Singapore English

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Singapore English refers to the varieties of English spoken in Singapore.[1] Those that least resemble Standard English are colloquially known by the portmanteau term Singlish, though in academic discussion these are most often referred to as Singapore Colloquial English (SCE). Singapore Standard English (SSE) is the term for varieties of Singapore English that are very similar to standard forms of English elsewhere, and is most clearly found in writing.[2] It remains unclear whether SCE and SSE comprise the extremes of a continuum of varieties in Singapore, or whether speakers mostly code-switch between them in a diglossic situation.[3] Though there are three other official languages in Singapore - Mandarin, Malay and Tamil - it is only English that is becoming the main language of speakers whose ancestors brought various Asian languages to Singapore.[4]

SCE is not spoken by all Singaporeans,[5] and is discouraged by the government through its 'Speak Good English' campaign.[6] While SSE is generally easy for native and non-native English speakers to understand,[7] SCE differs in vocabulary, syntax and phonology from other varieties of English, though it shares much in common with Malaysian English.[8] Affixes such as plural -s may be optional, and the sound [l] may be realised as a vowel; for the strongest SCE speech, it does not contrast with [r].[9] Different ethnic groups in Singapore also speak English in different ways, though there are features, such as borrowed words and egg rhyming with vague, that are common to almost everyone.[10]

Various explanations exist to account for the emergence of Singapore English as a distinct variety, including the idea that SCE is a creole - an assumption which, if based on the definition of a creole as originating from a pidgin, is unsupported by the study of Singapore English's history and linguistic structure. Rather, SCE is categorised as one of the New Englishes, i.e. spoken as a working language in regions with a history of (usually British) colonial administration, but initially without a large population of English speakers. Singapore English and others, unlike a creole, emerged through constant contact with varieties of English.[11]


  1. See Brown (1992) for an introduction.
  2. Gupta (1989: 29; 35).
  3. Deterding (2007:6).
  4. Deterding (2007: 4). The 'Census of Population 2010' (p.9-12; .pdf document) showed that English is the main language of the home for 41% of ethnic Indians, 32% of ethnic Chinese, and 17% of ethnic Malays in Singapore. English is also more likely to be the primary language of the home for speakers with a higher level of formal education (p.12). High levels of English usage also correlates with age: in 2010, over 50% of ethnic Chinese and Indian Singaporeans aged 5-14 years used English as their main language (p.11).
  5. Deterding (2007: 88-92).
  6. 'Speak Good English' official website.
  7. Gupta (2005); Kirkpatrick and Saunders (2005).
  8. Deterding (2007: 5).
  9. Brown and Deterding (2007: 12).
  10. Deterding (2007: 5); Brown and Deterding (2007: 11).
  11. Bao (2010: 792).