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Postcolonial and learner Englishes in Southeast Asia: Implications for international communication


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This chapter compares two postcolonial varieties, Singapore English and Malaysian English, with a neighboring learner variety from Indonesia, all of which share Malay as a common substrate language. The comparative analysis reveals a common inventory of nonstandard features, albeit with differences such as features unique to a particular variety, or a wider range of realizations of a given feature in the learner variety. In terms of frequency, the learner variety displays higher levels of nonstandard morphology and syntax, even when accounting for register variation. The implications for communicating with Asia pertain to more predictable nonstandard features in the postcolonial varieties due to the relatively narrow range of realizations of features, as well as the ability of speakers of postcolonial varieties to accommodate their language production toward standard English, which is not the case for the Indonesian learners.
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Michael Percillier “Postcolonial and learner Englishes in Southeast Asia: implications for
international communication”
Contribution to Communicating with Asia
This chapter compares two postcolonial varieties, Singapore English and Malaysian English, with
a neighbouring learner variety from Indonesia, all of which share Malay as a common substrate
language. The comparative analysis reveals a common inventory on non-standard features, albeit
with differences such as features unique to a particular variety, or a wider range of realizations of
a given feature in the learner variety. In terms of frequency, the learner variety displays higher
levels of non-standard morphology and syntax, even when accounting for register variation. The
implications for communicating with Asia pertain to more predictable non-standard features in the
postcolonial varieties due to the relatively narrow range of realizations of features, as well as the
ability of speakers of postcolonial varieties to accommodate their language production towards
standard English, which is not the case for the Indonesian learners.
1. Introduction
The complex colonial history of Southeast Asia has resulted in a mosaic of countries and territories
that use English as a second language as well as countries where English is a foreign language (cf.
Kirkpatrick 2010: 1-2). This diverse constellation of nations with different colonial backgrounds
allows for a comparative analysis of postcolonial and learner forms of English. Besides giving
insights on the differences between these forms of English, this type of analysis can shed light into
the genesis of postcolonial varieties of English. These two aspects may be of relevance for
international communication with Southeast Asia, especially countries sharing a substrate language
but which do not share a colonial history.
One such example of a substrate language spoken in countries with different colonial
backgrounds is Malay. Its geographical distribution extends to Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia and
Brunei (Tadmor 2009: 686-7). Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei experienced a period of British rule,
while Indonesia was under Dutch influence. This chapter will focus on Malaysia, Singapore and
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The present file is the author accepted manuscript of the following published chapter:
2016. Edited by Gerhard Leitner, Azirah Hashim, and Hans-Georg Wolf.Cambridge University Press. Pages
Page numbers in the present manuscript do not coincide with the published version, and there may be
further discrepancies between the two versions. Please cite the published version only.
Indonesia only. This triadic constellation shall suffice for the purpose at hand as it covers two
diverging postcolonial varieties of English as well as a learner variety.
2. Background
As the respective countries' colonial histories do not fully explain the current linguistic situation, a
brief review of postcolonial developments and resulting linguistic ecologies is necessary. Further,
models for classifying postcolonial varieties need to be evaluated. Given that one of the varieties
under investigation does not fall into the category of postcolonial Englishes, a theoretical
foundation for a comparison of postcolonial and learner Englishes has to be determined.
2.1. Postcolonial linguistic ecologies
Based on their status as former British colonies, Singapore and Malaysia are commonly categorized
as English as a Second Language (ESL) countries. Using Kachru's (1985) ‘Three Circles’ model,
they are part of the Outer Circle. In contrast, Indonesia falls into the category English as a Foreign
Language (EFL), or the Expanding Circle in Kachru's model.
However, different postcolonial developments in the three countries have resulted in
distinctive linguistic ecologies that cannot solely be accounted for on the basis of the countries'
respective colonial legacies. While Singapore has pursued a policy of promoting English in
combination with the nation's ethnic groups' respective mother tongues, Malaysia has promoted its
national language, Bahasa Malaysia, at the expense of English, while supporting the two ethnic
languages, Tamil and Mandarin (cf. Low 2010: 233-4). Indonesia on the other hand appointed
English as its first foreign language immediately after declaring independence, and entirely
discarded Dutch, its former colonial language.
