Languages of Singapore

Languages Of Singapore

The Singapore Government recognizes four official languages: English, Malay, Chinese, and Tamil. These official languages, along with a multitude of other languages, reflect Singapore's multiracial, multicultural and multilingual nature. In 2009, there are more than 20 languages identified as being spoken in Singapore. Singapore's role as a trading settlement in colonial times, and now a prominent cosmopolitan centre of trade and services, has long attracted foreigners from Asia and beyond. The languages they brought with them greatly influenced the languages in Singapore.

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. 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 the British rule of Singapore, and was made the main language upon Singaporean independence. In early years it served to unite the races which each had their own languages, and remains the primary language of academic education.

Hokkien briefly emerged as a lingua franca among the Chinese, but by the late twentieth century was eclipsed by Mandarin. The government promotes Mandarin among Singaporean Chinese, since it views Mandarin as a bridge between Singapore's diverse non-Mandarin speaking groups, and as a tool for forging a common Chinese cultural identity. China's economic rise in the 21st century has also encouraged a greater use of Mandarin. On the other hand, other non-Mandarin Chinese languages such as Hokkien, Teochew, Hakka, Hainanese and Cantonese have been classified as dialects. Government language policies and changes in language attitudes based on such classifications have led to the subsequent decrease in the number of speakers of these languages. Tamil is the predominant Indian language in use; however, many other dialects are found. Unlike the smaller Malay and Chinese dialects, Indian dialects are able to be used in schools.

Singapore has a policy of bilingualism, where students learn in English but are taught the language of their ethnicity, referred to as their "mother tongue". The mother tongue is seen as a way to preserve unique cultural values in the multicultural society, although their usage is decreasing in the home as English becomes more predominant (see Language attrition). The loss of the dialects has been even more prominent, as many are now banned from usage on mass media and may only be spoken by the elderly.

Read more about Languages Of Singapore:  English As The Main Language, Home Languages, Bilingualism and Multilingualism, Media and The Arts, Linguistic Ecology of Singapore

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