Linguistic Landscaping in Singapore: The Local Linguistic Ecology and the Roles of English

University essay from Lunds universitet/Masterprogram: Språk och språkvetenskap

Abstract: The present thesis, adopting the ecology of language as its conceptual orientation as well as employing linguistic landscape as its methodological tool to collect and analyze data, firstly aims at investigating (1) how the four official languages of Singapore namely Malay, (Mandarin) Chinese, Tamil, and English have been deployed on signs by three different social actors, i.e., the Singaporean government, corporations, and individuals. Consequently, it explores (2) the functions, or niches, of these languages, especially English, and (3) the potential for a language shift towards English on public signage in light of the de jure and de facto language policies of Singapore. Analysis of 1,555 photos taken in and around 30 MRT (Mass Rapid Transport) stations of the Circle Line (CCL) demonstrated a preference for English by all LL-actors with an extensively high frequency of use (monolingual signs in English accounted for 63% of the total number of signs) and, for most of the cases, by the occupation of English in the first position in the visual hierarchy of bi- and multilingual signs. (Mandarin) Chinese, Malay, and Tamil were not employed frequently, thus having restricted functions, being mostly utilized for names of streets, stations, etc. and as translations of long and complicated messages written in English. English, on the other hand, appears to have dual identities in the setting of Singapore. When English is used metaphorically, it can still be considered a global language for economic survival, yet when being utilized situationally, English is a local language for the maintenance of racial harmony and inter-ethnic communication. In addition, quantitative results and qualitative analyses indicate the possibility of a language shift from Chinese to English on public signage and suggest that even though de jure language policies in Singapore appear to align with the ecology-of-language paradigm, de facto language policies of this city-state affiliate with the diffusion-of-English paradigm.

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