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The Speak Mandarin Campaign aims to persuade the ethnic Chinese of Singapore to use Mandarin as their lingua franca in place of Chinese dialects. The three main arguments are: educational (dialects interfere with the effective learning of Mandarin in schools), cultural (Mandarin, it is claimed, represents a core value of Chinese culture), practical (Mandarin is preferable to a multitude of mutually unintelligible dialects). Some difficulties with these arguments are discussed. Some other aspects of the campaign, such as the paraphernalia, changes in the university's entrance policy and changes in the media, are also reviewed.
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Singapore's speak Mandarin Campaign
John Newman a
a Department of Modern Languages, Massey University, Palmerston North, New Zealand
Published online: 14 Sep 2010.
To cite this article: John Newman (1988) Singapore's speak Mandarin Campaign, Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural
Development, 9:5, 437-448
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John Newman
Department of Modern Languages, Massey University, Palmerston
New Zealand
Abstract. The Speak Mandarin Campaign aims to persuade the ethnic
Chinese of Singapore to use Mandarin as their
franca in place of
Chinese dialects. The three main arguments are: educational (dialects
interfere with the effective learning of Mandarin in schools), cultural
(Mandarin, it is claimed, represents a core value of Chinese culture),
practical (Mandarin is preferable to a multitude of mutually unintelli-
gible dialects). Some difficulties with these arguments are discussed.
Some other aspects of the campaign, such as the paraphernalia, changes
in the university's entrance policy and changes in the media, are also
Since the late 1970s1 the Singapore Government has sponsored a Speak
Mandarin Campaign which aims to persuade the ethnic Chinese (comprising
approximately 77% of the total population) to use Mandarin in place of
Chinese dialects. While government-sponsored campaigns are a common
feature of Singapore society, this campaign has involved much more argu-
mentation and justification by the government than any of the other cam-
paigns (such as the Courtesy Campaign and the anti-litter drive). Clearly the
success of the campaign depends to some extent on convincing the target
audience of the need to change and so the arguments in support of the
campaign play a critical role in the act of persuasion. After all, it is not just
the public use of language which is the concern of the campaign, but all
language use between ethnic Chinese including, and in particular, use within
a family. If language use in such private domains as the family and between
friends is to be altered, then obviously the target population must be acting
out of a conviction that the campaign is sound and necessary and not just
out of a drive to make one's publicly visible behaviour acceptable. A system
of fines, for example, which may work in the case of an anti-litter campaign,
cannot possibly work in the case of attempts to change behavioural patterns
0143-4632/88/05/0437-12$02.50/0 © 1988 J. Newman
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in the private domains of interaction. Considering the importance of the
argumentation in the campaign, then, it is appropriate to examine the
arguments for the campaign in some detail.
In an overview of language policies in southeast Asia, Noss (1984:25)
distinguishes three official arguments which have been appealed to in support
of the campaign. These are educational (if there were no dialects, the
bilingual policy of teaching Mandarin and English to the ethnic Chinese
would be more successful), cultural (Mandarin is a symbol and vehicle of
the Chinese cultural heritage), and practical (Mandarin can function as a
lingua franca
amongst the Chinese). I shall proceed to discuss each of these
arguments in turn, basing my discussion on the speech given by the Prime
Minister, Lee Kuan Yew, on 21 February 1978 (repeated on 4 March 1978)
entitled 'Mandarin:
franca for Chinese Singaporeans' in the official
collection of government speeches (Speeches Vol. 1, No. 10). I shall then
discuss some of the other supporting activities which are designed to further
the aims of the campaign.
It should be mentioned that other arguments in support of the campaign
are sometimes advanced. One additional argument relates to increasing trade
with China (see, for example, Platt, 1985: 22,23). While a 'commercial'
argument along these lines might be expected to have an immediate appeal
to Singapore Chinese, it has not figured nearly as prominently in ministerial
speeches or newspaper editorials as the three main arguments mentioned
above, which relate more to 'home affairs'. (There is no mention of trade
with China in the speech singled out for discussion here.) One occasion
when it is used, albeit with an interesting twist, is in a comment attributed
to the Prime Minister in
(14 November 1980), where competence
in Mandarin is seen as an advantage in learning Japanese: 'We use Mandarin,
which makes the Japanese language easier to learn. The Japanese will need
people who can work out the software for the computers they can sell to
the world, including China.' In the same
article, Singapore officials
are reported as saying that business with China is no more than a secondary
benefit of the campaign. It has also been claimed that the campaign will
raise productivity at the worksite, as argued in the speech of Mr Ong
Teng Cheong, Minister for Communications and Minister for Labour, of 8
October 1982 and reported in Speeches Vol. 5, No. 5.
