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Title: The other mother tongues of Singaporean Indians
Authors: Jain, Ritu
Keywords: Humanities::Linguistics::Sociolinguistics
Issue Date: 2021
Publisher: Routledge
Source: Jain, R. (2021). The other mother tongues of Singaporean Indians. R. Jain (Eds.), Multilingual Singapore: Language Policies and Linguistic Realities (pp. 65-84). Routledge.
Project: RG70/17 (NS)
Abstract: Comprising a mere 9% of the total population, the Indian community is the smallest of the three ethnic groups of Singapore. Its representative language, Tamil, is spoken by approximately half (54%) of the community, while the rest speak languages such as Malayalam, Punjabi, Hindi, etc. Institutional support via the language-in-education policy, is reserved Tamil as one of the four official languages of Singapore. However, over time and in consideration of the educational challenges faced by the non-Tamil students, the government has allowed five additional languages (Bengali, Gujarati, Hindi, Punjabi and Urdu) in lieu of Tamil. Unlike the rest, students of Indian heritage have had the option of studying either an official ethnic language or one of the five non-official languages since 1990. Notwithstanding these measures, sociolinguistic commentary—both historical and contemporaneous—on the Indian languages has focused on Tamil (Schiffman, 2003; Seetha Lakshmi, 2016) while the other Indian languages find mention mostly in footnotes. This chapter examines the impact of the facilitative educational measures towards the alternate Indian languages since their introduction as possible school subjects. Using community school enrolment data, it highlights that an increasing number of Indians prefer Hindi over alternatives (77% of the total enrolment in the non-official languages comes from Hindi). Supplementing this with survey and interview data, the chapter evaluates reasons why parents often forego familial languages for those associated with higher socio-economic statuses and the impact of such decisions on mother tongue maintenance. It traces institutional language choices of minority groups to alternate ideologies at societal margins that are at odds with those shaping state plans. Exploring the variance between family and state language policies, the chapter suggests that attention to ideological groundings of familial language decisions is critical for successful heritage language planning. It concludes with a consideration of the implications to language education policy and maintenance of immigrant community languages.
ISBN: 9780429280146
DOI: 10.4324/9780429280146
Schools: School of Humanities 
Rights: © 2021 Routledge. All rights reserved. This is an Accepted Manuscript of a book chapter published by Routledge in Multilingual Singapore: Language Policies and Linguistic Realities on 26 May 2021, available online:
Fulltext Permission: open
Fulltext Availability: With Fulltext
Appears in Collections:SoH Books & Book Chapters

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