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2.2. Classifying postcolonial Englishes
Given these postcolonial developments, it is necessary to question the accuracy of widespread
models such as the ENL/ESL/EFL distinction and Kachru's Circles, which group Singapore and
Malaysian English under the same label ESL/Outer Circle in spite of different linguistic ecologies.
For reasons of convenience, the terms ESL and EFL will be used, but the equivalence to Kachru's
Outer and Expanding Circles is implied.
In order to perform a comparative analysis of Singapore English, Malaysian English and
Indonesian learner English, a model taking into account both colonial as well as postcolonial
aspects is needed for a more accurate classification of varieties of English. One model that
categorizes ESL varieties by incorporating colonial as well as postcolonial factors is the one
proposed by Schneider (2007). The model comprises five distinct stages, of which the third,
nativization, is considered by Schneider to be ‘the most interesting and important, the most vibrant
one, the central phase of both cultural and linguistic transfer’ (2007: 40). Stage 4, endonormative
stabilization, presupposes not only political independence but also cultural self-reliance, meaning
that the postcolonial society considers itself detached from its former colonial master (2007: 48-50).
The linguistic effects of this stage are characterized by emphasized homogeneity of the new
indigenous language.
Schneider describes Malaysian English as having proceeded substantially into phase 3
(2007: 148). Singapore English is classified as having reached many characteristics of phase 4 and
may make the full cycle (2007: 153). The model does not cover EFL countries, therefore Singapore
English and Malaysian English cannot be compared to Indonesian learner English within this
framework. However, crucial differences between the two ESL varieties and the EFL variety can be
identified via Schneider's model, namely that both ESL varieties have undergone nativization, but to
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varying degrees, while Indonesian learner English has not. It is thus possible to categorize the three
varieties as such: Indonesian learner English as a non-nativized variety, Malaysian English as a
nativized variety, and Singapore English as nativized variety undergoing endonormative
2.3. Comparing postcolonial varieties and learner Englishes
Performing a comparative analysis of Singapore English, Malaysian English and Indonesian learner
English entails comparing postcolonial varieties and learner forms of English. The individual fields
World Englishes/New Varieties of English and Second Language Acquisition (SLA) have each
built up their respective bodies of research and developed independently from each other, a
‘paradigm gap’ deplored by Sridhar and Sridhar (1986: 3). The following year, Williams (1987:
163) put forward a common denominator for postcolonial and learner forms of English by
describing non-native varieties of English as a special case of language acquisition. Although ESL
and EFL varieties share certain features, and EFL properties may even play a role in the genesis of
ESL varieties, they differ on the fact that ESL varieties are spoken within the population. This
implies that unlike for EFL learners, standard varieties are no longer regarded as a target of
development, since they are neither easily accessible nor desirable for a majority of speakers
(Williams 1987: 164).
As certain features found in ESL varieties may originate in learner errors, present-day EFL
varieties that share a common substrate language can be thought of as similar to ESL varieties in
their pre-nativization stages. It is therefore useful to extend Schneider's (2007) model, devised
specifically for postcolonial varieties, by treating EFL varieties with a common substrate language
as a hypothetical ‘stage 0’ addition to the model, as illustrated in Figure 1. The term ‘stage 0’, i.e.
the status of the variety before any of the model's actual stages come into effect, remains in
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quotation marks as isolated characteristics of stages 1 and 2, such as bilingualism within the local
elites, may be applicable to an EFL context such as English in Indonesia.
Figure 1. ‘Stage 0’ addition to Schneider's (2007) model
3. Data and Methodology
Data for a comparative analysis of the three varieties should ideally be spoken language, not only
because phonological features will be investigated alongside morphology and syntax, but also due
to the fact that non-standard features are more likely to occur in (informal) spoken language than in
(formal) written language. Two suitable spoken language corpora of Singapore English are the
National Institute of Education Corpus of Spoken Singapore English (Deterding and Low 2001),
henceforth NIECSSE, and the Grammar of Spoken Singapore English Corpus (Lim 2001; Lim and
Foley 2004), henceforth GSSEC. Out of a total of 46 speakers in the ‘Interview’ category of
NIECSSE, only 4 are ethnic Malay speakers. Data of ethnic Malay speakers from both NIECSSE
and GSSEC should be combined in order to obtain a sufficiently large amount of data for a
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comparative analysis with Malaysian English and Indonesian learner English. GSSEC contains 9
files of conversations involving ethnic Malay speakers, totalling 23 speakers.
