous codes, speakers are seen as selecting fea-tures associated with
a code 'Standard' and 'Singlish' in order to index social meanings. This
approach, novel in the Singaporean context, provides a new and unparalleled
explanatory power for variation in Singapore English.

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