Get-passive in Singaporean English - A corpus-based study

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2005

21 Pages, Grade: 2



1. Introduction

2. Historical background
2.1 History of Singapore
2.2 History of the English language in Singapore

3. Corpora used

4. Definition of the Get - passive

5. Overall frequencies
5.1 Findings in the ICE-Sin Corpus
5.2 Comparison to previous corpora- based findings
5.3 Is the Get - passive used to express the responsibility of the subject?
5.4 Is the Get - passive used with a by- agent?

6. Conclusion

7. References

1. Introduction

First of all, and before I proceed with the actual description and basic layout of my term paper, it would be quite interesting to quote the thesis that roused by interest and became my first motivation concerning the study of a certain grammatical phenomenon in Singaporean English. As English is the most widely used language in the world, and it is used by at least 750 million people in addition to being the mother tongue of about 350 million people, it is therefore characterized by a great deal of variation. Nevertheless, it is remarkable that although these regional varieties differ from each other in terms of pronunciation and vocabulary, their grammar is significantly similar (cf. BACHE/ DAVIDSEN 1997: 4). Before we can go on to find out whether this assumption is also verified in the English of Singapore, I will present the main sections of my study.

The main and most important part of this term paper is based upon a personal corpus- based study, which should from the start be clearly characterized as relatively restrictive and not quite large in size, in order to avoid any further problems and misunderstandings. This study I mentioned above concerns and tries to closely examine the overall frequencies of get - constructions, and to be more specific, we will try to examine the phenomenon of the get - passive in the English of Singapore, always with the hidden desire to finally come up with a reasonable conclusion towards the end of the paper.

In order to succeed in this procedure, after having presented in brief the history of Singapore itself, and later on of the English language in this country, we will try to give some short definitions of the most basic notions, which are used in the following pages. Then, we will proceed in describing the corpora, as well as the methodology used. Moreover, we will point out the problems that automatically arise from this corpus- based study as a whole on the one hand, and from the fact of defining the get - passive itself on the other hand. After making these essential things clear, we will become more familiar with the theories regarding this subject; theories and theses that already exist, they have already been uttered and can be found in various books of grammar of the English language. Later on we will reveal and present the overall frequencies that derived from studying the corpus representing Singaporean English. These frequencies will consist the exact findings of the study, regarding the percentages. In addition, exploiting those findings a comparison should be made amongst the prevailing past theories and our findings from the corpora. Another component of the study will be found in the examination of two basically semantic features related to the get - passive. Finally we will discuss potential topics for further studies on this subject, as well as the importance of the results of the study.

2. Historical background

2.1. History of Singapore

By the time that Sir Stamford Raffles claimed the island of Singapore, a trading post at the southern tip of the Malay Peninsula, for the East India Company in 1819, begins the history of modern Singapore. Prior to the establishment of the British colony in the early nineteenth century, the population of the island city was estimated about 150. Although the region had a history of Indian and Thai influence and rule, by the time of European involvement (from the sixteenth century) the area consisted of a series of Malay sultanates, and almost the whole population was Malays. But, during the years of British rule, Singapore grew massively in size, as British encouraged immigration. While many people came to Singapore from other British colonies, especially from India and Ceylon, and others came into Singapore from neighbouring areas, the largest groups of immigrants were from Southern parts of China. Singapore became an independent Republic in 1965. The population of Singapore is now approximately 3.3 million and consists of three major ethnicities, namely Chinese, 77%, Malays, 14% and Indians, 8%. (cf. NEWBROOK 1987: 9- 13; GUPTA 1994: 5- 20).

2.2. History of the English language in Singapore

For many years the main medium of communication amongst the different ethnic groups in Singapore was a pidginized variety of Malay, called ‘Bazaar Malay’. But, in the nineteen century, and specifically in 1823, English- medium education was introduced. Nevertheless, as education was neither free nor compulsory, very few children went to school, and therefore very few children were educated in English. It was not until the first twenty years of the twentieth century, that English medium education became popular for all groups. By the 1950s nearly all children went to school, and the majority were educated in English. Since 1987 Chinese- medium education disappeared and all Singaporean children have their education through the medium of English, even though they must also study another language at school.