At the time of writing, the Malaysian component of the International Corpus of English
(Hajar and Su'ad forthcoming) is still being compiled. However, the ICE-Malaysia team have
kindly provided 12 transcribed files from the category ‘Spoken Component / Dialogue / Private /
Direct Conversations’.
Regarding the Indonesian learner data, choosing a source is not as simple as for the
neighbouring ESL varieties. The International Corpus of Learner English (ICLE) has no Indonesian
component. Furthermore, the study is intended to pay particular attention to spoken language, a
genre not covered by ICLE. It was therefore preferable to collect Indonesian learner data. The
process of data collection took place in May 2009 at two locations: the International University of
Batam (Universitas Internasional Batam) located on the island of Batam, and the public library in
Tanjung Pinang on the island of Bintan. Both islands lie in the Riau Islands archipelago,
approximately 20 km south of Singapore.
Batam and Bintan were chosen not only due to their location, but first and foremost because
the variety of Malay spoken on the Riau Islands is very similar to that spoken in Singapore and the
southern regions of the Malay peninsula. Also, Malay and Indonesian form the two ends of a
register continuum in regions of Indonesia where Malay is spoken as an L1, with the latter being the
high variety and the former the low variety (Tadmor 2009: 687). This diglossic situation is closer to
that of Malaysia than in other parts of Indonesia, where Indonesian is the high variety and a local
language other than Malay is the low variety. Thus, the influence of regional variability as a factor
can be kept to a minimum. The data recorded on the Riau Islands is by no means representative of
English in Indonesia, as it does not represent the country's vast territory, nor its wealth of different
substrate languages. In addition, the respondents all learned English in a scholastic setting, which
may not hold true for all speakers of English in the country. As the present study is concerned with
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a comparison of English in countries sharing a substrate language but having different colonial
histories, the label ‘Indonesian learner English’ (abbreviated IndonE) can be used for reasons of
convenience. However, any study aiming to describe the state of English in Indonesia in its entirety
would have to rely on a wider variety of data than Riau Islands scholastic learner English.
The data for this category were obtained by conducting informal 30-minute interviews. In
total, 25 interviews were conducted. The level of English, as measured in years learning English,
ranged from 3 to 17 years. In a similar vein to the data borrowed from NIECSSE, utterances by the
foreign interviewer (i.e. the author) were not taken into account.
An overall comparison of data for the three varieties under discussion is given in Table 1,
detailing total numbers as well as subtotals for Malay as L1 and Chinese as L1.
Table 1. Overview of total data
Variety Source Total L1 Malay L1 Chinese
Singapore NIECSSE + GSSEC 13,062 11,155 1,907
Malaysia ICE-Malaysia 21,042 13,965 7,077
Indonesia Own recordings 47,978126,603 16,337
TOTAL - 82,082 51,723 25,321
The three varieties under investigation were compared in terms of their ‘non-standard’
features. The term ‘standard English’, in a similar vein to Kortmann and Schneider (2004: 1-2),
refers to the forms of English used as models for international communication and as models of
English language teaching worldwide, i.e. British and American English. For the level of
phonology, the term ‘non-standard’ is used for features not found in Received Pronunciation or
General American. Needless to say, the terms ‘standard’ and ‘non-standard’ do by no means imply
any superiority of one set of variety over another, but are merely used as a tool of comparison.
1These subtotals for Indonesia do not add up to the overall total due to the presence of a Javanese L1 speaker in the data.
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The data were annotated using a custom annotation scheme designed to allow both broad
and narrow searches. In addition to the category and description of a given feature, specific
attributes and additional information were also marked. Standard cases of morphological marking
were also annotated to facilitate comparisons of ratios for standard versus non-standard marking in
the three varieties at hand (cf. Figure 2 in section 4.2.1.). An overview of the structure of the
annotation scheme with examples of features is given in Table 2.
