A Sociolinguistic History of Early Identities in Singapore: by Phyllis Ghim-Lian Chew

By Phyllis Ghim-Lian Chew

'Pulau Panjan', 'Po Luo Chung', 'Pulau Ujong', 'Lung –ya-men', 'Temasek', 'Singapura' are all former names of Singapore and belie its colourful historical past because the El-Dorado and nexus of Southeast Asia. Who have been Singapore's earlier multilingual population? What have been the pidgins, creoles and languages that thronged its marketplace locations and created its forgotten identities? How did polyglot migrants stuck within the throes of an past globalization arrange their respective identities? What hybrid identities arose from such cross-cultural interactions? This booklet offers a desirable historical past of early identities in Singapore as tested during the retrospective lens of language. a protracted view has been selected for its virtue in offering unforeseen socio-political and linguistic insights into the long run results of switch and continuity.

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Sits in front of the house all evening ... (Milne, 1933: 44–48) On the other hand, Kim Seng the schoolboy: Collects stamps ... brother studying to be engineer, father is a clerk but wants him to be a doctor, and he goes to the cinemas during his spare time. (Milne, 1933: 49–53) In contrast, Mutusamy the schoolboy: ... is born in India, has two brothers – one is a teacher – hopes to be a lawyer when he grows up – wants to go to England to study. (Milne, 1933: 54–56) While the Straits-born or Babas were able to learn English and became part of the ruling elite, graduates from the Chinese-medium schools founded by the clans, and which educated the majority of the Chinese population, were unable to speak English and were thus marginalized, excluded from careers in government and the professions, and forced to take ill-paid jobs in factories or on the buses (Bloodworth and Liang, 2000: 31).

Births were common when traders were forced to stay in their port of call longer than they would have anticipated. During their stay, their boats, junks and ships populated the port and marriages with local women were frequent. From this intercourse, pidgins were born which eventually grew into Creoles. After the departure of colonial power, languages such as Baba Malay, Singapore Hokkien, and Kristang became an embarrassment to nationalist governments, being viewed as “lowly” by-products of cross-cultural liaisons.

These English-educated Malays have been found to be liberal, a state of mind influenced by their familiarity with English and its relatively more “Western” culture (cf. Roff, 1967). Hence, the British helped create a divided Malay identity, as seen in the ideological split in present-day Malaysia between the urban versus rural Malay, the English-educated versus the Malay-educated, and the conservative versus the liberal. It must be noted that English education was only available to a minority of the Malay population.

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