The Educational Argument
The educational argument is both the most commonly appealed to, as
well as the most extensively argued defence of the-campaign. Before turning
to the argument
some recent history of Singapore can help put this
argument in perspective.2
Following self-government in 1959, the People's Action Party (PAP) Govern-
ment took steps to ensure equal treatment for all four language streams provided
for in the education system, namely, English, Mandarin, Malay and Tamil. In
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so doing, the PAP was acting in a way typical of the emergent new nations in
the post-World War II era. Such nations characteristically took steps to raise
the status of their so-called 'mother tongues' which had not been given sufficient
recognition by colonial governments. In the case of Mandarin, events in
Mainland China in the 1950s would have given further encouragement to the
promotion of Mandarin in Singapore. Such events included: the campaign to
promote Putonghua announced in October 1955 by the Education Minister,
Putonghua becoming the basic instructional medium in all schools in 1956; the
plan for simplification of characters promulgated by the State Council in
January 1956; and the adoption of Hanyu Pinyin as the official romanisation
in February 1958. All these events gave greater credibility to Chinese (in
particular Mandarin) as a viable medium of education within the Singapore
context. Apart from these developments external to Singapore, there was a
more immediate local cause for positive action in the promotion of Chinese
Mandarin-medium) education and that was the political and social unrest
amongst the Chinese-educated community on account of various issues. The
issues included denial of citizenship in some cases and the refusal to do
National Service by students in Chinese High Schools. These local, Singaporean
developments together with developments in Mainland China and elsewhere
made it inescapable that Mandarin would have to have a more respected place in
Singapore's education system with the advent of self-government and eventual
While these events provide the backdrop to the development of language
policy in the era of independence, they do not by themselves explain why
a campaign promoting the cause of the Chinese language should have been
started in the late 1970s, more than a decade after Singapore became
independent. To understand this, one must look more closely at the fate
of Chinese-stream education during this period. Beginning even before
independence and continuing unabated after independence, the percentage
of pupils enrolled in the Chinese stream in schools gradually dropped, while
the percentage of pupils enrolled in the English stream increased accordingly.
This (voluntary) transfer from the Chinese stream to the English stream
caused concern in the government. A highly influential Report on the
Ministry of Education in 1978, the so-called Goh Report, begins on page 1
of Chapter 1 with the statistical data on numbers of primary pupils registered
in the two streams, beginning with 45.9% registered in the Chinese stream
in 1959 and ending with 11.2% in 1978. The report, implicitly equating
language and culture, goes on to say: '. . . the drift to the English-stream
schools had made it necessary for the government to pay special attention
to bilingual education. It is clearly undesirable that Singaporeans should
lose all connections with their cultural roots, whether their ancestors come
from China, India or the Malay world' (pp. 1-2). A comparable inclination
towards English-stream education could be seen at higher levels of education.
Nanyang University, established in 1956 as a Chinese-medium university,
was attracting fewer high-quality students, as more and more of the best
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Chinese-stream high school students were being admitted to the English-
medium University of Singapore. In 1978, Nanyang University announced
that it would be preparing undergraduates for English language examin-
ations, using English as the medium of instruction. (Eventually, Nanyang
University became part of the new National University of Singapore.) It is
this drift away from Chinese-medium education and the concern that this
caused, clearly expressed in the Goh Report, which are the more immediate
reasons for the promotion of Chinese at this time (cf. the discussion by
1984: 51, who sees the Speak Mandarin Campaign, in part at least,
as a 'compensation' for the loss of Nanyang).
As long as one was opposing the language imposed by the colonial
government (here English), it was convenient to advocate in its place the
alternative of 'the mother tongue', without worrying too much about the
diversity of dialects and language varieties. The reality of Singapore, how-
ever, is that the ethnic Chinese speak a number of Chinese dialects (mainly
Hokkien) while Mandarin has not traditionally been a language of common
use in Singapore. In the 1957 census, only 0.1% of the Chinese claimed
Mandarin as their 'mother tongue' (defined in this context as the 'language
or dialect principally spoken in the person's home during the person's early
childhood'). While the cause of Chinese education was being promoted in
the 1950s, the linguistic diversity amongst the Chinese was very much placed
in the background. In the All-Party Report on Chinese Education (1956),
for example, dialects enter into the discussion only in a peripheral way. To
the extent that they are discussed, they are seen as exerting a positive
influence on the learning of Mandarin (p. 41):
We are also reliably informed that there would be no trouble at ail for the
pupils in Chinese Schools in which the pupils predominately speak one
dialect to learn Mandarin. . . We are also informed that versions in literary as
Chinese, whether in Hokkien, Cantonese, Hakka, Hockchia,
Hockchiu, Shanghainese, etc. dialects, have very close affinities to the Mandarin
version, and these no doubt help the Chinese child to adopt Mandarin as the
common medium of communication in schools and outside them.
It was not until the Goh Report that the use of dialects was seen as exerting
a negative influence on the learning of Mandarin: 'When they (i.e. the
pupils) are at home, they speak dialects. As a result, most of what they have
learned in school is not reinforced' (p. 4.4).
The thinking about dialects
Mandarin in the Goh Report under-
lies the educational argument appealed to as part of the campaign. Basically,
the argument runs as follows: the bilingual policy (i.e. learning English and
Mandarin) is essential; the learning of Mandarin is hampered by the use of
dialect outside the classroom; therefore, in order for the bilingual policy to
be successful, the use of dialect outside the classroom must be replaced by
the use of Mandarin.
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One feature of this line of argumentation is the assumed subservience of
the society at large to the demands of the education system. A conflict is
claimed to exist between an established pattern of behaviour in society (the
use of dialect) and the education policy. The solution being advanced is not
to tailor the education policy to suit society, but to transform society so that
the education policy can be made more effective. While this may strike
some observers as unusual, it may find easier acceptance amongst the
Singapore Chinese, given the traditional Chinese respect for education and
the traditional parental dedication to ensuring children's future prosperity
through education. The opening remarks of the speech make a direct appeal
to this tradition: 'One great strength in our society is the strong support for
education. It springs from the conviction of our people that our children's
future depends on education.'