Table 2. Overview of annotation scheme structure
Category Feature Attributes Additional
cluster origin, result location
pmonophthong origin, result -
stop origin, result location
3rdperson missing, analytic, double verb
mpast missing, analytic verb, adverbial, context
plural missing marker
deletion item -
sinversion missing -
redundant item -
ok feature - -
overuse feature - -
switch - - -
An example sentence is given below to illustrate the format of the annotated version of the data.
<IndonE-BBY:45> I don't<p cluster origin=nt result=n l=final> know, the lecturer <m past
missing verb=give adv=no context=no><m 3rdperson missing verb=give>give it to us, so,
just<p cluster origin=st result=s l=final>, yeah, it's included<p stop origin=d result=d_}
l=final> in <s deletion item=article> curriculum, right<p stop origin=t result=? l=final>,
that's why we learn it<p stop origin=t result=? l=final>
4. Description of select features
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In total, 30 features have been annotated and analysed, a subset of which will be described in
sections 4.1 to 4.3. The selection of features to be described individually consists of the non-
standard realization of /ʃ/, the non-standard realization of /θ/ and /ð/, monophthongization, past
tense marking, comparative and deletion. Section 4.4 then proceeds to compare the overall
frequencies of all features under investigation in the three varieties.
4.1. Phonological features
4.1.1. Non-standard realization of /
The phoneme /ʃ/ is frequently realized in a non-standard manner, generally as [s]. This feature is
frequently observed in Indonesian learner English while virtually absent from the postcolonial
varieties, with only a single token found in the Singaporean data. Examples of such realizations are
given in sentence (1).
(1) But the English [ʃ], er, the British [s] English [ʃ] with the American English [s] is
quite different, you know. <IndonE-YL:101>
Sentence (1) features both standard as well as non-standard realizations of the phoneme /ʃ/, which
suggests attempts by the speaker to self-correct the feature.
4.1.2. Non-standard realization of
The phonemes /θ/ and /ð/ are often realized as [t] and [d] respectively in all three varieties.
Examples are given in sentence (2).
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(2) I think [t] yes, er we must hard work to find money, to build social with other [d]-
other [d] citizen in that city <IndonE-TC:307>
However, [t] and [d] are not the only observed realizations. Table 3 gives an overview of the
number of realizations of /θ/ and /ð/ as well as their frequencies.
Table 3. Non-standard realizations of /θ/ and /ð/, frequencies normalized to 100,000 words, rounded to the nearest
SgE MalE IndonE
Types of realization 1: t 3: t, s, ʃ11: t, tʰ, t
%, d, d
%, ʔ, ɾ, f,
s, ts,
Frequency of realizations 61 190 240
Types of realization 1: d 2: d, s 8: d, d
%, t, ɾ, ʔ, s, v, z
Frequency of realizations 505 1,074 811
With respect to the non-standard realizations of /θ/, the overall frequency is higher in the learner
variety than in the postcolonial varieties. In addition, the range of observed realizations sets the
learner variety apart from the postcolonial varieties.
Regarding /ð/, the learner variety also exhibits a wide range of possible realizations. Unlike
/θ/, a wider range of realizations does not correlate with higher frequencies, as non-standard
realization of /ð/ occurs more often in Malaysian English.
4.1.3. Monophthongization
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Monophthongization of diphthongs is a feature attested in the three varieties under investigation.
Examples are given in sentences (3) and (4).
(3) B: No [oː], Mendaki teachers need to take leave, you see, to go on a holiday [eː].
C: Exactly. So [oː] I’m left with no money and no [oː] holiday [eː].
(4) Er flour [uː] and bread, crispy bread. <IndonE-TC:196>
The two types of monophthongization shown in sentence (3) are found in all varieties, while the
monophthongization of sentence (4) is only observed in the Indonesian learner data. Table 4 gives
an overview of the different types of monophthongization observed.
Table 4. Overview of monophthongization, normalized for 100,000 words, rounded to the nearest integer
Diphthong a)ected SgE MalE IndonE
/әʊ/367 737 33
/eɪ/666 1,036 35
/aɪ/ 0 0 15
/aʊ/ 0 0 6
The overview given in Table 4 allows two observations which set the postcolonial varieties apart
from the learner variety: firstly, monophthongization is far more frequent in the postcolonial
varieties; secondly, the lower frequency of the phenomenon in the learner frequency coincides with
a wider range of affected diphthongs.
