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Review of  English in Southeast Asia

Reviewer: Yosuke Sato
Book Title: English in Southeast Asia
Book Author: Ee-Ling Low Azirah Hashim
Publisher: John Benjamins
Linguistic Field(s): Applied Linguistics
History of Linguistics
Subject Language(s): English
Issue Number: 23.3907

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EDITORS: Low, Ee-Ling and Hashim, Azirah
TITLE: English in Southeast Asia
SUBTITLE: Features, policy and language in use
SERIES TITLE: Varieties of English around the World
PUBLISHER: John Benjamins
YEAR: 2012

Yosuke Sato, Department of English Language and Literature, National University
of Singapore

This book provides the first comprehensive account of English in Southeast Asia
with reference to its local linguistic features, its socio-historical contexts
and language planning, and its usages in diverse domains such as the law,
education, pop culture, and electronic media. The volume starts with an
“Introduction” written by Ee-Ling Low and Azirah Hashim, followed by the first
chapter “Theoretical Issues” by Andy Kirkpatrick. The volume consists of Part I
(Features), Part II (Policy), and Part III (Language in Use).

In their “Introduction”, Low and Hashim mention three gaps in studies on English
in Southeast Asia which this volume aims to fill: a) asymmetry in the range and
depth of studies between the Outer Circle varieties of English and the Expanding
varieties of English, b) insufficient representativeness of the literature on
English in Southeast Asia, and c) the absence of concerted efforts to document
varieties of English in Southeast Asia as a region.

Chapter 1 (“Theoretical Issues”) by Andy Kirkpatrick discusses motivations for
distinctive linguistic features in new varieties of English and issues connected
with language policy. He argues that simplification and regularization are two
reasons for new features. The second part of the chapter surveys English-medium
education in the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei, Singapore and Hong Kong to
highlight complex issues that face language policy makers in these countries.

Part I (“Features”) consists of six chapters, each of which describes unique
linguistic features of English used in Singapore, Malaysia, Brunei, the
Philippines, Thailand, and Hong Kong. Many of these varieties share linguistic
features such as article omission, lack of agreement, lexical borrowing, and
vowel length neutralization. Chapter 2 (“Singapore English”) by Ee-Ling Low
starts with an overview about language policies and models of linguistic
variation in Singapore such as the Lectal Continuum Model (Platt 1977) and the
Cultural Orientation Model (Alsagoff 2007). The chapter describes the vowel and
consonant inventories, collapse of vocalic length distinctions in Standard
Singapore English and the tendency for speakers of Colloquial Singapore English
to produce an excrescent [t] after word-final [n].

Chapter 3 (“Malaysian English”) by Azirah Hashim and Rachel Tan first discusses
phonological features of Malaysian English including the tendency for diphthongs
to become monophthongs, consonant cluster reduction and the syllable-timed
rhythm. The authors then introduce examples of structural nativization,
including pronoun drop and replacement of past tense markers by adverbs.

Chapter 4 (“Brunei English”) by James McLellan and Noor Azam Haji-Othman
observes that Brunei English exhibits vowel shifts and mergers in informal
speech and unreleased word-final stops, the general question marker ‘… isn’t
it”, variation in the mass vs. count distinction, and ‘non-standard’ uses of

Chapter 5 (“Philippine English”) by Danilo T. Dayag shows that Philippine
English does not reduce vowels in unstressed syllables to schwa as done in
standard varieties of English. The variety retains lexical items no longer in
use in other varieties such as “solon” (“lawmaker”).

In Chapter 6 (“Thai English”), Wannapa Trakulkasemsuk discusses distinctive
features of Thai English influenced by language background and communicative
norms. They include frequent uses of kinship terms due to the collectivistic
culture of Thai and reduplication for emphasis. Vowel sounds in Thai English
receive strong transfer effects from Thai.

Chapter 7 (“Hong Kong English”) by Tony T.N. Hung marks the end of Part I with a
description of Hong Kong English. This variety has a smaller set of
vowel/consonant contrasts than native varieties of English. It exhibits
reduction of diphthongs before stops, the lack of voicing contrast in fricatives
and syllable-timing. This variety exhibits different subcategorization patterns
of transitive verbs.

Turning to Part II (Policy), Chapter 8 (“The Development of English in
Singapore: Language Policy and Planning in Nation Building”) by Lubna Alsagoff
presents an in-depth analysis of the sociolinguistic landscape of English in
Singapore with reference to major language policies, including a) the Ten-Year
Program in 1947 which defines the objectives of education, b) the All-Party
Report which includes recognition of English, Mandarin, Tamil and Malay as four
official languages of the country, and c) the bilingual education policy which
requires that all school children be educated in English and an ethnic mother
tongue. Alsagoff states that the language policies in post-independence
Singapore is characterized by a pragmatic approach to the management of
languages with fine balances between English as the working language of the
nation and the other three official languages as heritage languages to promote
equality for all ethnic groups.

