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Tongue-Tied in Singapore: A Language Policy for Tamil?. Harold F. Schiffman Dept. of South Asia Studies University of Pennsylvania. Introduction: Tamil situation in Singapore:. Lends itself ideally to the study of minority language maintenance:

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tongue tied in singapore a language policy for tamil
Tongue-Tied in Singapore: A Language Policy for Tamil?

Harold F. Schiffman

Dept. of South Asia Studies

University of Pennsylvania

introduction tamil situation in singapore
Introduction: Tamil situation in Singapore:
  • Lends itself ideally to the study of minority language maintenance:
    • Tamil community is small: Indians constitute around 7% of the population, of which Tamils constitute 60%.
    • History and demographics well known.
    • Tamil community acknowledged to be facing a number of crises: Tamil as a home language not being maintained by the better-educated.
role of education
Role of Education
  • Schooling seen as the mainstay of language maintenance
  • Tamil Education sine qua non of language maintenance efforts;
  • Policy is failing, even with (now) compulsory "mother tongue" instruction for Chinese, Malays and Tamils.
  • Should be cause of general alarm in Singapore, not just among Tamils.
language maintenance and the sociology of language
Language Maintenance and the Sociology of Language
  • Tendency among Indian community to confuse corpus planning and status planning;
  • Tamils' traditional strategy is to emphasize corpus planning, esp. purity
  • The housing policy in Singapore: the real culprit?
what kind of tamil do people want
What kind of Tamil do people want?
  • Problem of diglossia: concern is always with the corpus management of the literary language;
  • The revolutionary zeal, evangelical, rhetorical and oratorical skills of DMK mesmerized a generation of Singapore Tamils. Fervor now gone.
  • The kind of Tamil taught has no communicative value for younger people.
some differences between tamilnadu and singapore
Some differences between Tamilnadu and Singapore
  • Ambient language in Tamilnadu is Tamil
  • Ambient language in Singapore is English
  • Literacy in Tamilnadu primarily in Tamil
  • Literacy in Singapore primarily in English
registers varieties levels tamil consists of at least five different kinds of language
Registers, varieties, levels: Tamil consists of at least five different kinds of language:
  • peeccu tamiR:,spoken by all educated speakers;
  • Modern literary Tamil, the language of social novels and short-stories:
  • Older modern LT, the language of Pavanandi (thirteenth century);
  • Medieval Tamil (the Alvars, TirukkuraL), and
  • Sangat-tamiR, the oldest Tamil--cannot be understood actively by anyone without the commentaries and dictionaries.
problems with pedagogy
Problems with Pedagogy:
  • The problem with irredentism: language can never be fully controlled
  • Not giving an inch may mean that that is all Tamil will have: an inch: (no domains for the language at all)
  • But domains exist today that never existed in the past—TV, movies, videogames, the Internet…
  • People do not value print literacy as much as they once did.
overt and covert aspects of policy
Overt and Covert aspects of Policy
  • At the highest level, the policy appears to be pro-Tamil.
  • But the housing policy has a negative consequences:
  • Tamils are so dispersed that Tamil ceases to act as an intra-ethnic language in the Tamil community.
examples of different levels of vocabulary the word for television
Examples of different levels of vocabulary: the word for television:

1.duurdarshan used, even in Tamilnadu, for government television broadcasting originating in New Delhi. Example: itu duurdarshan. "This is (the Indian government television broadcasting system)".

2. tolaikaaTci is used for television broadcasts originating in Madras, and also term used for television in Singapore.

3. 'television', pronounced TelaviSan, is used by many educated people, often to refer to the concept of television, even when speaking Tamil, e.g. TeleviSion vandadukku munnaale, rediyoo taan irundadu. 'Before there was television, there was only radio.’

4. TV, pronounced Tiiviiis also used widely in spoken Tamil. naan ungaLeTiiviile paatteen 'I saw you on TV'.

5. paTapoTTiused by uneducated people, from paTam 'picture' and poTTi 'box', modeled on earlier folk work for radio.

no need for gratuitous criticism
No need for Gratuitous Criticism.
  • Everyone in the system doing the best job they know how to do, with the best will and the best of intentions.
  • However, when asked what people think the problem with Tamil is, there is a certain amount of blaming that starts up:
but people criticize anyway
(But people criticize anyway…)
  • Those people are responsible:
  • It's the Ministry of Education;
  • it's the Curriculum Development people;
  • it's the teachers, they're too lax;
  • it's the parents, they don't speak with their children;
  • it's the children, they don't appreciate Tamil culture.
what is the purpose of teaching tamil
What is the purpose of teaching Tamil?

