Malay Language Campaign in Singapore: A Critical Discourse Analysis of the Bulan Bahasa

Author: Muhammad Irwan Jamal (Independent Scholar)
Speaker: Muhammad Irwan Jamal
Topic: Language Ideologies
The (SCOPUS / ISI) SOAS GLOCAL CALA 2020 General Session


In Singapore’s bilingual policy, English is intended to serve as the language of administration, commerce and technology while the Mother Tongue Languages (Malay, Mandarin & Tamil) are linked with one’s ethnic identity. With English being increasingly used in Malay homes, the Bulan Bahasa (Malay Language month/campaign) plays an even more important role in ensuring that “users of the Malay language are heirs of the rich Malay language, and can ensure the continuity of the language through continuous usage”. This research aims to ascertain the discursive strategies deployed by the government via the Bulan Bahasa to achieve its aims and the ideologies that underpin those strategies. The Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA) framework is applied to examine the speeches given by the campaign’s chairperson and Guest-of-Honour at the opening ceremony of the Malay Language Month and the visual resources deployed for the campaign. In analyzing the speeches, the ideational meaning is described using Halliday’s (1994) Transitivity System whereas the mood and modality analysis will be utilized to articulate the interpersonal meaning of the text. In addition, Kress and Van Leeuwen’s (1994) Grammar of Visual Design is applied to link the visual with the linguistic analysis by examining the processes, participants and circumstantial information (ideational meaning) as well as the type of shot, perspective and relationship (interpersonal) meaning that can be drawn from the visual campaign resources. Findings in the research show the dominance of the Government in the material, mental and verbal processes as compared to the Community who are rather inactive, non-thinking and muted. In addition, a hybrid identity constructed in the use of pronoun “Kita” (We) was strategically deployed within the campaign discourse to serve a dual purpose of instructing as well as coaxing its readers. Findings from this microanalysis is then mapped onto the larger sociopolitical, economic, educational and sociocultural context of Singapore, which then forms the macro analysis of this study.

Keywords: Malay language; critical discourse analysis; transitivity; visual grammar