Chapter 9 (“Pragmatics of Maintaining English in Malaysia’s Education System”)
by Asmah Haji Omar presents an overview of language policy in Malaysia with
reference to the Malaysian government ruling of English as a medium for teaching
science and mathematics and the perception of this policy among Malays, Chinese
and Indians. This program has met with mixed reactions. The major disagreement
came from the Malays, who believe that the only language that should be the
medium for learning science and mathematics is the national language (Malay).
The opposition among the Chinese arises from their concern that mathematics is
better taught and understood using Chinese as a medium of instruction. The
Indians seem to be neutral for various reasons, such as their disparate
ethnolinguistic origins.

Chapter 10 (“Language Planning in its Historical Context in Brunei Darussalam”)
by Gary M. Jones analyzes language planning in Brunei. A major breakthrough was
the “Education System of Brunei” in 1984, which introduced the concept of
bilingual proficiency to ensure the sovereignty of Malay and recognized the
importance of English. In January 2009, Brunei introduced a new “National
Education System for the 21st century”, which further emphasizes the importance
of English as pupils now learn mathematics and science in addition to the
English language itself through the medium of English from Primary 1.
Chapter 11 (“Diffusion and Directions: English Language Policy in the
Philippines) by Isabel Pefianco Martin discusses the language policy situation
in the Philippines from the Spanish occupation through the American era to
contemporary times which has eventually led to the deterioration of English
proficiency and the marginalization of the first languages of the school
children. Martin suggests future directions for effective language policies in
the Philippines that take into account underlying issues such as the continued
deterioration of basic education and genuine commitment to mother-tongue literacy.

Chapter 12 (“The Effect of Policy on English Language Teaching at Secondary
Schools in Thailand”) by Pornapit Darasawang and Richard Watson Todd presents
English language policies and their implementation in Thailand using seven
sources of English language education policy and interviews with principals and
teachers at four government secondary schools. The authors show that the extent
to which the stated policies would affect actual classroom is unclear. The
interviews with principals and teachers at the schools revealed radically
different views on the implementations of the language policies. The authors
argue that this could lead to an unfavorable situation where schools are
unintentionally empowered to make their own decisions and still be able to find
some policy from some source that justifies their practice.

Chapter 13 (“Language Policy and Planning in Hong Kong: The Historical Context
and Current Realities”) by Kingsley Bolton reviews current issues in language
policies in Hong Kong. In 1995, the government announced its new language policy
promoting trilingualism in Cantonese, English and Putonghua and biliteracy in
written Chinese and English. As for the language of education, the 1973 Green
Paper mandated Chinese medium instruction but immediately met with opposition
from parents and schools. As a result, the government published a White Paper in
1974 which adopts a laissez-faire approach to the medium of instruction, which
continued until March 1997 when the government introduced another policy of
“firm guidance”.

Chapter 14 (“English in Southeast Asian Law”) by Richard Powell, the opening
chapter of Part III (“Language in Use”), reviews the historical roles English
played and the emergence of the bilingual legal systems in the former
British/American-administered countries. Powell points out that English has
formed the basis of many post-colonial jurisdictions and remains the
unchallenged medium of law in Brunei, the Philippines and Singapore whereas it
co-exists in different ways with local Asian languages in Hong Kong, Malaysia
and Myanmar. In the other Southeast Asian countries which have been colonized by
a non-Anglophone power or which have avoided colonization altogether, the local
languages with historical roots remain the only language with judicial standing
(e.g., Thai in Thailand, Chinese and Portuguese in Macau) but it has started to
play a vital role in legal reforms/translations in Thailand and Macau.

Chapter 15 (“The View from Below: Code-Switching and the Influence of
‘Substrate’ Languages in the Development of Southeast Asian Englishes”) by James
McLellan notes that Myers-Scotton’s (1993) Matrix Language Frame theory, which
assumes an asymmetrical relationship between two or more languages that
contribute to code-switching, has parallels in the dominant framework from
pidgin and creole linguistics where one language, typically a local vernacular,
is designed as the substrate language with another functioning as the
lexicalizer language. McLellan then shows that the four set of examples from
Malaysian, Singapore, Philippine and Brunei English he collected demonstrate
overt both intra- and inter-sentential code switching as well as substratal
influences from other languages.

Chapter 16 (“Curriculum and World Englishes: Additive Language Learning as SLA
Paradigm”) by James D’Angelo highlights issues in the traditional Inner, Outer
and Expanding Circles within Kachru’s (1990) Model of World Englishes. Since
multilingualism is by now more common in traditionally monolingual societies,
developments in English as a Foreign Language have become increasingly important
even in the Inner Circle context. D’Angelo mentions six famous myths from Kachru
(2005), which pedagogical practitioners and learners are likely to fall prey to.
Turning to Outer Circle countries, where certain varieties of English are
accepted as legitimate, curricula in these countries require flexibility
depending on the proficiency level of students involved. Finally, D’Angelo notes
that the key for curriculum planning in the Expanding Circle is to train
teachers in recognizing additive potentials of the “deviations” used by students
to the development of English.

Chapter 17 (“English in Southeast Asian Pop Culture”) by Andrew Moody analyzes
samples of pop English from the media and observes that the kind of English used
in the media is highly codified to affect and accommodate the intra-ethnic as
well as intra-national mass markets by using locally familiar expressions such
as “tidak apathy”, a case of English-Malay blending, or by deliberately
emphasizing the stereotypical features of Malaysian English.

