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Abstract: Siemund

How multilingual are Singaporeans really? A sociolinguistic analysis of multilingualism amongst university and polytechnic students in Singapore         

Peter Siemund, Monika Edith Schulz, Martin Schweinberger

The focus of research on Singapore English has traditionally been on its structural features, while the relationship between English and other official languages of the Republic within the individual speaker has attracted much less interest, and comparatively little empirical data exist on the actual linguistic ecology of individual Singaporeans.

The present study explores the results of detailed language background questionnaires eliciting the linguistic and sociological background of 300 Singaporean university and polytechnic students. They assess not only how many languages a speaker is proficient in, but also when and how they acquired each language, and how often and in which contexts speakers make use of which language. In addition, the questionnaires elicit information on the attitudes that students hold towards their languages.

The data depict a fine-grained picture of language use amongst Singaporean students that seriously challenges the notion of the typical multilingual Singaporean. While our student cohort as a whole is linguistically diverse, diversity comes in the form of ethnically and linguistically distinct, predominantly bi- and trilingual subgroups, comprising essentially four major language profiles. At the same time, university students are typically bilingual, while trilingualism is more common amongst polytechnic students. These findings tie in with previous claims according to which the Speak Mandarin Campaign has caused a dramatic language shift situation that extenuates multilingualism in favor of bi- and trilingualism. On the whole, students report positive attitudes towards English and their respective mother tongue, portraying bi- or trilingual identities. Attitudes towards Singapore Colloquial English (Singlish) are also generally positive, especially amongst university students. Apparently, Singlish continues to serve as an important marker of Singaporean identity.

Please join us on Friday, February 27, 2015 in CHD 420 at 3:00pm.