Since the reign of Queen Elizabeth I in 1603 through Queen Elizabeth’s II reign in the early 21st century, the number of English language speakers increased drastically from 1 million to 7 million, and then 2 billion. As the prevalence of the English language increased, it went through an evolution that attributed to the variations across postcolonial Englishes. Post-colonial Englishes were developed through an education system and localized by the speakers. These variations of the language included Indian English, Philippine English, Nigerian English, and Singaporean English (Singlish) among others. However, Singlish has attracted stigmatization since it is considered the more inferior version compared to the Standard Singapore English. The argument about whether or not to ban Singlish has been hotly debated by government officials, educationalists, and journalists. Some of these groups argue that the use of Singlish will affect the literacy levels of the young and later on interfere with their international integration. In 2000, the government of Singapore launched the Speak Good English Movement (SGEM) to promote the use of Standard English. According to Rubdy (2001), “Singlish is not English but English corrupted by Singaporeans …broken, ungrammatical English sprinkled with words and phrases from local dialects and Malay which English speakers outside Singapore have difficulties in understanding.”
Western linguists categorize Englishes as “legitimate and illegitimate offspring.” The former refers that which is spoken by the lineage of European speakers. The latter is the post-colonial Englishes. According to this classification, Singlish is an illegitimate offspring of the English language. An international Englishes scholar, Mufwene (1997), differs with this categorization of post-colonial Englishes because he believes it leans more on “who has appropriated and spoken them (Englishes) than with how they developed and how different they are structurally from each other, hence with how mutually intelligible they are.” Mufwene explains that many post-colonial Englishes are now used widely socially and culturally (1997). He further argues that categorizing Englishes into the legitimate or illegitimate is limiting. The classification excludes language contact from the illegitimate Englishes’ production, yet legitimate Englishes are in fact a product of language contact. For instance, Scots-Irish and Irish Englishes, which are legitimate offspring, were both formed from contact with Gaelic. Chinua Achebe’s solid stance, “The price a world language must be prepared to pay is submission to many different kinds of use” justifies the evolution of the English language. As Rubdy puts it, Singlish has become Singaporeans’ symbol of social cohesion and cultural identity. Furthermore, Singlish has been accepted as a bonding tool for the young and middle-aged Singaporeans. However, despite its extended functionality, the language is still categorized as illegitimate.
One major issue that is at the center of Singlish stigmatization is Singapore’s economy. Majority of Singaporeans believe that their ability to speak internationally-accepted and understandable English is the backbone of the nation’s progressive economy. The primary force behind the SGEM initiative is economic reasoning whereby there is a dire need for Singaporeans to maintain Standard English proficiency to thrive in the international financial markets. Chinua Achebe emphasizes the importance of the English language, “Those of us who have inherited the English language may not be in a position to appreciate the value of the inheritance.” Since Rubdy agrees that the survival of a language relies on its economic base, Singlish is headed for a demise due to its potential threat to the nation’s economy.