Englishization as an Aspect of Building Singapore Identity

Lian Hee Wee, Hong Kong Baptist University


This paper argues that Englishization must be understood as the combined processes of Anglicization and Indigenization. In Anglicization, non-English elements are made English-like while in Indigenization, English is used in a way to fit into local non-English contexts. Using Singapore English as a case study, one sees how Englishization took place in Singapore by melting together all the ingredient languages that have found their way into this tiny island. Some languages are local to the Southeast Asian region, some came from the Southern provinces of China, some from India, and English came with colonization. This provided all the fuel for the making of Singapore English that is to become an important part of Singapore identity because it inherits all that is valuable in the component cultures. Thus, while Singapore’s survival depends directly on her ability to be part of the global culture, Singapore cannot give up SgE if she is to maintain her identity. The conflict between cultural preservation and global communication can be easily resolved if one recognizes that speaking “perfect” English is not the only way to communicate with the rest of the world. Since all languages have different registers, one can simply use an acrolectal variety of SgE for international communication and more basal varieties for casual purposes. This solution is not new and is in fact practiced by all Singaporeans consciously or unconsciously. However, it is rarely stated explicitly as a way of balancing the apparently conflicting needs of cultural preservation and global communication.