Beyond a Sinicized Singlish: An Exploration of Subvariants of Singlish through Discourse Particles

Author: Firqin Sumartono (Nanyang Technological University, Singapore)
Speaker: Firqin Sumartono
Topic: Language, Community, Ethnicity
The (SCOPUS / ISI) SOAS GLOCAL CALA 2020 General Session


Of late, the debate and research surrounding Singlish has largely ignored the different variations of Singlish spoken in Singapore. Heralded as the unifying language for Singaporeans, Singlish is said to be a common code that bridges ethnic, cultural and socio-economic boundaries and a source of identity for many Singaporeans. Furthermore, research and the national discourse surrounding Singlish has largely been focused on its Sinicized forms, largely portraying the vernacular as homogenous amongst the diverse citizens. However, this study argues that Singlish is not homogenous nor is the Sinicized Singlish a shared code by all Singaporeans, but is instead adapted by minority communities in Singapore to negotiate social spaces. Since Malays constitute the second largest ethnic group in Singapore and is also the group with the slowest rate of language shift towards English, insights into Singlish usage is relevant in allowing us to understand if the community uses its own variation of Singlish, and what this “variant” of Singlish does in intra-ethnic communication. This study investigates Singlish spoken by Malay-English bilingual speakers in Singapore, and in particular, focusing on the use of discourse particles by Malay bilingual speakers. Looking at Singlish from a non-Sinicized view has implications for the development of Singlish and its function in a multilingual society.

Keywords: Singlish, sinicized singlish, sinicization, Malay, Singapore, sociolinguistics, intra-ethnic communication, multilingualism