Languages of Singapore

Languages of Singapore
OfficialEnglish, Singaporean Mandarin, Malay, Tamil
NationalMalay
MainEnglish (de facto)
Malay (de jure)
MinorityCantonese, Hokkien, Hainanese, Hakka, Teochew, Indonesian, Javanese, Japanese, Korean, Punjabi, Malayalam, Urdu
ImmigrantArabic, Farsi, Armenian, Bengali, Hebrew, Hindi, Telugu, Thai, Vietnamese, Yiddish
ForeignDutch, French, German, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, Filipino
SignedSingapore Sign Language
Keyboard layout

A multitude of languages are used in Singapore. It consists of several varieties of languages under the families of the Austronesian languages, Dravidian languages, Indo-European languages and Sino-Tibetan languages. According to the Constitution of Singapore, the national language of Singapore is Malay, which plays a symbolic role, as Malays are constitutionally recognised as the indigenous peoples of Singapore, and it is the government's duty to protect their language and heritage.[a] The constitution also states that the four commonly used languages of Singapore are English, Chinese, Malay and Tamil, with the lingua franca between Singaporeans of different races being English, the de facto main language. Singaporeans often speak Singlish among themselves. Singlish is an informal, colloquial form of English that is used in Singapore. Linguists define it as Singapore Colloquial English.[1]

The three languages other than English were chosen to correspond with the major ethnic groups present in Singapore at the time: Mandarin had gained status since the introduction of Chinese-medium schools; Malay was deemed the "most obvious choice" for the Malay community; and Tamil for the largest Indian ethnic group in Singapore, in addition to being "the language with the longest history of education in Malaysia and Singapore".[2] In 2009, more than 20 languages were identified as being spoken in Singapore, reflecting a rich linguistic diversity in the city.[3][4] Singapore's historical roots as a trading settlement gave rise to an influx of foreign traders,[5] and their languages were slowly embedded in Singapore's modern day linguistic repertoire.

In the early years, the lingua franca of the island was Bazaar Malay (Melayu Pasar), a creole of Malay and Chinese, the language of trade in the Malay Archipelago.[6] While it continues to be used among many on the island, especially Singaporean Malays, Malay has now been displaced by English. English became the lingua franca due to British rule of Singapore,[5] and was made the main language upon Singaporean independence. Thus, English is the medium of instruction in schools, and is also the main language used in formal settings such as in government departments and the courts. As Singaporean President Halimah Yacob said during her 2018 speech, "Through the education system, we adopted a common working language in English."[7]

Hokkien (Min Nan) briefly emerged as a lingua franca among the Chinese,[5] but by the late 20th century they had been eclipsed by Mandarin. The Government promotes Mandarin among Singaporean Chinese people, since it views the language as a bridge between Singapore's diverse non-Mandarin speaking groups, and as a tool for forging a common Chinese cultural identity.[8] China's economic rise in the 21st century has also encouraged a greater use of Mandarin. Other Chinese varieties such as Hokkien, Teochew, Hakka, Hainanese and Cantonese have been classified by the Government as "dialects", and language policies and language attitudes based on this classification and discouragement of usage in Non-Mandarin Chinese or "Chinese dialects" in official settings and television media have led to a decrease in the number of speakers of these varieties.[9] In particular, Singapore has its own lect of Mandarin; Singaporean Mandarin, itself with two varieties, Standard and Colloquial or spoken. While Tamil is one of Singapore's official and the most spoken Indian language, other Indian languages are also frequently used by minorities.[10]

Almost all Singaporeans are bilingual since Singapore's bilingual language education policy promotes a dual-language learning system. Learning a second language has been compulsory in primary schools since 1960 and secondary schools since 1966.[11] English is used as the main medium of instruction. On top of this, most children learn one of the three official languages (or, occasionally, another approved language) as a second language, according to their official registered ethnic group. Since 1 January 2011, if a person is of more than one ethnicity and their race is registered in the hyphenated format, the race chosen will be the one that precedes the hyphen in their registered race.[12]


Cite error: There are <ref group=lower-alpha> tags or {{efn}} templates on this page, but the references will not show without a {{reflist|group=lower-alpha}} template or {{notelist}} template (see the help page).

  1. ^ "Singapore Infopedia".
  2. ^ Cite error: The named reference Dixon (2009) was invoked but never defined (see the help page).
  3. ^ David, Maya Esther (2008). "Language Policies Impact on Language Maintenance and Teaching Focus on Malaysia Singapore and The Philippines" (PDF). University of Malaya Angel David Malaysia. Archived from the original on 5 November 2012. Retrieved 9 September 2017.
  4. ^ Lewis, M. Paul (2009). "Languages of Singapore". Ethnologue: Languages of the World. Archived from the original on 25 May 2012. Retrieved 13 November 2010.
  5. ^ a b c Lee, C.L. (2013). "Saving Chinese-language education in Singapore". Current Issues in Language Planning. 13 (4): 285–304. doi:10.1080/14664208.2012.754327. S2CID 143543454.
  6. ^ Bao, Z.; Aye, K.K. (2010). "Bazaar Malay topics". Journal of Pidgin and Creole Languages. 25 (1): 155–171. doi:10.1075/jpcl.25.1.06bao.
  7. ^ "Address By President Halimah Yacob For Second Session Of The Thirteenth Parliament". 2018.
  8. ^ Goh, Chok Tong (11 October 2014). "English version of Speech in Mandarin by the Prime Minister, Mr Goh Chok Tong". Speak Mandarin Campaign. Archived from the original on 26 October 2014. Retrieved 11 October 2014.
  9. ^ Abu Baker, Jalelah (8 March 2009). "One generation – that's all it takes 'for a language to die'". The Straits Times. Singapore. Archived from the original on 12 January 2012. Retrieved 12 October 2010.
  10. ^ "Census of Population 2010 Archived 13 November 2013 at the Wayback Machine" (table 4), Singapore Department of Statistics. Retrieved 17 October 2014.
  11. ^ See Language education in Singapore.
  12. ^ "Greater Flexibility with Implementation of Double-Barrelled Race Option from 1 January 2011". Archived from the original on 26 November 2015. Retrieved 3 May 2016.

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