7. Uncertain locale

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The role and place of English in Singapore is shaped by a number of key cultural factors, including the nation’s colonial legacy, its multi-racial and multi-lingual society (and how this is handled by government policy), the push to position Singapore as a global city attracting transnational capital and flows of talent, and similar issues. These factors combine to create cultural tensions between language and race identifiers (for example, being of Chinese ethnic origin, being a recent arrival from China, speaking Chinese dialects, and speaking the Mandarin Chinese endorsed by the government), between different racial-linguistic communities (for example, Anglophone Singaporeans and speakers predominantly of Asian languages), and the peculiar tensions between varieties of “standard” English affiliated to global cultural flows (American media, living and studying in the U.K. or Australia) and the local variety known as “Singlish” that is affiliated with a localized (and especially everyman or underclass) Singapore identity. An account of English vis-à-vis the cultural landscape of Singapore thus also becomes an account of the geopolitics of identity and culture, as Singapore attempts to come to terms with global flows and competitions.


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