Table of Contents
Introduction about Language Choice
Language changes occur, and even though not frequently, owing to the presence of different factors one’s choice of language gets influenced and impacted, sometimes bringing about language shift between generations as a group or community gets influenced and impacted by such factors. Even though it has been observed that factors like gender, social class, age, etc, have the potential to impact one’s language choice, there are several other explicit factors too, which influence the implicit and explicit choices of language generationally. In this respect, it can be said that a change in interlocutor, in terms of embarking on the process of a dialogue or conversation in different language, can create an environment, conducive to impacting the language choice of others involved in the concerned dialogue and/or conversation. This can be argued by citing the fact that a change in the linguistic pattern of an interlocutor can create contexts, surrounding those who are participating in a dialogue or conversation in a particular language, which eventually impact their language choice, which, if continued for a prolonged period, can bring about language shift between generations. In this respect, the change in the pattern of language choice that has been observed among Singaporean Chinese population can be attributed to interlocutor influence because study has found that bilingual speakers are often sensitive to their interlocutor’s language needs, which goes on to influence how they plan their language use and their language choice and selection in different contexts (Kapiley& Mishra, 2019). Moreover, as bilingual speakers often take into consideration the language proficiency of their interlocutors, their mind becomes extremely adaptable, suggesting that Singaporean Chinese people, who have been observed to be proficient in bilingualism (having the ability to speak English and Mandarin and some having the ability to speak Malay and other Chinese dialects) have the propensity to get influenced by their interlocutors in terms of choosing and selecting their spoken language (Kapiley& Mishra, 2019).
Review of Literature on Language Choice among Singaporean Chinese
Singaporean Chinese people, who have a history of immigration, migrating from their Chinese mainland to Singapore, have the propensity to experience language shift, being influenced by the interlocutors, speaking other languages. In this respect, Pauwels (2016) has observed that long-term contact between people with different linguistic backgrounds, due to events like migration (both voluntary and forced), colonisation, and invasion can eventually increase the vulnerability of the migrants, colonised, and invaded to get influenced by the linguistic culture into which they get integrated either wilfully or forcefully. The author has suggested that such social and cultural mobility can eventually emphasise the role of interlocutors in influencing, and even sometimes ushering language shift, especially among the migrant populations (Pauwels, 2016). Hence, if considered from Pauwels’ (2016) perspective, it can become obvious how Singaporean Chinese people, having a history of migration (either voluntary or forceful) are more susceptible to getting influenced by the language choice of their interlocutors in the course of continuing conversation or dialogues in different contexts. Moreover, exemplifying the theory of social psychology and referring to the study conducted by Giles et al. (1980), Pauwels (2016) has stated that from a psychological perspective, it is not unnatural for people’s language choices to get influenced by the actual, imagines, and implied presence of others and by socio-structural processes and linguistic choices of others. Hence, from this perspective too, it can be understood how Singaporean Chinese people are susceptible to getting influenced by the language choices of their interlocutors.
Besides, Cavallaro et al. (2021) have pointed out that how familial environments, constituted of partners, siblings, children, etc, who act as interlocutors, showing affinity to speak a specific language, can eventually influence the language choice of an individual. In this respect, the authors have found that Singaporean Chinese from Chinese-speaking homes show greater proficiency in Mandarin and a more positive attitude and motivation toward Mandarin compared to those Singaporean Chinese who belong to English-speaking homes (Cavallaro et al., 2021). But the authors, pointing out the influence of interlocutors in social settings, have suggested that a good number of Singaporean Chinese demonstrates more willingness to converse with their siblings and parents in English compared to their parents, suggesting that they are more influenced by interlocutors speaking the English language in the socio-cultural environment in which such Singaporean Chinese people interact, converse, and disperse and obtain information (Cavallaro et al., 2021). Cavallaro et al. (2021) have also stressed the importance of enculturation as a way of propelling language shifts, placing the interlocutors at the centre of such change process as they act as agents of influence.
Moreover, in another study, it has been found that the language choice of migrants and their spoken language selection get thoroughly influenced by the interlocutors from the linguistics and social and cultural environment into which they have immigrated (Anonymous, n.d., p.138). Exploring how the standard Italian competence of Italian community in England shows a regressive pattern, the researchers suggest that the competence of the Italian migrants in terms of continuing with their linguistic culture has been severely impeded by their regular interactions and conversations with the interlocutors native to England, speaking the English language (Anonymous, n.d., p.139). If the findings of the concerned study are applied to the socio-cultural and linguistic contexts of the Singaporean Chinese population, then an accord can be established, resonating with the finding of the concerned study, suggesting that like any other migrant population, the Singaporean Chinese population’s language choice and language shift are explicitly influenced by the interlocutors and other socio-cultural factors.
