chapter  13
18 Pages

English in Singapore and Malaysia: Differences and similarities

ByLow Ee Ling

Early scholars (Tongue 1974; Tongue 1979; Platt and Weber 1980) working on describing the English spoken in Singapore and Malaysia have classified both varieties as a single entity known as Singapore and Malaysian English (SME). Platt and Weber (1980: 21) suggest that the birth of SME may date back to the formation of the Straits Settlements in 1826 when Singapore, Malacca and Penang were ruled administratively as one by the British. It is therefore interesting to explore when and how SME became two separate entities and varieties of English which we presently term as Singapore English (SgE) and Malaysian English (MalE) respectively. Today, according to the classical Kachruvian model of the three circles of English (Kachru 1992), both varieties are described as being part of the outer circle where, broadly speaking, English is classified as having been institutionalized and described as being ‘norm-developing’, meaning that it is developing its own norms and standards and where English is generally spoken as a second language (ESL). The language policies adopted by each country post-independence (1965) when Malaysia and Singapore were totally independent from the British and each other have undoubtedly had an impact on the development of English in both countries. The purpose of this chapter is to briefly trace the historical development of English in Singapore and Malaysia, from its birth to the point where they were considered as distinct varieties. The different language policies adopted by each country post-independence will be surveyed as an attempt to understand when and how the different varieties emerged. Variation in present-day English in Singapore and Malaysia will be examined. The chapter will then summarize the main linguistic features of each variety of English, highlighting similarities and differences where relevant. Finally, directions for further research will be suggested, which will increase our understanding of the development of both varieties of English.