Lijun Li

(University of Hamburg)

Towards a diachronic reconstruction of Colloquial Singapore English

When Singapore English is mentioned, it seems that many people are aware of its unique pronunciation that is very different from mainstream varieties of English i.e. American English or British English. Much scholarly research of varieties of English has focused on its soundings (vowels, consonants, prosodic features), its syntactic features (pro-drop, number and agreement, verbal cluster), and discourse particles (lah, ma, wat, meh, leh, lor, etc.). Although many grammatical phenomena of Singapore English are well researched, a general picture on the development of Colloquial Singapore English (CSE)/Singlish over the past few decades has yet to be established. While the government of Singapore has launched several language programs to promote Standard English in the past five decades, the use of CSE seems unaffected by these campaigns and appears to become even more popular. Does this tendency really hold true in this multilingual city-state? Are there any changes in the use of Singlish between the 1950s and 2000s?


My current research project intends to develop answers to these questions by conducting a diachronic research into the Oral History Interviews (OHI) by the National Archives of Singapore (NAS) in comparison with the International Corpus of English – Singapore (ICE-SIN). Such a diachronic study opens a new front of varieties of English, especially in Singapore English, since synchronic research currently dominates the relative fields of studies. By researching the unique use of four minor words in OHI and ICE-SIN, namely already, also, ever, and one in Singapore English which are heavily influenced by the Chinese substrate on both semantic and syntactic level, the project with the case study of Singapore offers a new perspective in the development of varieties of English in a multilingual setting.