- Evolving identities: The English language in Singapore and Malaysia ed. by Vincent B. Y. Ooi
This is an overview of the changing status of English in Singapore and Malaysia, where English is a colonial legacy but is increasingly taking on the new roles of expressing local identities and cultures. While this book provides detailed descriptions of some linguistic aspects of Singaporean English (SE) and Malaysian English (ME), it focuses more on arguing why the Englishes used in Singapore and Malaysia (SME) should be viewed as legitimate varieties of English, used by their speakers to express their multicultural identity in a globalized world. Also, much emphasis is given to discussing how the pressure to adhere to an internationally recognized standard and the need for a local standard can be [End Page 815] reconciled in the context of language teaching through the codification of SME in dictionaries. For this reason, this book will be of primary interest to teachers of English and lexicographers but potentially also to linguists who are interested in the changes in the role and status of SME.
The first three chapters present an overview of the newly emerging status of SME. In Ch. 1, Anne Pakir notes the role of the increasing number of English-speaking bilinguals in Singapore and Malaysia in changing these countries into ‘new epicenters of English’ (2). Joseph Foley’s Ch. 2 argues for pedagogical approaches that view English as a first language for Singaporean students, and in Ch. 3, Elaine Morais sees the lectal varieties of ME as evidence that their speakers have taken ownership of English to express a unique Malaysian voice.
Chs. 4–8 discuss specific linguistic features of SME in more detail, arguing for their systematicity and legitimacy. In Ch. 4, Lisa Lim studies the intonation of SE among different ethnic groups, and in Ch. 5, Bao Zhiming discusses the challenges that internal variability presents to the study of SE phonology. In Ch. 6, Lubna Alsagoff discusses the features of tense and aspect marking in colloquial SE, and in Ch. 7, Lim Choon Yeoh and Lionel Wee analyze the use of reduplication, also in colloquial SE. Ho Chee Lick discusses the influence of underlying cultural assumptions on SE language use in Ch. 8.
The remaining chapters discuss the place of SME in issues of language pedagogy and lexicography. Alan Maley focuses on the issue of language teaching in his analysis of writing ‘errors’ of Singaporean tertiary-level students in Ch. 9. Both Gerard Lim’s report on the differences between SE and ME reflected in corpus data in Ch. 10 and Peter K. W. Tan’s discussion of lexical innovation and nativization in Ch. 11 deal with issues of importance in dictionary making. Likewise, in Ch. 12, Vincent B. Y. Ooi outlines how a balance between internationally recognized and local standards was achieved in the development of the second edition of the Times-Chambers essential English dictionary (Singapore: Chambers-Harrap and Federal, 1997), of which Ooi was also a co-editor.
The chapters in this volume are relatively concise, with the result that they sometimes fall short of satisfying the curious reader. For example, some chapters would have been more interesting with a deeper explication of precisely how speakers use SME in order to express their ‘evolving identities’ in various interactional situations. However, such research must go hand in hand with serious attention to more area-specific issues such as those discussed in this volume, and this book accomplishes that task nicely.