Who’s being elitist? A debate about the enregisterment of Singlish

15 Sep 2023 03.30 PM - 05.00 PM Alumni, Current Students, Industry/Academic Partners, Prospective Students, Public
Organised by:
Francesco Cavallaro

This paper is a rejoinder to Lee (2023) who makes certain claims about the enregisterment of Singlish via a case study of ‘Spiaking Singlish’. In challenging Lee’s key claim that ‘Spiaking Singlish’ deploys a form of elitist language, I argue that the Singlish features in the book need not demand a ludic reading and actually draws from everyday practices. Accordingly, enregisterment ought to be understood as a diachronic and evolving process in the vein of Butler’s (1999) notion of sedimentation. Moreover, Lee’s characterization of the ‘monolectal Singlish user’ is classist and reductionist, unsupported by recent research and census data. Consequently, ‘Spiaking Singlish’ need not be seen as an elitist work, but as contributing to ever-changing attitudes towards Singlish in the public sphere. This paper is an alternative iteration to Lee’s (2023) that has implications for the way we understand enregisterment in Singapore and choose to represent it as a process. 

Luke Lu is currently Assistant Professor of Linguistics and Multilingual Studies, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore. Before academia, Luke was a secondary school teacher for five years. He is primarily interested in approaches to interactional sociolinguistics and ethnography, pertaining to issues such as transnational mobility, education, language rights, language planning and policy, and ethnicity. His most recent projects involve examining the pedagogical value of Singlish in ELT classrooms, as well as recovering a grassroots and transnational history of Chinese language reforms in Singapore.