Just as the All-Party Report on Chinese Education had overlooked the
negative role of dialect in the learning of Mandarin, so the Goh Report and
the Prime Minister's speech ignore the positive role of dialect in the learning
of Mandarin. To take just one example of how one can make use of a
knowledge of dialect, consider the task of learning the tone class of words
in Mandarin. One must learn for each word not only the string of segmental
phonemes, but also the tone (there being four distinct tones). If one knows
a dialect and can recognise a cognate relationship between a word in the
dialect and a word in Mandarin (i.e. recognise them as different pronunci-
ations of the same character), then one can make a very good guess about
the tone in Mandarin. In a study looking at such correspondences between
Hokkien and Mandarin (Newman, 1982), I showed that a good Hokkien
speaker would be able to predict Mandarin tones correctly more than 90%
of the time. A good Hokkien speaker therefore has an enormous advantage
over learners of Mandarin who have no Chinese dialect background at all.
There is no reference in the speech under discussion to the attitudinal
dimension of language learning, although we know that a learner's attitude
towards a language can affect, positively or negatively, the learning of that
language. For example, there is no acknowledgement that Singapore Chinese
may sometimes use dialect because they have a fondness for the dialect or
because dialect makes them feel more relaxed. Nor is there any acknowledge-
ment that Singapore Chinese may not feel particularly drawn to Mandarin,
based as it is on a dialect of Northern China, whereas Singapore Chinese
speak dialects from Southern China. If one genuinely wants to learn Manda-
rin, knowledge of a Chinese dialect will not be an obstacle.
The Cultural Argument
One example of the cultural argument occurs in the last paragraph of the
speech referred to above:
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We must keep the core of our value systems in social mores. To do that, we
must have our children literate in Chinese and English. To be literate, they
must be Mandarin-speaking, able to read the books,the proverbs, the parables,
and the stories of heroes and villains, so that they know what a good upright
man should do and be. Hence the Mandarin part of our bilingual policy must
It is questionable whether one must be literate in Chinese in order to
preserve Chinese value systems and social mores. Possibly a true appreciation
of Chinese 'high culture' (Beijing opera, etc.) may only come about if one
is literate in Modern Chinese. A full appreciation of Chinese high culture
would probably also require familiarity with Classical Chinese texts as well.
But this surely does not apply to the 'low culture' of everyday life. One
does not need to be literate in Chinese in order to understand and practise
filial piety, habits of thrift, respect for authority, or in order to appreciate
Chinese cuisine. Also there are many features of daily life in Singapore
which are seen as traditional and worth continuing, but which have no basis
at all in the culture of China: Indian curry, nasi lemak, batik etc. Being
literate in Mandarin could not possibly make Singapore Chinese appreciate
such things more.3
My second comment on the cultural argument concerns the claim that
one must be able to speak Mandarin in order to be Uterate in Chinese. It
is well known that one can be literate in a language without being able to
speak the language. One does not have to speak the way Chaucer did in
order to read Middle English. There are many scientists who are able to
read English-language journals in their field without being able to hold a
conversation in English. Similarly, many people can read Chinese quite well
without being able to speak Mandarin in an equally proficient way. This is
especially so with Chinese as a result of the largely logographic nature of
the Chinese writing system, as well as the traditional method of teaching
Chinese in schools where the emphasis was on reading and writing rather
than on conversation.
A further cultural argument which is sometimes advanced takes the
following form: Westerners expect Chinese to be able to speak Mandarin
and you will therefore feel ashamed if you cannot speak Mandarin. This
must be one of the rare instances where the Singapore Government relies
on Western reaction to decide whether Singapore's social policy is right or
not. A linguistically naive Westerner whose knowledge of Chinese culture
and languages is circumscribed is hardly an appropriate judge of what is
truly Chinese.4
Despite the objections which may be raised to the cultural argument as
presented in the speech, Mandarin obviously can function for many Chinese
as a clear and well-defined symbol of Chinese culture. Mandarin, unlike the
dialects, carries with it the prestige associated with learning and education
in Chinese society. There is, furthermore, a widespread perception amongst
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Chinese that dialects are in some sense inferior to Mandarin. If one wishes
to counter the influence of the English language in all its domains of usage,
then Mandarin would be the most effective counterweight. The Speak
Mandarin Campaign can therefore act as an outlet for the expression of non-
Western identity. As such it is a far more controllable outlet than, say,
Islamic fundamentalism.
The Practical Argument
The practical argument proposes Mandarin as a lingua franca amongst
Singapore Chinese as a way of rationalising inter-Chinese communication, in
preference to the multiplicity of dialects. The use of mutually unintelligible
dialects is seen as hindering effective communication and creating barriers
to the development of a harmonious and more uniform society. In the
following excerpt from the Prime Minister's speech, 'fracturing' of society
is seen as a direct consequence of the continued use of dialects:
The choice for Singapore is simple continue with dialects, and we will end
up using only dialects and English. We will continue to have a fractured
multilingual society.
