Frenglish shop signs in Singapore
Ong, Kenneth Keng Wee.
Ghesquière, Jean François.
Serwe, Stefan Karl.
Date of Issue2013
School of Humanities and Social Sciences
Language and Communication Centre
The presence of French in advertising communication within largely non-French speaking communities has been noted by a few linguists. Haarmann (1984, 1989) found that French is used in Japanese advertisements as ethno-cultural hieroglyphs which connote refinement, poshness, style and tastefulness – stereotypes of France and French culture. The unintelligibility of French to Japanese patrons is perceived as a non-issue, as social or symbolic meanings are deemed to be more vital to attract patrons than denotational meanings. A parallel case was found in British advertisements of food, fashion and beauty businesses where French symbolism or linguistic fetish is seen as attractive to largely non-French, English-speaking patrons (Kelly-Holmes, 2005). Notably, French symbolic meanings are sometimes accompanied by elaborative messages in English. Kelly-Holmes (2005) noted that English is used only where message comprehension is important for explicit communication. Curtin (2009) documented the fact that ‘vogue’ or ‘display’ French shop names favored by high-end restaurants and beauty salons in Taipei occurred concomitantly with vogue English. Vogue English is relatively more ubiquitous across the city's linguistic landscape due to its connotations being exploited in a wide span of applications vis-à-vis the chic prestige of French, which is tied to food, beauty and fashion businesses. The Taipei case shows that non-idiomatic French is employed as a socio-commercial accessory, similar to the case of decorative English used in Japan (Dougill, 1987) and in Milan, Italy (Ross, 1997). However, a more recent study on Tokyo shop signs gleaned linguistic patterns other than vogue English and vogue French (MacGregor, 2003), such as French + Japanese and English + French + Japanese. A recent study by Serwe et al. (in press) found that French and French-like shop names are increasingly in currency, with local shop owners keen to stand out and appeal to the increasingly cosmopolitan and sophisticated clientele in Singapore, who are nevertheless overwhelmingly non-French speaking. They further found that French and French-inspired shop signs of food businesses can be classified into four categories, namely, monolingual French, French + another language, French function words + another language, and coinages, noting that there are idiomatic usages and non-idiomatic usages in the first three categories. In this paper, we throw the spotlight on coinages, which we argue are mostly explicable as French-English code-switched blends. We focus on localized nominal concoctions used by shop owners across food and beauty commercial entities within Singapore. We borrowed the term ‘Frenglish’ from Martin's (2007) study to refer to the French-English blends. However, we noted that Martin's study focused on the use of English in advertising communication in France, where English is the minority language that is largely sidelined by the Toubon Law. Contrastively, English in Singapore is de facto the national language, while French is a foreign language with few speakers.
© 2013 Cambridge University Press. This paper was published in English Today and is made available as an electronic reprint (preprint) with permission of Cambridge University Press. The paper can be found at the following official DOI: [http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/S0266078413000278]. One print or electronic copy may be made for personal use only. Systematic or multiple reproduction, distribution to multiple locations via electronic or other means, duplication of any material in this paper for a fee or for commercial purposes, or modification of the content of the paper is prohibited and is subject to penalties under law.