Singapore has four official languages recognized by the constitution. Among the four languages, Singaporeans regard Malay as the national symbolic language. The three other official languages are English, Mandarin, and Tamil. Malay belongs to the Austronesian family widely used by people in the Maritime Southeast Asia region. The Tamil language is a Dravidian language family among the world’s most extensively used language families originating from Southern India, Tamil, and Pakistan; it has spread widely across the globe due to commerce and emigration. The Standard Mandarin used in Singapore is a variant of Mandarin, a language of Sino-Tibetan family spoken mostly in China and surrounding areas. Despite the extensive use of other languages in Singapore, English is the language officially used in school for instructions, administration, and commerce. Following Britain's colonization of the country, Singapore adopted British English. The countries education system supports a bilingual policy of teaching English in school, alongside at least one other language.

Since the adoption of English as the language of instruction in public schools and commerce, most parents enrolled more children in English teaching school. The trend was also witnessed in institutions of higher education the following suit by switching to using English as the medium of instruction. Currently, 32% of Singaporeans use English as their first language, but even more people use it as a second language. Mandarin and other Chinese dialects are used by over 50% of the population at home. Up to 13% of the populations use Bahasa Melayu a standard form of the Malayan language. Historically Malayan was written in Jawi based on Arabic script then later it changed to Rumi a Roman-based script under the British rule.

In the Malayan language some common phrases used in greeting, or courtesy phrases begin with “Selamat” for instance, to say welcome is “Selamat Datang,” safe journey or party leaving is “Selamat Jalan,” “Selamat Pagi” means good morning, “Selamat petang” means good afternoon or good evening. Few other variations exist like “Sama-Sama” implying you are welcome. On the other hand, “Nama” means what is your name? And “Nama Saya” means my name is.

Singapore has had a significant Chinese influence. Apart from Mandarin, other Chinese variants are common in the country, among them Hokkien and Cantonese that were used unofficially for business until the 1980s. The island that attracted visitors from many parts of the world was not left behind as a creole breeding ground. The interaction of the Portuguese with Malay, Chinese, Indians and Arab languages gave rise to Kristang, a Creole language spoken by Eurasian Portuguese especially the elderly.

This page was last modified on May 1st, 2018

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