In addition to the different frequencies of monophthongization (and additional diphthongs
affected for Indonesian learner English), the varieties also show variation with regard to the
resulting sounds produced. While the diphthong /әʊ/ displays three types of non-standard
realization in Singapore English ([o, õ, ɔ]) and two types in Malaysian English ([o, ɔ]), there are
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four types in Indonesian learner English ([o, ɔ, ɒ, ʊ]). The differences are more pronounced for the
diphthong /eɪ/, where Singapore English and Malaysian English feature only two types ([e, i]) and
one type ([i]) respectively, whereas Indonesian learner English displays five types of non-standard
realization ([e, ɛ, ɪ, ɜ, ɑ]).
4.2. Morphological features
4.2.1. Past tense marking
There are three main types of non-standard past tense marking observed in the data. Examples
illustrating these different types are shown in sentences (5) to (7).
(5) Uh I already go to Singapore just once. <IndonE-WW:162>
(6) Avinesh took, right? Yea. Uh, I rush back, like, I sat on the, you know, the chair
outside the d..., uh, bilik tutorial? Then I realize as far as I remember accurate right,
he was saying about the [???]2. <MalE-S1A001:134:A>
(7) We were rarely practice it then s- now I think my pronunciation is not really good.
Sentences (5) and (6) represent cases where no marking is present on the verb. However, the past
tense setting is indicated by other means. In sentence (5), it is marked by the adverbials already and
just once, thereby signalling that in this instance, go does not refer to a prototypical present tense
function but to a past action. Sentence (6) uses a different strategy, whereby the unmarked verbs
occur in the proximity of marked verbs so that the past tense context is already established.
2 [???] marks indecipherable passages.
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Sentence (7) serves as an example of cases in which the past tense is marked with the insertion of a
marked auxiliary. The verb to be is placed in its past tense form before the lexical verb, resulting in
we were rarely practice it rather than we rarely practiced it.
Cases of missing past tense marking such as those given in sentences (5) and (6) are by far
more frequent than marked auxiliary insertions as in sentence (7). As the total frequencies of past
tense contexts vary across the varieties, a comparison of relative frequencies, shown in Figure 2, is
necessary in order to obtain a clear picture of standard and non-standard past tense marking in each
Figure 2. Relative frequencies of past tense marking types, indicated values rounded to three decimals
00.25 0.5 0.75 1
missing standard auxiliary
The relative frequencies given in Figure 2 show that the rate of standard past tense marking in
Malaysian English lies somewhat in between the rates of Singapore English and Indonesian learner
English. While the rate of standard past tense marking is above 90 per cent in Singapore English,
Indonesian learner English uses standard marking in less than half of all cases. At 71.9 per cent, the
rate of standard marking in Malaysian English is closer to that of Singapore English than that of the
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learner variety, but only slightly so. The differences in standard marking go hand in hand with those
observable for missing inflectional marking. Singapore English omits inflectional past tense
marking in less than 10 per cent of all cases, while this phenomenon is found in a majority of cases
in Indonesian learner English. The rate for Malaysian English lies slightly above a quarter of all
cases. What the three varieties have in common is a very low rate of inserted marked auxiliary,
barely discernible on the right-hand edge of the figure.
4.2.2. Comparative
The form of non-standard comparative marking observed in the data consists in using both standard
comparative marking strategies simultaneously, i.e. by placing the particle more in front of the
adjective as well as appending the suffix -er. Examples are given in sentences (8) and (9).
(8) Oh, so, it’s be, like, more nicer than Cameron Highland. <MalE-S1A010:15:A>
(9) Enough sleep yes, have a fresh mind to study is more better. <IndonE-HP:47>
Examples (8) and (9) both feature a comparative form with double marking, the difference being
that sentence (9) combines the particle more with a suppletive comparative form. Double
comparative is more frequent in Indonesian learner English (55 occurrences per 100,000 words)
than in Malaysian English (10 occurrences per 100,000 words) and Singapore English (8
occurrences per 100,000 words).
