language & society
the name of the course does not reveal much. my first impression of this elective, derived from just the name itself, was that it was going to be a really arduous technical study of the function of language in the social context. i can’t remember exactly why i picked this module but i can guess it must be because there wasn’t much of a choice in the first place. ah, the perils of being an arts student…
while i was right about the subject being technical, i’ve come to realise that things need not be ‘arduous’ or ‘boring’. francesco (he’s an italian), the lecturer, spoke of how singapore is a fascinating case in point regarding the study of different languages within a society. in the singaporean context, we have standard (queen’s) english that is the language of business, as well as ‘singlish’, the language of our daily interactions with other singaporeans. singlish, a curious amalgamation of the different local languages (it even has its own grammar), is considered linguistically ‘low’ as compared to standard english. this situation is known as a diglossia, in which speakers switch easily between 2 or more languages in their daily affairs. being able to relate studies to other areas of one’s life goes a long way in keeping one interested.
the issue that i am really wondering about is that of language loss. most singaporeans speak 2, maybe 3 languages as of now – english, mother tongue, and in some cases a dialect (yes, linguists argue that dialects are considered languages too). it is hard to see english or mother tongue disappearing in the near future but not that hard in the case of dialects. for instance, i am a hainanese who speaks no word of it. if language and culture are inextricably linked, would the demise of a particular language spell the end of a culture too? as cultures around the world become increasingly diluted thanks to globalisation, what effects will this have on the concept of identity? hell, i can’t even put a finger on my own identity!
these are some questions of which i seek answers. i think i will eventually find them.
for more on my thoughts, click here.