Chapter 18 (“Language Use in the Construction of Interpersonal Relationships:
Electronic English in Malaysia”) by Norizah Hassan, Azirah Hashim and Adirana
Sufun Phillip investigates the impact of new media technologies on English in
Malaysia through the examination of samples of electronic data comprising
e-mails, blogs and instant text messages. The study reveals that they contain
many of the features found in spoken Malaysian English, including
code-switching, discourse particles, hypocorism, and emoticons.

Chapter 19 (“Transfers of Politeness Strategies: Some Preliminary Findings”) by
Beng Soon Lim compares two systems of politeness through the use of politeness
markers in Malay and English and identifies the levels of directness when
face-threatening acts are performed among educated Malay bilingual speakers
through role-enactments. The present study adopts House and Kasper’s (1981)
schema on directness which recognizes eight levels of directness, with Level 1
being the most indirect and Level 8 being the most direct, and assumes the power
status ([+] power vs. [–power]) and social distance between the interlocutors
([+] distance vs. [–distance]) as the two significant parameters. They find that
respondents tended to pitch complaints at Levels 5 and 6 whereas they tend to
pitch requests at Levels 3 and 7.

Chapter 20 (“Works on English in Southeast Asia”) by Ee-Ling Low, Azirah Hashim,
Ran Ao and Adriana Sufun Phillip provides a comprehensive list of publications
on English in Southeast Asia.

The coverage of topics discussed is impressive, ranging from linguistic features
of local Englishes in Southeast Asia through language policies to
sociolinguistic investigations of actual language use in various social
contexts. The work conducted here is a major step forward with potentially
significant implications for future studies on bilingual brains, second language
learning, curriculum planning, and national language policies. I hope that more
studies on regional varieties of English like those in Part I will be conducted
to further deepen our understanding of the complex issues of language planning
in Southeast Asia.

There are two points of improvement in Parts I and II. First, Chapters 2, 3 and
6 each provide an in-depth overview of the sound system of the local Englishes,
but other areas of grammar, particularly, syntax, have not received due
coverage. Take Chapter 2, which has an excellent description of Singapore
English phonetics followed by comparatively sporadic coverage of syntax. It thus
does not include reference to well-known features in Singapore English such as
pro drop (Alsagoff and Ho 1998), in-situ wh-questions (Bao 2001) and
kena-passives (Bao and Wee 1999). Second, Part III illustrates the
sociolinguistic and pragmatic realities that govern language use in various
functional domains. Despite the new findings reported here, these chapters were
not meaningfully integrated with other chapters.

Despite those last comments, the volume provides an excellent contribution to
English in Southeast Asia with research by leading scholars. None of the authors
claims to have all the answers, but they emphasize that their work is a small
step forward in achieving a comprehensive understanding of English in Southeast
Asia. I hope this book will attract new students and researchers, especially
from Southeast Asian countries, to the exciting field of World Englishes.

Alsagoff, Lubna. 2007. Singlish: Negotiating culture, capital and identity. In
Evolving Identities: The English Language in Singapore and Malaysia, Vincent
B.Y. Ooi (ed.), 79-88. Singapore: Times Academic Press.

Alsagoff, Lubna and Chee Lick Ho. 1998. The grammar of Singapore English. In
English in New Cultural Contexts: Reflections from Singapore, Joseph Foley,
Thiru Kandiah, Zhiming Bao, Anthea Fraser Gupta, Lubna Alsagoff, Chee Lick Ho,
Lionel Wee, Ismail S. Talib, and Wendy Bokhorst-Heng (eds.), 127-151. Singapore:
Oxford University Press

Bao, Zhiming. 2001. The origins of empty categories in Singapore English.
Journal of Pidgin and Creole Languages 16(2): 275-319.

Bao, Zhiming and Lionel Wee. 1999. The passive in Singapore English. World
Englishes 18(1): 1-11.

House, Juliane and Gabriele Kasper. 1981. Politeness markers in English and
German. In Conversational Routine, Florian Coulmas (ed.), 157-185. The Hague:

Kachru, Braj. B. 1990. The Alchemy of English. Urbana-Champaign IL: University
of Illinois Press.

Kachru, Braj. B. 2005. Asian Englishes: Beyond the Canon. Hong Kong: Hong Kong
University Press.

Myers-Scotton, Carol. 1993. Duelling Languages: Grammatical Structure in
Code-switching. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Platt, John. 1977. The sub-varieties of Singapore English: Their sociolectal and
functional stratus. In The English Language in Singapore, William Crewe (ed.),
83-95. Singapore: Eastern Universities Press.

Yosuke Sato received his PhD in Linguistics from the University of Arizona. After a post-doc at the University of British Columbia, he moved to Singapore, where he’s currently assistant professor in the Department of English Language and Literature at National University of Singapore. His research specialties are in Generative syntax and linguistic interfaces. His current interest is Singapore English and its implications for contact genesis/development.