Wednesday Seminar: When more isn’t better: Institutional support and Indian languages in Singapore

Ritu Jain (PhD), lecturer from the  Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, will give a talk on the unexpected outcomes of institutional support for the immigrant minority languages among the Indian community in Singapore.

Photo of Ritu Jain
Ritu Jain. Foto: UiO/Mathias Fossum
The bilingual policy of Singapore is explicitly shaped by the binary ideologies of ‘profit and pride’ where English is promoted for its global, socioeconomic value while the mother tongue is deemed critical for grounding individuals to community and cultural identity. Using this rationale, the bilingual education policy mandates all school students study English and the institutionally defined community mother tongue: Mandarin for the Chinese, Malay for the Malays, and Tamil for the Indians. While pupils from the Chinese and Malay communities are denied a choice, the linguistic complexity of the Indian demographic has earned students of the community flexibility in choice of the second language in education. They can opt for one of the three official ethnic languages or one of the five non-official Indian languages (Bengali, Gujarati, Hindi, Punjabi, and Urdu) offered via community schools. Contrary to expectations, increasing number of Indians prefer Hindi over alternatives.
Against this background, this presentation explores if provision of institutional support necessarily facilitates acquisition, maintenance and transmission of immigrant minority/heritage languages. It draws on data from census and school enrolment as well as semi-structured interviews with 29 families from various Indian language backgrounds who have opted for Hindi as the mandatory ‘mother tongue/L2’ subject for their children in school. Analysis of interview data indicates that this subversion can be traced to the ideologies among the family language managers, starkly in contradiction to those informing state education policies. Choices of languages in education among parents are shaped by pragmatic rather than identitarian judgements.  Findings reveal that such decisions are mediated through parental experiences (educational, social, and professional), migration trajectories, and residency status as much as by evaluation of policy options in previous, current, and aspirational sites for transnational populations. The presentation concludes with suggestions on managing and accommodating competing ideologies in language policies.


Ritu Jain teaches at the Language and Communication Centre at Nanyang Technological University, Singapore. Her research interest lies at the intersection of family and state language management. Specifically, she has examined the impact of policies on the languages of transnational Indians in Singapore. She is currently editing a volume on the languages of Singapore for the Routledge series, Multilingual Asia.


Pawel Urbanik
Published May 8, 2019 8:32 PM - Last modified May 14, 2019 3:04 PM