[lg policy] Four language formula speaks well for Singapore
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Sun Sep 8 16:12:23 UTC 2013
Four language formula speaks well for Singapore
By Dr V Subramaniam 04/09/2013 19:43:00
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Singapore’s multiracial and multicultural social makeup has resulted in a
peculiar language profile.
The country has adopted one representative language for each of the four
major ethnic groups, including English, Chinese, Malay and Tamil.
These official languages, along with a multitude of other languages,
reflect Singapore’s multiracial, multicultural and multilingual nature.
However, in recognition of the indigenous status of the Malay community,
the national language is Bahasa Melayu, or the Malay language.
Singapore’s role as a trading settlement in colonial times, and now a
dynamic cosmopolitan centre of trade and services, has long attracted
people from Asia and beyond. The languages they brought with them have
greatly influenced the country’s language policy.
English is an integral part of the Singaporean identity. It is the language
of administration and is promoted as important for international business.
With the language playing an important role in Singaporean life, the
Government has adopted a policy of bilingualism, whereby students learn in
English but are also taught their mother tongue. The bilingual education
policy rose from the need to operate in the global economy, using English
while fostering the other major Asian languages and cultures.
The mother tongue is seen as a way to preserve unique values, although its
usage is decreasing in homes, with English becoming predominant.
The Government emphasises the need to speak fluent English and the mother
tongue of the major ethnic groups, in order to reach out to the
‘Singlish,’ a mixture of Malay, Chinese and Indian languages has emerged as
an informal, hybrid form of the language. This localised English-based
creole is widely regarded as symbolising Singaporean identity, but many
disapprove, saying that the standard of spoken and written English has been
Almost everyone in Singapore speaks more than one language, with many
speaking three or four languages. Most children grow up bilingual, learning
other languages as they become older. With a majority of the population
bilingual, English and Mandarin are the most commonly used languages.
Indians constitute about 9% of Singapore’s population of 5.4 million. About
65% of Indians speak Tamil, which is taught in schools. While Tamil is the
only Indian language enjoying an official status, other languages such as
Hindi, Telugu, Kannada, Malayalam, Punjabi, Bengali and Gujarati are also
Movies made in these languages are shown in local cinemas. Tamil films are
popular with local Tamils as well as other ethnic Indians.
A Tamil TV channel called ‘MediaCorp Vasantham’ and Tamil radio programmes
are popular, with slots for other Indian languages.
Singapore has been the home for multi-ethnic groups for more than 200
years. It symbolises multiculturalism, with people of varied cultures and
languages contributing to its dynamism, vibrancy, interaction and cohesion.
*Dr V Subramaniam is our Singapore Correspondent.*
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