4.3. Syntactic features
4.3.1. Verb deletion
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Verb deletion is a feature found in all varieties. Two examples are given in sentence (10).
(10) The beach so far away from here, ya, so I on the road, using the road.
The beach
so far away is a case of copular verb deletion, while the second deletion, so I
the road, is a case of lexical verb deletion. Other types of verb deletion encountered are auxiliary
verb and modal verb deletion. The normalized frequencies for the different subtypes of verb
deletion are given in Table 5.
Table 5. Types of verb deletion, normalized for 100,000 words, rounded to the nearest integer
Type SgE MalE IndonE
Auxiliary 107 67 96
Copula 107 185 254
Lexical 23 19 69
Modal 0 0 15
Total 237 271 434
The overview of normalized frequencies reveals the distribution of types of verb varies across
varieties. While the overall frequency of verb deletion is almost twice as high in Indonesian learner
English as in Singapore English, auxiliary deletion is more frequent in Singapore English than in
the learner variety. The remaining types are more frequent in the learner variety, and modal deletion
is unique to Indonesian learner English.
4.3.2. Relative pronoun deletion
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Although it is not among the most frequent types of deletion, relative pronoun deletion is discussed
separately because it leads to a non-standard form of relative clause. In standard English usage,
object-relative clauses may have their relative pronoun deleted to form a zero-relative clause, e.g.
the person (that) I met. Such cases were not taken into consideration, as they are part of standard
usage. The cases under discussion here are subject-relative clauses with a deleted relative pronoun,
or subject-zero-relative clauses. An example is given in sentence (11).
(11) You know when the waitress or waiter, uh, send the, uh, the, the food to us, we are
the first table will finish it. <MalES1A012:6:B>
Relative pronoun deletion that results in a subject-zero-relative clause is observed for Malaysian
English on 7 counts (~33 occurrences per 100,000 words) and for Indonesian learner English on 18
counts (~38 occurrences per 100,000 words). In spite of the similar normalized frequencies
observed for these two varieties, the feature is not attested in the Singaporean data.
4.4. The big picture
An overall comparison of the features encountered in the categories phonology, morphology and
syntax makes it possible to find out whether any of the categories show more discrepancies or
similarities between varieties than others. Such a comparison is given in Figure 3, which contrasts
normalized frequencies of non-standard features in the three varieties grouped by category. The
frequencies of non-standard features given include deleted forms, non-standard forms as well as
unexpected usage.
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Figure 3. Overall comparison of non-standard features by category, normalized for 100,000 words
The following observations can be made from the comparative overview shown in Figure 3. First of
all, Indonesian learner English exhibits the highest number of non-standard features in the
categories morphology and syntax, while the opposite appears to be true for the category
phonology. The learner variety displays the lowest frequency of phonological features, however that
value is relatively close to that observed for Singapore English. Malaysian English generally lies
between the frequencies observed for Singapore English and Indonesian learner English, with the
notable exception of the category phonology, for which it has by far the highest frequency of all
varieties. Singapore English displays the lowest frequencies for the categories morphology and
syntax. In the category phonology, its frequency surpasses that of the learner variety but is
considerably lower than that observed for Malaysian English.
The ESL varieties display a certain degree of unity in the category of syntax when compared
to the frequencies observed for the learner variety. This observation cannot be made for the
category morphology, as the frequency observed for Malaysian English lies almost right between
those observed for Singapore English and Indonesian learner English. The category phonology
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phonology morphology syntax
displays an entirely different image, as Singapore English and Indonesian learner English show
relative unity, particularly when contrasted to the much higher frequency observed for Malaysian
The fact that the ESL varieties show vast differences in the frequencies of phonological
features while displaying relative unity in the frequencies of syntactic features goes in line with the
‘common knowledge in variation studies that “accent divides, and syntax unites”’ (Mair 2007: 97).
While this holds true for ESL varieties, the comparison of the ESL varieties and the learner variety
appears to result in a reversal of this ‘long-established truism’ (Mair 2007: 84). The ESL varieties
on the one hand and the learner variety on the other hand are divided with regard to syntax, while
on the level of phonology Singapore English and Indonesian learner English are united. However,
the fact that Malaysian English and Indonesian learner English display obvious differences when it
comes to phonology render the first part of the maxim ‘accent unites, syntax divides’ inaccurate.