It would be wrong to assume, in the Singapore context, that people who
speak different dialects are unable to communicate effectively with each
other. One must take cognisance of the fact that many, probably most,
Singapore Chinese who claim the ability to speak a dialect would also have
some competence in another dialect or language. In fact, one could say that
familiarity with, though not necessarily proficiency in, a number of Chinese
dialects and Mandarin is a hallmark of the Chinese in Singapore and Malaysia
(excluding the peranankan Chinese). The polyglossic situation of Singapore
has been well described by Platt (1980) who characterises the typical verbal
repertoire of a Singapore Chinese as follows:
It usually includes: It may include:
(1) The native Chinese dialect (5) English
(2) The dominant Chinese dialect (6) Mandarin
(Hokkien) (7) Baba Malay
(3) One or more additional Chinese (8) Malay
(4) Bazaar Malay
Few Chinese, if any, would be equally proficient in all these different
Rather, a Singapore Chinese will have the degree of competence in
each code which will be appropriate for his needs. With a repertoire like
that shown above, it would be somewhat unusual for two Singapore Chinese
not to be able to find some common means of communication, even though
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they might have as their first languages different and mutually unintelligible
Even if the aim of a common Chinese lingua franca were achieved, this
does not automatically guarantee social harmony. We know that identifi-
cation with a linguistic or ethnic group can persist well after a person has
lost the linguistic ability which may have characterised that group. In
Singapore, clan feelings of solidarity may persist even when the dialect of
the clan has been lost.
There is an additional type of practical argument based on the undesir-
ability or impracticality of an individual having to know more than two
languages. Relevant excerpts from the speech in question are:
The average student finds it difficult to master three languages dialect,
Mandarin and English. It is not easy to master even two languages.
But let me reassure all parents: your child has a brain bigger than the biggest
computer man has ever built. Whilst the world's biggest computer cannot
handle two languages, most human beings can, especially if they are taught
when young.
While one could hardly deny that learning foreign languages is an enor-
mously demanding task, the learning of Mandarin by a dialect speaker is
not the same as learning a foreign language. As discussed above, competence
in a Chinese dialect means that a person will have many correct intuitions
about the pronunciations, vocabulary and syntax of Mandarin. Attacks on
individual multilingualism (as opposed to bilingualism) typically invoke
images from computer technology, as in the excerpt above. Platt (1985: 22)
quotes from an article by the Foreign Editor of The Straits Times (7
November 1979) which also argues in support of the campaign by way of
an analogy with computers:
The human mind is capable of storing a limited amount of knowledge for
immediate usage if needed. Filled to capacity it tends to reject other items
you try to push in. Computer programmers know this well.
Given the paucity of our understanding of the actual psycholinguistic pro-
cesses involved when a Chinese dialect speaker learns Mandarin, it is clear
that linguists are still a long way from constructing actual computer simula-
tions of such processes. In any case, it is unlikely that a realistic computer
model of such processes will be as simple as suggested in the campaign
Miscellaneous Supporting Activities
In addition to these arguments, which represent the philosophical under-
pinnings of the campaign, there are numerous events and measures designed
to give further support to the campaign.
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In 1981, the National University of Singapore (NUS) announced that
English-stream students would henceforth have to meet a second-language
requirement for entry into the university. In the 1982/83 academic year, the
minimum requirement for Chinese as a second language at the 'A' Level
Examination was a grade of E8, raised to D7 in the 1983/84 academic year.
This was supposed to have been raised to C6 in the academic year beginning
July 1985. The level has, however, been maintained at the 1983/84 level
because (a) too many bright students were being excluded from university
and (b) more female students than male students were being admitted. In
addition, students have been admitted to NUS since 1985 without the
required second-language qualification on the basis that they would have to
pass a University Examination in the second language before they could
graduate. The introduction of the second-language requirement by NUS
automatically lent an importance to Mandarin as a serious school subject
and this requirement alone, subsequent relaxations notwithstanding, has
given Mandarin increased status and a higher profile within the Chinese
community. In fact, in so far as the second-language requirement may be
fulfilled by attaining the required level in any of the official languages, it
has meant that all second-language teaching, not just the teaching of Manda-
rin, has taken on increased importance.
Dialect is no longer permissible on government-operated radio and tele-
vision. Already in 1977 it was announced that dialects would not be allowed
in Chinese-language commercials over Radio and Television Singapore
(reported in the New Nation, 26 January 1977). The last dialect (Cantonese)
programme shown on SBC television was the final episode of the Hong
Kong series, The
shown on 24 January 1982. This occurred, despite
the publication of a Straits Times' survey just a few months before (28
September 1981) which found 67% of Chinese aged twelve years and over
felt that dialect programmes over radio and television should not be dropped
completely. Even the privately owned and operated broadcasting service,
Rediffusion, switched entirely to Mandarin for its Chinese programmes (in
place of Hokkien, Teochew and Cantonese) in early 1983. The changeover
resulted in large numbers of subscribers cancelling their subscriptions.
