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Mother tongues, English, and religion in Singapore



ABSTRACT:  This paper reports on an investigation of the effect of religion on language use in Singapore. Data come from the Sociolinguistic Survey of Singapore, 2006, a large-scale language survey linked to follow-up studies. The conceptual framework was based upon Castells' idea of a new social order in the network society; the main research questions were (1): Are Mandarin, Malay, and Tamil a ‘cultural ballast’ in the tide of global English? and (2) Does religion influence language maintenance or shift in an ‘informational society’ that is one of the most globalized nations in the world? Answers to these questions were explored through analysis of patterns of language use in multiple domains. It was found that while English dominates the mother tongues (Mandarin, Malay, and Tamil) in the domains of school and public space and competes with them in the domains of family/friends and media, the mother tongues dominate English in the domain of religion. Results also showed that the means of maintaining the mother tongues within the religious domain differ across the three main ethnic groups of Singapore, that languages are maintained in the Malay and Indian communities along with active acquisition and use of such sacred languages as Arabic and Sanskrit, and that language shift is taking place in the Chinese community.