To summarize, the truism ‘accent divides, and syntax unites’, observable for ENL and ESL
varieties, does not appear to be applicable to comparisons of ESL and EFL varieties. Its reversal,
‘accent unites, and syntax divides’, can be applied to a comparison of Singapore English and
Indonesian learner English, while only the ‘syntax divides’ part is valid for a comparison of
Malaysian English and Indonesian learner English.
5. Analysis of register variation
As the corpus material collected for Singapore English originates from two corpora, each
representing a different level of formality, the influence of register can be investigated in Singapore
English and contrasted with the relatively informal and formal registers in the Malaysian data and
the Indonesian data respectively. The data from GSSEC and ICE-Malaysia were collected in similar
contexts, i.e. spontaneous conversations among peers, and therefore represent informal language. In
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contrast, the data from NIECSSE and the Indonesian learner data, while not strictly formal,
represent a greater degree of formality as they were recorded in an interview setting with a foreign
interviewer. The comparison of normalized frequencies for formal and informal Singapore English
as well as Malaysian English and Indonesian learner English is given in Figure 4.
Figure 4. Comparison of non-standard features observed in formal (f) Singapore English, informal (i) Singapore
English, Malaysian English and Indonesian learner English, normalized for 100,000 words
With regard to the levels of register examined in Singapore English and their similarities to
Indonesian learner English, the comparison given in Figure 4 offers clear insights for the categories
morphology and syntax. The frequencies observed for morphological and syntactic features suggest
that the differences between formal Singapore English and the learner variety are far greater than
the differences between informal Singapore English and the learner variety, in spite of the relatively
formal setting in which the Indonesian learner data was recorded. Overall, the differences observed
between the postcolonial variety and the learner variety with respect to morphology and syntax
remain vast.
The comparison of phonological features across the learner variety and formal/informal
Singapore English suggests that the frequency of phonological features in Indonesian learner
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English lies somewhat between the frequencies observed for formal and informal Singapore
English. As such, the accent of formal Indonesian learner English can be regarded as more
pronounced than that of formal Singaporean English, but less so than that of informal Singaporean
6. Conclusion: implications for communicating with Asia
The analysis of selected features has revealed certain characteristics relevant to communicating with
Asia. Firstly, the forms of English observed in Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia share many
features, which can be explained by their common origin as learner varieties. However, they are not
identical, as certain features, such as non-standard realization of /ʃ/, are virtually unique to
Indonesian learner English. Van Rooy (2011) gives an explanation for these differences between
nativized and learner varieties, stating that learner errors enter a feature pool from which they may
(or may not) be conventionalized by the speech community, as illustrated in Figure 5.
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Figure 5. Illustration of feature selection in the nativization process
However, the process of nativization appears to be more subtle than consisting simply of
selection versus non-selection of a given feature. This is best demonstrated by the recurring
observation that non-standard features display a wider range of realizations in the learner variety
than in the nativized varieties. An illustration of this more subtle type of selection is given in Figure
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Figure 6. Illustration of feature range selection in the nativization process
This has implications regarding communicating with Asia using English as a lingua franca, in
particular understanding English language produced by Asian speakers. Non-standard features
produced by speakers of postcolonial varieties tend to occur as a few realizations, typically just one.
For example, Europeans communicating with Singaporeans or Malaysians can improve their
understanding of the respective accents by expecting /θ/ to be occasionally realised as [t]. In
contrast, understanding the accent of an Indonesian learner may prove to be more difficult, as /θ/
may be realised in a completely unexpected manner.
The second relevant contrast relates to the accent/grammar divide observed. Although their
accents are marked to a comparable extent, the morphology and syntax of the postcolonial varieties
are clearly closer to standard English than is the case for Indonesian learner English. As such,
communication with speakers from countries with a British colonial background should be easier
when it comes to grammar. In addition, the influence of register variation investigated for the
Singaporean data has shown that speakers of postcolonial varieties of English are able to adjust
their accent and grammar to contain fewer local features in a formal context. They should therefore
be able to accommodate their speech towards standard English with more ease than Indonesian
speakers could.