Throughout 1983, an average of 1,228 subscribers per month were opting
out of the service (The Straits Times, 12 March 1984). In the same article
the managing director was reported as saying that these subscribers were
mainly 'elderly people who can't understand and enjoy our Mandarin pro-
The use of Hanyu Pinyin romanisation has been promoted throughout
the society. So, for example, Chinese parents have been encouraged to
register the names of their children in Pinyin; certain localities are now
referred to by their Pinyin forms (without tone marks), such as Yishun (Nee
the government encourages hawkers to use Pinyin for the names of
their stalls. Since Hanyu Pinyin is a romanisation of Mandarin, the pro-
motion of Pinyin is clearly also a promotion of Mandarin. Usually, Pinyin
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is presented in the press as merely a convenient way of recording pronunci-
ation, like a phonetic alphabet, but this ignores the fact that it is being used
as a phonetic alphabet of the Mandarin forms of language. An example of
this line of defence of Hanyu Pinyin would be the remarks attributed to the
director of the Chinese Language and Research Centre at NUS (quoted in
The Straits Times, 11 February 1985): 'Pinyin is nothing in
It is only
a tool for transcribing standard Chinese sounds.' Here, 'standard Chinese
sounds' must be understood as 'the sounds of the Mandarin equivalent'.
Although no large-scale punitive measures have been adopted, various
isolated attempts have been made to coerce people into speaking Mandarin,
involving incentives or disincentives. Altehenger-Smith (p. 6) refers to one
school where penalties were imposed on students who continued to speak
dialects. Taxi-drivers' licences in 1980 could be approved only after the
drivers passed an oral Mandarin test (Ng,
41). The Hokkien
platoon of the Singapore Armed Forces, originally established for the benefit
of illiterate Chinese youths, was disbanded and any soldier unable to com-
municate in any of the four official languages would receive only basic pay
with all allowances deducted (Ng,
Accompanying paraphernalia include booklets, stickers, posters, badges,
which have all the hallmarks of a well co-ordinated campaign designed
to appeal to Chinese. The Chinese character %# 'to speak' (as in 'Speak
Mandarin') has been adopted as a very bold and striking symbol, written
in black against a red background. The usual visual motif to represent the
campaign is the picture of two faces, facing each other with open mouths
with one face shaded and the other clear, bearing a faint resemblance to the
Chinese yin-yang symbol:
yin-yang symbol
the campaign symbol
Slogans which have been used on the posters appear in Mandarin and
English and include: 'Don't hesitate, speak Mandarin'; 'Speak Mandarin
while at work'; 'Let's speak Mandarin'. The slogans are generally more
effective in their Mandarin version than in their English version. So, for
example, the Mandarin version of 'Don't hesitate, speak Mandarin' is a
rhyming trisyllabic couplet jiàng hnàyû, biéyouyù (literally 'Speak Manda-
rin, don't hesitate').
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Is the campaign successful or not? The answer to this question depends
very much on the set of criteria used to define success. If one measures
success by the amount of Mandarin used in the official or semi-official
domains (media, public speeches, on public transport, etc.), then the answer
is surely that it has been a success. The range of measures taken by the
government in support of the campaign, such as those briefly reviewed in
the preceding section, would almost certainly ensure the increased use of
Mandarin, regardless of whether the target audience has been persuaded by
the verbal arguments which have been advanced. The vagueness inherent
in a phrase such as 'to speak more Mandarin' also allows a person to easily
claim, quite honestly, that he/she is now 'speaking more Mandarin' than,
say, five years ago. This may just mean that the person has learnt three or
four phrases in Mandarin, or it may mean that the person is able to hold a
fluent conversation in Mandarin. (This kind of vagueness is no different
from the vagueness of claims such as 'I can speak six Chinese dialects'.
Probably such a person speaks and understands one dialect very well, but
does not speak and understand the other five dialects equally well.)
The Singapore Government's objective, however, goes beyond promoting
the official use of Mandarin to making Mandarin the
lingua franca
of all the
ethnic Chinese for all inter-Chinese communicative needs. All the (Straits
Times) surveys indicate that this result has not been achieved yet. It may
be achieved in the future, but no one pretends that this will happen very
quickly. The chairman of the Promote the Use of Mandarin Campaign,
speaking in 1986, has said that the campaign will continue for at least ten
more years (reported in The Straits Times, 4 October 1986). If the ethnic
Chinese can accept one or more of the three main arguments supporting the
campaign, then this will no doubt expedite the conversion to Mandarin. A
linguist may find some of the claims or assumptions of the arguments
unacceptable or at least debatable, but this does not mean that the non-
linguist Chinese would have the same reaction. Like most publicly argued
government policies, the argumentation of this campaign is directed at the
public at large, not at linguists, and certainly not at linguists outside of
Singapore. What counts, in other words, is whether or not the Singapore
Chinese find the rhetoric convincing. For the rhetoric to be convincing, it
may be enough for some people to be impressed by some idea mentioned
in the argumentation. So, for example, the idea that Westerners, who might
be completely uninformed about Chinese dialects, expect a Singaporean
Chinese to speak Mandarin is often brought up along with the idea that
Singaporean Chinese will feel ashamed if they have to admit to the Westerner
that they cannot speak Mandarin. I know Singaporean Chinese who do feel
this way and are swayed by arguments which appeal to this idea. Ideas like
this make an immediate emotional impact with some Singaporean Chinese
and may contribute much more to winning acceptance for the campaign
than the use of carefully constructed and linguistically defensible arguments.
