Studying Language Variation in Singapore Essay

Custom Student Mr. Teacher ENG 1001-04 11 July 2017

Studying Language Variation in Singapore

This paper is a study of code-switching in one Singaporean Chinese household (my own). It will consider the hypothesis that age correlates significantly with proficiency and/or usage of more than one code. To test this hypothesis, three subjects, from the household, reflecting three different generations have had their speech recorded. The subjects S1, S2 and S3 are my grandfather, my uncle and my cousin respectively. General information on the subjects such as their ages, occupations and medium of education can be found in Table 1 (see appendix).

Data Collection The data for this study was collected through tape recording of spontaneous conversations during a relaxed and informal family gathering held at an aunt’s house. Extracts from the recordings were then appropriately selected for analysis such that they will help quantify the nature and number of code-switches. In order to keep as close as possible to actual language usage, all unnatural instances of code alternation, such as deliberate code-switching resulting from an over-consciousness of the tape-recorded or a wish to impress, were excluded.

Basic Terminology Code-switching is the case of multilingual speakers making switches between different languages or varieties depending on audience, setting and purpose; or the ‘juxtaposition within the same speech exchange of passages of speech belonging to two different grammatical systems or sub-systems’ (Gumperz 1982: 59) The verbal repertoire of each subject, including the different languages or varieties they speak, can be found in Table 1 as well (see appendix). Subject 1: Grandfather (Age: 69)

My grandfather can speak more than 4 different varieties- Teochew, Mandarin, English, Malay and most of the other Chinese dialects. Teochew is the dominant Chinese dialect which my grandfather speaks. He is very proficient in Teochew and uses it most of the time, with family members of the 1st (grandmother) and 2nd (father, mother, uncles, aunts) generations. He uses the other Chinese dialects only with his friends of a different dialect group or when talking to hawkers or shopkeepers. He communicates with the 3rd generation (myself, cousins) in Mandarin and sometimes in English, which he is not very proficient in.

He uses Malay only when speaking to the maid, as she is from Indonesia and can only understand minimal English and no other languages or dialects. In my recordings, I found that he only switched between 4 of the varieties- Teochew, Mandarin, English and Malay. I suppose it was not necessary to speak in any other Chinese dialect because it was a family gathering. Speaking mainly Teochew, he code-switched quite frequently, but not as much as S2. The nature of the switches was mainly, but not solely, due to his interlocutor. I will discuss the various factors further.

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  • Date: 11 July 2017

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