Language and Cultural Values: Adventures in applied ethnolinguistics
  • ISSN 2214-3157
  • E-ISSN: 2214-3165
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Offensive language use in Singapore’s languacultures appears to be underpinned by cultural norms and values embraced by most if not all Singaporeans. Interviews with local informants and perusal of Singapore’s linguistic and cultural resources led to the identification of eight offensive words and phrases deemed representative of Singaporean coarseness. This set was narrowed down to a smaller set of common words and phrases, all Chinese Hokkien, all culturally laden. The finding that, although originally Hokkien, all of them are accessible not only to the Chinese-speaking population but also to speakers of Singapore Malay, Singapore Tamil, and Singapore English is compelling. The words and phrases studied in this paper are full-fledged members of the lexicon of these local non-Chinese languages, without loss or distortion of meaning. They are accepted as part of the local linguistic scene and of local cultural knowledge. At least in certain situations, people of different ethnic backgrounds who live and work together can rely on them as a testament of common identity which, in a curious way, gives voice to the sociocultural homogeneity this society unrelentingly pursues.


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