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Modelling Variation in Singapore English

Jakob R. E. Leimgruber Pembroke College University of Oxford

A thesis submitted for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy

Trinity 2009

AbstractJakob R. E. Leimgruber Pembroke College D.Phil English Language Trinity 2009

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his thesis seeks to shed light on the issue of sociolinguistic variation within the English spoken in Singapore. The variable usage of the co-existing Standard English and the localised vernacular, often called Singlish, has been explained in two major ways. The continuum hypothesis rst formulated by Platt (1975) describes it as a seamless succession of sociolects, ranging from the standard to the basilect, Singlish. Speakers have at their disposal a given span of this continuum, depending on their position on a scale of educational attainment. In contrast to this approach, Gupta (1989, 1994, 2006b) views the situation as one of classic diglossia, where Standard English is H and Singlish is L. Alternative models have been proposed, usually based on either of these two approaches. The empirical part of this thesis aims to provide quantitative data with which to select the model most appropriate for the Singaporean case. Thirtysix informants (average age 17.5 years) were drawn from three post-secondary schools stratied by academic requirements, and came in equal numbers from the countrys three majority ethnic groups (Chinese, Malays, Indians). They were interviewed in four settings designed to trigger decreasing levels of formality: an individual interview, a dialogue recording, a task-based group recording, and an unmonitored radio-microphone recording. The variables investigated are Singlishs ubiquitous discourse particles, substrate-inuenced aspect markers, existential constructions with got, and properties of the verb (inexions, modals, and the copula). Findings from the quantitative analysis show the need for a more qualitativebased approach, which in turn suggests that the traditional frameworks within which Singapore English was analysed, typically as consisting of two (or more) individual codes between which speakers alternate, need renement. A model based on indexicality (Silverstein 2003, Eckert 2008) is shown as providing a better way of explaining the high levels of variation observed. Rather than alternating between homogeneous codes, speakers are seen as selecting features associated with a code Standard and Singlish in order to index social meanings. This approach, novel in the Singaporean context, provides a new and unparalleled explanatory power for variation in Singapore English.

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Acknowledgements

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his thesis would have been impossible without the help of many people, to whom I would like to express my heartfelt thanks. My gratitude goes rst and foremost to my parents, who made my time at Oxford possible, and to Marie, my wife, who patiently supported me during often trying times. Her family also deserves mention here, not least for their wonderful hospitality in the course of my numerous trips to Singapore. My thanks also go to my supervisor Prof. Suzanne Romaine (Merton College) for her guidance, as well as to Prof. Deborah Cameron (Worcester College), under whose supervision I started an exciting three years in Oxford. The comments on my transfer of status chapter by my college advisor Prof. Lynda Mugglestone (Pembroke College) and Prof. John Coleman (Phonetics Laboratory) were inuential in the way the thesis evolved. In the course of my research I have beneted from stimulating discussions with Prof. Ben Rampton (KCL) and Dr Elinor Keane (Phonetics Laboratory) on eldwork design, with Dr Greg Kochanski (Phonetics Laboratory) and Dr Francis Marriott (Statistics Department) on statistical methods, with Dr Bao Zhiming (NUS) on the aspectual system of SgE, with Dr Peter Tan (NUS) on the use of corpora in the analysis of SgE, with Dr Norhaida Aman (NIE) on eldwork in Singapore schools, and with Dr Lubna Alsago (NIE) on the suitability of the models discussed herein. I am also indebted to and would like to thank my examiners, Dr Anthea Fraser Gupta (Leeds) and Dr David Cram (Jesus College), who suggested very useful corrections and amendments to an earlier version of this thesis. Dr Pamela Macdonald (Bangor), Prof. Eddie Williams (Bangor), and my father, Prof. Walter Leimgruber, proofread the nal chapters and provided helpful feedback. Finally, Prof. Robert Rehder and his wife Mrs Caroline Rehder were of invaluable help painstakingly proofreading the complete thesis. My condolences go to Caroline for the loss of her husband in April 2009. The eldwork in Singapore was made possible thanks to the Singapore Ministry of Education, which granted me access to their Junior Colleges. In addition, I beneted from the help of several people in each of the participating schools: I would here like to reiterate my gratitude to Mr Samuel Wee and Ms Emily J. L. Low, to Mr Eden Liew and Ms Connie Lim, and to Mrs Virginia Cheng, Mr Mark Lo, Mdm Chua Mui Ling Dorothy, Ms Meena M. Kaur, and Ms Wan Wai Sum for their invaluable cooperation in allowing their institutions to take part in the eldwork, recruiting my informants, organising the interview venues, and providing an exciting insight into the Singapore education system. iii