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An earlier version
this paper
at the
Zealand Asian Studies Conference,
15 May to 18 May, 1987.
to Lim
Kiat Boey
some points
and to an
anonymous reviewer
for helpful comments
on the
It is
to fix the
exact date
of the
of the
event which attracted most
was the
of a
campaign called 'Promote
the Use of
by the
on 7
1979. But
in May 1978 Mr
Rajaratnam, Minister
Foreign Affairs, alluded
to an
already existing campaign
the use of
beginning possibly with
of the
Prime Minister discussed here.
Chinese dialect commercials
television were stopped
in 1977.
educational argument
greater length
Newman (1986), which also
more detailed account
of the
historical background
to the
'high culture'
dialect, such
Cantonese opera, which
supported. Traditional story-telling,
dialect, however,
is not
Cantonese story-teller,
Lee Dai Soh, who had
been telling stories
Cantonese over Singapore radio
for 40
off the air in 1982
of the
Speak Mandarin Campaign. Ironically, Singaporeans could listen
to Lee Dai
Soh's Cantonese
tuning into Radio Australia which broadcast
stories weekly throughout
Southeast Asia
Straits Times,
28 and 30
January, 1983).
is the
Speak Mandarin Campaign, Mandarin
being part
Chinese culture. When
context, however,
is the new
'national education
scheme', whereby English
is the
first school language
of all
Singapore pupils, then
in the
Chinese culture
minimised. Thus,
in a
speech reported
in The
Straits Times,
1984, the
Prime Minister emphasised
of the
in the
cultural values: 'Language
to, but
not synonymous with, culture.' This speech,
of the
national English-language
is the
most eloquent
persuasive argument against
Speak Mandarin Campaign
have encountered.
S. (ms.)
(n.d.) Language Planning
Singapore, Promote
the Use of
Mandarin Campaign.
Hokkien-Mandarin Phonological
No. 22.
Singapore: SEAMEO Regional Language Centre.
(1986) Singapore's Speak Mandarin Campaign:
educational argument, Southeast Asian
Social Science,
K. M.
Speak Mandarin Campaign: Aspect
Public Policy. Academic
Exercise, Department
Political Science, National University
R. B. (ed.)
Southeast Asia 1950-1980. Singapore:
Oxford University Press.
(1980) Multilingualism, polyglossia
code selection
In E. A.
E. C. Y. Kuo
(eds), Language
Singapore 63-83. Singapore: Singapore
University Press.
(1985) Bilingual policies
in a
multilingual society: Reflections
of the
Singapore Mandarin
in the
English language press.
In D.
Bradley (ed.), Language Policy, Language
South-east Asia, 15-30. Papers
Southeast Asian Linguis-
No. 9.
Canberra: Australian National University, Department
Downloaded by [University of Alberta] at 01:39 05 August 2013
... In the twopart Diam Diam Era, it is Mandarin and not the Hokkien dialect that is spoken more widely throughout the film. While the film captures the negative reverberations of the ruling party's policies of enshrining the English language as national lingua franca-as well as its creation of a pan-Chinese identity by discouraging the use of Chinese dialects that interfered with the learning of written Mandarin (Newman, 1988)-it also lends a narcissistic hue to the unpleasant memories of the harsh but necessary language and neoliberal "user pays" policies of the 1980s. ...
... While Yong Xin excels in the English-language curriculum and secures an armed forces scholarship, Shun Fa's failure to develop fluency in English due to his childhood exposure to only Chinese and Hokkien is represented as a "handicap" to upward mobility. While it is possible to interpret the scripts positively, along the lines that it is beneficial for Chinese-educated Singaporeans to develop fluency in English for the purposes of enhancing their career prospects, the state's ham-handed stigmatization of the speaking of dialects (Newman, 1988) amounted to the "slow-killing" of affective attachments to community. Emotions and affects, it has been argued, collectively exist together in language, so that "languaging" is a whole body activity including emotion (Roche, 2021). ...
Full-text available
Using two recent films – Long Long Time Ago and Diam Diam Era – this article analyses how Jack Neo communicates a sanitized nostalgia of the ‘kampung spirit’ through his films, which calibrates willing acceptance of the Singapore government’s authoritarian rule. In supporting the state’s presentist historiography, the films of Jack Neo induce a depoliticization of unpleasant memories arising from the ruling party’s unpopular housing and language policies of the past. The nostalgia mediated in both films is aligned towards an imaginary geography and mental map of a first world nation which exhorts Singaporeans to disavow ‘the tropics’ by nostalgizing the state’s modernization efforts. The cumulative thrust of an evidence free and presentist nostalgia ostensible in both films, this work argues, satisfies the paternalistic state’s obsessions with the public legitimation of its ruling mandate.
... The status of Mandarin was further boosted when a 'Speak Mandarin Campaign' was initiated in 1979 by the Singaporean government to promote the language (Newman, 1988;The Straits Times, 1979). Given the historical connection and close relationship between Chinese in Malaysia and Singapore, this policy of encouraging Mandarin use had a strong influence on Chinese Malaysian. ...