Why do Singapore Tamils want Tamil to be Taught?

  • The purpose of maintaining Tamil language in Singapore is to pass the O-level and A-level tests administered by the MOE, in order to get 5 A-level passes and gain admission to university (and never use Tamil again.)
cids and moe
  • The purpose of the teaching of Tamil in Singapore is to maintain 'pure grammatical' Tamil.
  • Parents' goal for Tamil is to have their children have as much appreciation of Tamil language and culture as they themselves have, but not more.
  • The purpose of teaching Tamil in Singapore is to provide jobs for teachers; their goal is to enable students to get 5 A-level passes and gain admission to university.
nie tamil teacher training
NIE Tamil Teacher Training:
  • The purpose of having Tamil taught in Singapore is to make it necessary to train teachers to teach Tamil;
writers and intellectuals
Writers and Intellectuals:
  • The purpose of Tamil language maintenance in Singapore is to provide job opportunities for people who are otherwise unemployable.
a more optimistic view and some recommendations
A More Optimistic View, and some Recommendations
  • Introduce the notion that knowledge of a literary language is necessarilyconnected to the knowledge of a spoken language, and that the literary language will not survive without knowledge of the real mother-tongue
spoken tamil is a rule governed form of language
Spoken Tamil is a rule-governed form of language:
  • Is actually quite regular, uniform, and standardized.
  • Literacy in Tamil should be based on knowledge of mother tongue students bring with them to school.
spoken tamil is rule governed
Spoken Tamil is rule-governed:
  • ST should be treated as a resource instead of a liability.
  • Decisions can be made about the best time to make transition to the grammatical forms of LT, (P1 or P4).
  • Teacher trainees need to be taught explicit knowledge of structure and syntax of ST
creative writing in singapore
Creative Writing in Singapore:
  • Creative Writing is rare and hard to find
  • Conscious effort to stimulate creative writing for Tamils needed
  • Tamils have nothing to read that reflects their experience
  • Tend to view their language as lacking in some way…
convene a study group
Convene a study group?
  • Representatives of the NIE
  • Tamil Teachers
  • Ministry Of Education
  • Curriculum Development Institute of Singapore
  • Recent former students, and parents.
  • Agree to work toward concensus on what the goals and purpose of Tamil maintenance might be.
conclusion egalitarianism and equality
Conclusion: Egalitarianism and Equality

Egalitarianism does not necessarily lead to equal outcomes:

problems with egalitarianism
Problems with ‘Egalitarianism’
  • Tamil is seen as having no economic value
  • Excessive Purism defeats egalitarianism
  • Very small minorities may see no future
  • Younger generation does not revere the language
  • Housing Policy is counterproductive to language maintenance
  • Gopinathan S. and A. Mani. (1983). "Changes in Tamil Language Acquisition and Usage in Singapore: A Case of Subtractive Bilingualism." Southeast Asian Journal of Social Science Vol. 11(l): 104-116.
  • S. Gopinathan, Anne Pakir, Ho Wah Kam, and Vanitha Saravanan (eds.) Language, society, and education in Singapore : issues and trends. Singapore : Times Academic Press, 1998.
more references
More references…
  • Saravanan, Vanithamani. “Language Maintenance and Language Shift in the Tamil-English Community.” Chapter 8, Gopinathan et al., 1998.
  • Schiffman, Harold F. (1994) "Standardization and the Case of Spoken Tamil: Where does SingaporeTamil fit in?" Talk delivered at RELC, March 16, 1994
  • Schiffman, Harold F. (1999) A Reference Grammar of Spoken Tamil. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Research for this paper was carried out under a Fulbright Research grant from the Council for International Exchange of Scholars/USIA in early 1994. 1 would like to express my appreciation also to the National Institute of Education, Nanyang Technological University, Republic of Singapore, for their welcoming assistance.