Passive Structures in Singapore English

Term Paper, 2006

16 Pages, Grade: 2


Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. Passive Structures in Singapore English and its Frequencies

3. Conclusion

4. Bibliography

1. Introduction

Ho and Platt (1993:1) argue that Singaporean English is a particularly interesting indigenized, or nativized, speech variety because it is so widely used and fills so many functions. I can confirm Ho and Platt’s statement, since I was in Singapore in 2004. It was not difficult to notice Singapore English as a speech variety. This sparked my interest in participating in the proseminar ‘English in Singapore’ and consequently in researching into a certain grammatical phenomenon in Singapore English, namely the passive voice.

In this term paper, a short analysis of the two passive structures specific to Colloquial Singapore English (the so-called kena passive and the give passive) will be presented. Further on, we the get passive will be examined. We will show that give - and kena -constructions are derived from the languages of Chinese and Malay, respectively. The bigger part of this paper will be to examine the overall frequencies thereof. Which of the two passive constructions will be closer in structure to the standard form? A personal analysis will help us to answer this question, always with the hidden desire to finally come up with a reasonable conclusion towards the end of the paper. We will probably have a winner of the competing substrate form and we will hopefully find out which passive construction is the most productive one in Singapore English.

Moreover, we want to compare the frequency of the kena -passive with the get -passive’s frequency in a corpus-based analysis. Admittedly, the corpus-based study will be relatively restrictive and not quite large in size. In addition, the give -passive will be ignored due to its rarity.

Further on, we want to compare passive voice in Singapore with the passive in Standard English. To manage this, after having presented the development of Singapore, its multilingualism and English as its most common language, we will define some basic terms, which will be used in this term paper. After that, we will explain the corpus and the methodology used. In the end, we will sum up the findings and we will discuss my own study. Perhaps, there are possibilities how to do it better next time or there are other things that could be done.

2. Passive Structures in Singapore English and its Frequencies

2.1 Singapore

The name Singapore is derived from the two Malay words singa (which means lion) and pura (which means city). Therefore, Singapore is also known as the Lion City. The history of modern Singapore can be said to have begun in 1819 when Sir Stamford Raffles founded a trading settlement on the island. Because records of old Singapore are often not well documented, incomplete or scarce, it is pretty difficult to distinguish historical events from legends before that date. Nevertheless, it is delivered that the area consisted of several Malay sultanates around the sixteenth century and that Singapore was set ablaze by Portuguese troops around 1617.

Singapore has three major ethnicities (Chinese, Malay and Indians) and two minorities (Eurasians and Europeans). The four official languages of Singapore are Mandarin, Malay, Tamil and English. English, which unites the different ethnic groups, is the most common language in Singapore. However, “Malay is the national language of the country, although English is mainly used as a working language” ( Singapore:par 1). Children have to learn English at school (it is the language of the educational system), since it is the official language and is used in administration, tourism, international trade and business. However, children learn their mother-tongue to ensure they do not forget their culture, their traditions and their origin.

Before the 19th century, education was obligatory and only few children went to school and learned English. Mainly Europeans or Eurasians sent their children to English schools. English medium education became popular around 1920 and even girls started going to school around that time. Nowadays, nearly every Singaporean speaks more than one language and many children grow up bilingual. Multilingualism is one of Singapore’s hallmarks. As Brown and Low (2004:6) argue, responsible factors for the spread of English in Singapore were an increase in government services and the development of communication systems. Further on, harbour facilities, establishment of commercial companies and banks, growth of local English-medium educated, influx of English language films and use of English in the media, and the growth of educational establishments were the crucial factors.

The presence of other languages has definitely influenced the Singaporean English, as we will see in our analysis of passive structures. Mentionable are Malaysian and Chinese roots, which can thereby be found. Many Singaporeans use Colloquial Singapore English when talking to their children. Therefore, children tend to learn Colloquial Singapore English before speaking Standard English. Singaporean English can be separated into Standard Singapore English (this is close to British English or American English) and into Singlish that is “a portmanteau of the words Singaporean and English [and which] is the English-based Creole spoken colloquially in Singapore” ( Singapore:par 1).

The University of New England ( 10) tells us that it is still the case in Singapore that the younger you are and the richer your family is, the more likely you are to have English (and that usually means Singapore Colloquial English) as your native language.

Figure 1 shows us a census which is a document that illustrates the broadest possible view of language use in a nation. In terms of language, the Singapore Census asks what the language most frequently spoken at home is. The figure has been composed by Leow (2001:ix) and illustrates that English has increased a little bit as a language most frequently spoken at home. Especially, the Chinese community tends to use more English from 1990 to 2000. There are notable gains for Mandarin and losses for Chinese dialects. It can be said that there is only few increase of English spoken in Indian households, namely 3.3%. However, the number was already high throughout the last decade compared to Chinese and Malay communities.

Figure 1: Language Trends in Singapore

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

Source: Leow, B. G. Census of Population 2000: Education, Language and Religion. (Singapore: Department of Statistics, 2001) ix.


Excerpt out of 16 pages


Passive Structures in Singapore English
University of Freiburg
Proseminar I
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
461 KB
Passive, Structures, Singapore, English, Proseminar
Quote paper
Dominik Lorenz (Author), 2006, Passive Structures in Singapore English, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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