Today in Singapore, English is a co-official language together with Mandarin Chinese, Malay, and Tamil. It is the language of the judiciary, the main language used in government, business, international trade, commerce and tourism. For many Singaporeans, English is the main language. Many families speak English at home and it is one of the first languages learnt by about half of the current pre-school children. Nearly everyone in Singapore speaks more than one language, with many people speaking three or four. Most children grow up bilingual from infancy and learn more languages as they grow up. Naturally the presence of other languages (especially various varieties of Malay and of Chinese) has influenced the English of Singapore. Generally speaking, the variety of Singaporean English can be separated into two different forms; there is namely the standard variety, which is close to British English and the so- called ‘Singlish’. GUPTA (1994:5) defines ‘Singlish’ or better, Singapore Colloquial English, as “the kind of English which the English- speaking parents of Singapore have supplied to their children; [it] is a variety which is syntactically very different from Standard English”. (cf. NEWBROOK 1987: 9- 14; GUPTA 1994: 5- 20).

At this point it is also relevant to mention the fact that GUPTA (cf.1994: 14) accepts as native speakers of Singaporean English two groups of Singaporeans. The first group consists of those who have English as the primary medium of instruction in school from an early age to a high level. The second group consists of children who have acquired English at home from birth.

3. Corpora used

At the very first beginning of the main part of the paper, as we have already mentioned above, we will give the definitions of the following terms. We will define the most central word, namely the term of corpus, as well as the different kinds of corpora that exist, something that will consequently lead us to the description and definition of the corpora that are used in this particular case.

Despite the fact that there are many discussions on how a linguistic corpus should be defined, mainly crucially depending on how broadly one wishes to define it, we will give a rather restricted definition of a corpus (cf. Meyer 2002: xi). For the purposes of this term- paper then,

a corpus will be considered a collection of texts or parts

of texts upon which some general linguistic analysis can

be conducted. In recent times, a corpus has come to be

regarded as a body of text made available in computer-

readable form for purposes of linguistic analysis (Meyer 2002: xii).

One can easily distinguish several different types of electronic corpora. The most important categories, to which a corpus can belong, are the general, the regional, the dialect, the learners’, the historical and the multilingual corpora. We can also distinguish between written and spoken corpora (cf. Kennedy 1998: 19-21). The first computer corpus that was compiled for linguistic research was the Brown Corpus. The Brown Corpus, which was created in 1961, consists of one million words of edited written American English and is divided into 2,000- word samples from various genres [e.g. press, reportage, fiction, government documents] (cf. Meyer 2002: xii). After the Brown corpus, another one was modeled, and intended to be its British English counterpart. So, between 1970 and 1978 the Lancaster- Oslo/ Bergen [LOB] Corpus was compiled. The LOB Corpus also consists of one million words of edited written British English and is divided into 2,000- word samples (Cf. Kennedy 1998:28).

These two corpora were the basis for the creation of the two following corpora, namely the FROWN and the FLOB corpus. “FROWN stands for the Freiburg- Brown Corpus and consists of one million words of edited written American English published in 1991; it is divided into 2,000- word samples in varying genres intended to replicate the Brown Corpus”(Meyer 2002: 145). FLOB (Freiburg-Lancaster- Oslo- Bergen Corpus of British English) stands for the Freiburg update of the LOB Corpus and like FROWN has one million words of edited written British English and was published in 1991.

These four corpora have already been used in the past for numerous researches concerning various linguistic issues, including the study of the English get - passive. Therefore, I will only present the overall frequencies resulting from studies being already conducted with the help of those corpora and I will try to compare those findings to the ones, which will be revealed later on from the research on the Singapore Corpus.


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Get-passive in Singaporean English - A corpus-based study
University of Sheffield
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Get-passive, Singaporean, English
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Eleni Papadopoulou (Author), 2005, Get-passive in Singaporean English - A corpus-based study, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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