Aims and objectives In the context of the complicated minority–majority language reality in Malaysia, this study seeks to address the issue of heritage language (HL) vitality among multilingual Hakka families in East Malaysia. It draws attention to powerful/dominant language(s) and to the idea that marginalization could be an important factor in language vitality. Design/methodology The study was conducted through semistructured interviews with 52 Hakka families from 2 selected Hakka communities (Bau and Menggatal) in East Malaysia. Data and analysis This study adopted the family language policy (FLP) approach and the frame analysis perspectives. Based on the data collected through interviews, three frames were developed, that is, the frames of choice/choiceless, security/insecurity, and power/powerless. Findings/conclusion Families may not always have a ‘genuine choice’ or agency without ‘impositions’ in deciding the family language(s) and the language(s) that they wish to preserve and transmit due to their socioeconomic ‘needs’. Choiceless-, insecurity-, and powerlessness-focused frames reveal the deeper struggles and challenges that surface in the Hakkas’ attempts to comply with and negotiate in relation to dominant discourses in a wider multilingual context that, paradoxically, does not truly embrace small languages and multilingualism. Originality By drawing attention to a very different perspective, that is, the role of marginalization in HL vitality, this study shows how and why the marginalization of HL matters in influencing FLPs and the maintenance or shift of HLs. Significance/implications The theoretical development of language vitality or shift is worth reconsidering given that existing theories or models may not be well suited to lesser-known cultures and small languages. This study thus enriches the compatibility of existing theories with less-studied communities.
... This ban reflects the underlying assumption that the development of these dialects did not have a facilitative effect on the acquisition of Mandarin Chinese or English (Dixon 2005). This assumption does not bear out, however, as it is found in the case study of a Chinese dialect speaker by Newman (1988) that knowledge of the Hokkien dialect facilitates acquisition of Mandarin pronunciation. In a more recent survey study with Singaporean Chinese-speaking university students (Bhattacharjee, Woon, & Styles cited in Wu et al. 2020), students reporting higher levels of early life exposure to either Mandarin or Chinese dialects also rate themselves with higher Chinese Mandarin skills, while this early exposure has no negative impact on their reported English language skills. ...
Full-text available
Research on factors that impact preschoolers’ learning outcomes in Singapore points at a relation between early childhood learning and later school success. These factors are especially interesting in a multilingual context, with a bilingual education policy, such as Singapore, which offers a unique perspective on the complexities of fostering children’s academic development alongside their dual-language development. Singapore implements an immersion learning setting, in which all school subjects, except Mother Tongue, are taught in English. Mother Tongue, on the other hand, is taught in one of three designated ethnic languages (i.e., Mandarin Chinese, Malay, and Tamil). This chapter examines the issues surrounding language and literacy development of Singaporean preschoolers from Chinese, Malay, and Tamil backgrounds who learn English. An overview of the bilingual policy and preschool curriculum framework is presented, followed by early-research contributions that centers on the influence of home language on English development. Research on the influence of home-literacy environment and mother-tongue language development is then reviewed and followed by a discussion on the challenges relating to bilingual policy, language instruction, maintenance of mother tongues, and teacher preparation as a result of the curriculum shift in preschool. Implications are provided in relation to the findings and future research directions on preschoolers’ learning in Singapore.
... The simplistic promotion of English as a passport to the new world of economic opportunity and mother tongues as conduit to the old world tagged with culture, heritage and positive Asian values has been discussed and lambasted by several writers over the last few decades (Bokhorst-Heng, 1998, 1999Gopinathan, 1979;Newman, 1988;Wee, 2003;Wee & Bokhorst-Heng, 2005). As the authors cited above have discussed the bilingual policy in some detail, we will not repeat these debates here except to note that the erroneous assumption that only Mandarin Chinese has a cultural heritage was an affront to many Chinese Mandarin Chinese firmly in the life of Singaporean Chinese below the age of fifty. ...
... The linguistic genocide has an impact on the death of the local culture of minorities. Some of these cases were recorded in history in 1979 since Singapore campaigned for the Chinese language for language maintenance for the young and old generation (Chan, 1999;Newman, 1988;Teo, 2005), ...
Full-text available
State borders are the areas that are vulnerable to the degradation of national identity. The purpose of this study was to investigate the attitudes and the behavior of language use among the multi‐ethnic Indonesian of predominantly Dayak, Malay, and Chinese who resided on the Indonesia–Malaysia border. The present research applied a qualitative ethnographic approach to document and to describe how a group of multi‐ethnic communities participated in building their awareness, attitudes and practices of language as a national identity. The data were taken from 20 informants. They were teachers, students, local people, entrepreneurs, and state civil apparatus. The research found out that the ethnic groups on the border were highly aware of using Indonesian language as evidenced through a form of community involvement, volunteerism and social attitudes in civilizing Indonesian as the dominant language at the border. Their awareness was shown through their involvement, volunteerism, and social attitudes in developing Indonesian language as the dominant language in the border. It is argued that the involvement of all ethnic groups on the border affects positively on strengthening their attitudes and awareness in using Indonesian language.
... Similarly, three arguments have been advanced for the Speak Mandarin Campaignone educational, one cultural, and one practical/instrumental (see Newman, 1988;Bokhorst-Heng, 1999). The educational argument came about amidst dwindling enrollment rates in Chinese-stream education in the 1970s, when the state imposed its belief that the use of other Sinitic languages outside of classrooms interfered with the learning of Mandarin in schools. ...