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

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I extend my thanks to the thirty-six informants who took part in this study, and who willingly sacriced their time for my benet. Without them, nothing of substance would have transpired from this thesis. A word of thanks also goes to my fellow postgraduate students in the Oxford linguistics department: the stimulating discussions in the course of my studies here have contributed signicantly to the thesis as it is now. Dr Kristina Hultgren (St. Annes College) deserves extra thanks for lending me her recording equipment for the duration of my eldwork. Further help came from Sandra Kotzor (Kellog) and Dr Daniel Klligan (Wolfson) for German grammaticality o judgements, Nick Zair (Merton) for those in English, Lindsay Weichel (Exeter) for the Poqomch examples, Dr Suriel Mofu (St. Cross) for help with Malay, and Dr Simon Dobnik (Queens) for the Slovenian data and help with statistical testing. Simon, together with Miltiadis Kokkonidis (Linacre) and Dr Rachele De Felice (St. Catherines), also patiently helped me with some of A the intricacies of L TEX 2 . Thank you also to Chandraselven Bavani for help with Tamil transcriptions. Financial support was given throughout my studies by the Pembroke Dean of Graduates Fund, which covered signicant proportions of travel expenses. The rst half of the eldwork in 2006 was made possible by the Maxwell & Meyerstein Special Research Committee Grant, awarded by the English Faculty. In my third year I beneted from the Pembroke College Browning Senior Scholarship, and an AHRC bursary enabled a presentation of initial ndings of my research at the LangUE postgraduate conference in July 2007. My gratitude goes to all these awarding bodies.

ContentsAbstract . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Table of contents . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . List of gures . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . List of tables . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . i v ix xi Acknowledgements . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . iii

List of abbreviations . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . xiii 1 Introduction 1.1 A historical overview . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1.1.1 1.1.2 1.2 1.3 1.2.1 1.3.1 1.3.2 1.3.3 1.3.4 1.4 1.4.1 1.4.2 1.4.3 1.5 Early and colonial history . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Self-government and independence . . . . . . . . . . . . 1 2 2 7 8

Linguistic ecology . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

The place of English . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 11 Genesis . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 15 Features: Phonology . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 17 Features: Lexicon . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 18 Features: Grammar . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 20 Platts creoloid hypothesis . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 29 Diglossia . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 31 Alternative models . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 32

Singapore English . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 15

Variation and typological issues . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 28

Conclusion . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 33

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CONTENTS 2 Methodology 2.1 2.1.1 2.1.2 2.1.3 2.1.4 2.1.5 2.2 2.2.1 2.2.2 2.2.3 2.3 2.3.1 2.3.2 2.4

vi 35

Methodology . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 36 Evolution of the methodological framework . . . . . . . . 36 Informants . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 39 Selection of institutions . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 41 Materials used . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 43 Interview structure . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 44 Aspect markers . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 49 Discourse particles . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 53 Existential constructions . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 58 Contacting and cooperating with schools . . . . . . . . . 60 Reactions from informants . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 61

Variables . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 48

Data collection . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 60

Conclusion . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 64 66 Aspect in English . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 67 Aspect in Chinese . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 68 System T