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Sociolinguistics Symposium 19: Language and the City

Sociolinguistics Symposium 19

Freie Universität Berlin | August 21-24, 2012

Programme: accepted abstracts

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Abstract ID: 768

Part of General Poster Session (Other abstracts in this session)

Linguistic ecology of Chinese in Singapore: Discussing factors behind the general shift of Chinese dialects

Authors: Hing, Jia Wen
Submitted by: Hing, Jia Wen (National University of Singapore, Singapore)

Singapore is a multi-racial, multi-ethnic mega-city where Chinese makes up approximately 75% of total population (Yearbook of Statistics Singapore, 2011). Singaporean Chinese consists of immigrants and descendents from the Southern China continents, whom ethnicity includes Hokkien, Teochew, Cantonese, Hakka, Hainan, etc, each with their own dialects. These dialects record a dip in usage, and the decline is felt in daily interactions.

Malay, English, Chinese Mandarin and Tamil are the official languages in Singapore. Among the four languages, English is widely promoted as the language of communication across the nation. For survival and success in this vibrant sociolinguistics background, the government advocates and promotes bilingualism in education, so that each Singaporean will pick up at least two official languages, namely the “mother tongue” and English. Language policy that has affected Chinese the most is Speak Mandarin Campaign (SMC), whereby Chinese Mandarin is promoted as the language of communication among different Chinese ethnics. SMC is believed to be the major factor behind the decline of Chinese dialects. Other factors  include socioeconomic values, science and technology, etc.  

The proposed poster will primarily discuss macro-societal factors-- geography, historical demography, economy, language planning and policies-- behind the general shift of Chinese dialects towards English and Chinese Mandarin within Singaporean Chinese community. Primary data including speeches of government officers, media documentation, reports on the Ministry of Education, publications by Promote Mandarin Council and such are analysed. These data are time and context-sensitive, which includes ample evidences from different point of view which are used as the foundation in scrutinizing the shift.

There isn’t really a distinction between “urban” and “rural” in Singapore. Any changes in the linguistic ecology affect the linguistic urbanicity as a whole. The proposed poster shall address the discussion in five sections: 1) General linguistic background in Singapore, 2) General trends of language use in Singapore, 3) History, economic activities, social status, politics and media that have influenced the development of Chinese dialects, 4) Language planning and policies, 5) Current and future development of Chinese languages.

Two centuries ago, Chinese came to Singapore as immigrant workers. Though affected by various macro-societal factors, Chinese languages interact and are integrated into the development of other languages available on this tiny island. For example, Chinese dialects have seeped into the formation of Singlish the local creole.

Despite a general trend of language loss, Chinese dialects survived in certain local productions including movie and drama series, as well as in political speeches, as a mean to generate resonance within certain groups of Chinese. With new bilingualism policy proposed in 2011, the future development of Chinese Mandarin and other dialects remain unpredictable. It is hoped that continuous analysis shall reveal more about the future development of Chinese dialects.


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