- 22 -
The question remains how formal Malaysian English and informal Indonesian learner
English would fare in such a comparison. It remains unclear whether register variation in
Indonesian learner English is non-existent or, if it exists, how restricted it is in comparison to
postcolonial varieties. Figure 8 gives a schematic representation of register variation in both ESL
and EFL settings.
Figure 7. Model of sociolinguistic range of English in ESL and EFL settings
The model in Figure 7 conceptualizes the range of uses of English in both settings. Although
speakers of postcolonial varieties use English in local and informal contexts, their usage of English
also extends to the domain of international and formal usage to which Indonesian learner English is
mostly limited. Indonesian learner English produced in a relatively formal setting has shown to
contain more non-standard features than formal Singapore English with regard to phonology, and
more non-standard features than both informal postcolonial varieties with regard to grammar. While
the three varieties share many features and may appear similar on the surface, speakers of
postcolonial varieties produce these features out of choice rather than necessity and possess the
- 23 -
ability to reduce the local character of their language production, which cannot be said of
Indonesian learners. Accordingly, any communication problems occurring in international
communication with Singaporean or Malaysian speakers may be exacerbated when Indonesian
speakers are involved. It remains to be seen whether this is limited to the varieties presently under
consideration, or whether this also applies to similar constellations in Asia (and beyond), e.g. a
comparison of Hong Kong English and learner English from Cantonese speaking regions of the
People’s Republic of China.
7. References
Deterding, David and Low Ee Ling. 2001. ‘The NIE corpus of spoken Singapore English
(NIECSSE)’, SAAL Quarterly 56: 2-5.
Hajar Abdul Rahim and Su'ad Awab. forthcoming. ICE - Malaysia. School of Humanities,
Universiti Sains Malaysia.
Kachru, Braj B. 1985. ‘Standards, codification and sociolinguistic realism: the English
language in the outer circle’, in Quirk, Randolph and Widdowson, Henry G. (eds.) English
in the world: teaching and learning the language and literatures. Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press and The British Council, 11-30.
Kirkpatrick, Andy. 2010. ‘Introduction’, in Kirkpatrick, Andy (ed.) The Routledge Handbook of
World Englishes. London: Routledge, 1-14.
Kortmann, Bernd and Schneider, Edgar W. 2004. ‘General introduction’, in Schneider, Edgar W.,
Burridge, Kate, Kortmann, Bernd, Mesthrie, Rajend and Upton, Clive (eds.) A handbook of
varieties of English. Volume 1: Phonology. Berlin: de Gruyter, 1-9.
Lim, Lisa. 2001. Towards a reference grammar of Singapore English. Final Research Report.
Academic Research Fund, National University of Singapore.
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Lim, Lisa and Foley, Joseph A. 2004. ‘English in Singapore and Singapore English:
background and methodology’, in Lim, Lisa (ed.) Singapore English: a grammatical
description. Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 1-18.
Low, Ee Ling. 2010. ‘English in Singapore and Malaysia’, in Kirkpatrick, Andy (ed.) The
Routledge Handbook of World Englishes. London: Routledge, 229-46.
Mair, Christian. 2007. ‘British English/American English grammar: convergence in writing
– divergence in speech?’, Anglia 125(1): 84-100.
Schneider, Edgar W. 2007. Postcolonial English: varieties around the world. Cambridge University
Sridhar, Kamal K. and Sridhar, S.N. 1986. ‘Bridging the paradigm gap: second language
acquisition theory and indigenized varieties of English’, World Englishes 5(1): 3-14.
Tadmor, Uri. 2009. ‘Loanwords in Indonesian’, in Haspelmath, Martin and Tadmor, Uri (eds.)
Loanwords in the world's languages: a comparative handbook. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter,
Van Rooy, Bertus. 2011. ‘A principled distinction between error and conventionalized innovation in
African Englishes’, in Mukherjee, Joybrato and Hundt, Marianne (eds.) Exploring second-
language varieties of English and learner Englishes: bridging a paradigm gap. Amsterdam:
John Benjamins, 189-207.
Williams, Jessica. 1987. ‘Non-native varieties of English: a special case of language
acquisition’, English World-Wide 8: 161-99.
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