Mandarin holds an artificial but official heritage language status for Chinese Singaporeans. Despite state efforts to regiment the racial and linguistic harmony of its Chinese population, Singapore has witnessed drastic linguistic-ideological shifts regarding Mandarin and other Sinitic varieties. Situating our analysis both diachronically and synchronically, we examine how the increased interactions between Chinese Singaporeans and non-local Chinese have led to confrontations that challenge a discourse of ‘shared’ Chineseness. Through two viral videos that capture such disputes, we demonstrate how language is racialized to discursively and semiotically discriminate against a subset of an aggregate of people with ‘shared’ linguistic and cultural norms.
Language problems and language barriers are challenges facing not only immigrants but also minorities and people in rural/semirural areas. This study examines individuals’ bi- and multilingual repertoires, language practices and attitudes in a Hokkien-speaking community in Kangar, a semirural town of northern Malaysia bordering Thailand. Through questionnaire surveys and interviews, we investigate how these notions can be used as a means to understand/reflect bilingualism and multilingualism and, more importantly, the potential disparity between what people want to do/say and what people eventually manage to do/say. While there is a shift in language practice from a local- and ancestral origin-induced pattern towards a more “global” and “pan-Chinese” paradigm, the findings also reveal the linguistic “dislocations” of the Hokkien-speaking community across ALL generations regardless of ethnicity. The language issues in the community reflect—and are likely to be reflections of—society at large. The vast contrast between individual/societal linguistic aspirations and the actual linguistic repertoire/communicative competence among the locals indicates the need to redress an absence of major efforts to close urban-rural/city-town/dominant-dominated social divides across the (language) education landscape at the national level.
Full-text available
Shaun Lim Tyan Gin, and Francesco Perono Cacciafoco. (2021). Isles and Their Stories: A Study of Three Islands of the Singapore Archipelago. Review of Historical Geography and Toponomastics, XVI, 31-32: 37-60 - This paper studies three Singaporean islands (with their original Malay names in brackets): St. John’s Island (Pulau Sakijang Bendera), Sentosa (Pulau Blakang Mati), and Coney Island (Pulau Serangoon). Using primary sources, such as maps and newspapers, and secondary sources, like books on Singaporean toponymy, the authors trace these place names across time. The toponyms conform to the broader trend of naming patterns of Singaporean toponyms. More importantly, the facilities, land uses, and histories of the three islands dovetail with pertinent aspects of Singapore’s history and, more broadly, with global discussions on linguistic toponymies and geographies. Through this research, it is evident that the toponyms, or place names, along with their connected stories, are inextricably linked to the history, languages, cultures, and societies of the places they name. This paper ultimately aims to be a starting point for further research on Singapore’s island names, an area that has received scant attention in Singaporean toponymy thus far. - Keywords: Singapore, Toponymy, Toponomastics, Historical Geography, Islands, Insulonyms, Islotoponomastics, Island Names, Sociolinguistics
Is there a form of anxiety specific to those who are in power? If so, how can political science account for it? Premised on these questions, the article offers a critical reading of the place of anxiety in the Memoirs of Lee Kuan Yew, the founding father of Singapore. It shows that the anxiety that pervades the book is peculiar to the (post-)colonial situation of the City-State and to the position of the local elites who, like Lee, were pure products of the British occupation, socially and economically speaking, while being politically involved in the struggle for independence. To do so, the article proposes an innovative methodology consisting in understanding anxiety on the basis of an indexical paradigm, similar to that developed by micro-history and psychoanalysis, in order to make sense of seemingly banal events, slips of the tongue or unconscious acts.
/81) The Speak Mandarin Campaign: Aspect of Public Policy. Academic Exercise
  • K M Ng
Ng, K. M. (1980/81) The Speak Mandarin Campaign: Aspect of Public Policy. Academic Exercise, Department of Political Science, National University of Singapore.
A Study of Hokkien-Mandarin Phonological Correspondences. Occasional Paper No. 22 Singapore: SEAMEO Regional Language Centre. (1986) Singapore's Speak Mandarin Campaign: the educational argument
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Newman, J. (1982) A Study of Hokkien-Mandarin Phonological Correspondences. Occasional Paper No. 22. Singapore: SEAMEO Regional Language Centre. (1986) Singapore's Speak Mandarin Campaign: the educational argument, Southeast Asian journal of Social Science, 14.2, 52-67.
An Overview of Language Issues in Southeast Asia
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Noss, R. B. (ed.) (1984) An Overview of Language Issues in Southeast Asia 1950-1980. Singapore: Oxford University Press.
Language Planning in Singapore, Promote the Use of Mandarin Campaign”. (ms.) (n.d
  • S Altehenger-Smith
Altehenger-Smith, S. (ms.) (n.d.) Language Planning in Singapore, Promote the Use of Mandarin Campaign.
A Study of Hokkien-Mandarin Phonological Correspondences. Occasional Paper No. 22. Singapore: SEAMEO Regional Language Centre
  • J Newman
Newman, J. (1982) A Study of Hokkien-Mandarin Phonological Correspondences. Occasional Paper No. 22. Singapore: SEAMEO Regional Language Centre.
An Overview of Language Issues in Southeast Asia 1950-1980
  • R B Noss
Noss, R. B. (ed.) (1984) An Overview of Language Issues in Southeast Asia 1950-1980. Singapore: Oxford University Press.