Moreover, focusing on the shift in language choice among Singapore Chinese people, Chin and Cavallaro (2021) have conveyed that being immigrants with the need of restoring their linguistic and social culture, propelled the spread of Mandarin across the communities where they got assimilated, resulting in the surge of Mandarin speaking Singaporean Chinese from 0.1 percent in the late 1950s to 34.9 percent in 2015. But, emphasising the role of the English interlocutors in the Singaporean society, the authors have pointed out how gradually the number is declining and how such interlocutors, along with the trend of acknowledging and accepting English and the Lingua Franca across different other communities in Singapore, have triggered a language shift among myriads of Singaporean Chinese individuals, suggesting the fact that the language choice and the process of language shift among different communities, like the Singaporean Chinese community, are influenced by the dominant language use of the interlocutors (Chin & Cavallaro, 2021).
Moreover, Cavallaro and Chin (2020) have pointed out how interlocutors and other socio-cultural factors, especially in a multilinguistic society of Singapore have influenced the language choice and ushered paradigm shift in language trends among Singaporean Chinese population. The dynamic nature of the multilingual society of Singapore and the interlocutors speaking different languages have, on the one hand, enhanced the multicultural linguistic landscape of the country, and, on the other hand, have propelled shift in language choices (in the contexts of communication and interaction) among populations with immigration history, like Singaporean Chinese (Cavallaro & Chin, 2020). The authors have pointed out how the age of the interlocutors also influence the speaking of Mandarin or aloofness from speaking Mandarin (and speaking more English) among Singaporean Chinese, suggesting that the greater the age of the interlocutors and participants, the greater are chances of selecting Mandarin to English, and the lesser the age of the interlocutors and participants, the greater are the scopes of preferring English to Mandarin, reflecting the fact that interlocutors play a crucial role in influencing language choice among the Singaporean Chinese population (Cavallaro & Chin, 2020).
Besides, there is a key role for generations to play in the context of propelling language shift. In this respect, Henne-Ochoa and Bauman (2015) have stated that interlocutors from different generations contribute largely to the shift in language patterns, often contributing largely to the process of language shift in many communities. The authors have conveyed that in the context of either revitalising or shifting a language, generations can be defined a priori in existing social categories that eventually get integrated into the sociolinguistic features (Henne-Ochoa & Bauman, 2015). But the authors have also stated that generations, while acting as interlocutors or participants in dialogues and conversations carried on in a language that they are not native to, can either influence the language patterns of their communities or get influenced by the linguistic features of other communities, thereby, paving the way for language shift in either way (Henne-Ochoa & Bauman, 2015). In this respect, too, interlocutors play a decisive role in either revitalising and reviving a language or shifting the linguistic landscape of the communities in which they live and interact with each other.
Furthermore, emphasising significance of the age of participants and interlocutors in a conversation in terms of influencing language choice and inter-generational language shift, Dollinger (2012) has stated that more aged interlocutors and participants tend to stick to their native language than getting influenced by any foreign language in the course of conversation. Such findings suggest that age as a socio-linguistic and demographic factor also plays an important role in either revitalising or shifting languages and linguistic patterns. And if analysed from the standpoint of Dollinger (2012), it can be postulated that the aged Singaporean Chinese population play a crucial role in restoring native Chinese dialects within the community, even though the survival of such dialects within the concerned community are put at risk by interlocutors speaking English, accepting and endorsing English as the Lingua Franca. Moreover, as identified by Dollinger (2012), self-reports in linguistic study central to dialect surveys also support the postulation in a thorough and explicit manner.
Moreover, the fact that interlocutors, in the form of partners, parents, siblings, children, grandparents, grandchildren, etc, within the family context and environment can play a crucial role in influencing the language choice of individuals (also to be applied in broader social interactions), has been supported by the research conducted by Kuo (1985). The author has found that the languages most dominantly spoken by family members are the ones that influence the interaction and conversation processes of individuals, both in the familial environment and in the broader social environment, constituting institutional and professional communication scenarios and contexts (Kuo, 1985). Hence, if Kuo’s (1985) finding has to be justified, then it has to be acknowledged that the level of propensity to speak Mandarin (or other Chinese dialects) or English that can be found among Singaporean Chinese families can be the thoroughly influenced and impacted by interlocutors in the form of partners, parents, siblings, children, grandparents, grandchildren, etc.
But Curdt-Christiansen (2009) has argued that it is not only the interlocuter, but also different other socio-economic factors and value propositions that play major roles in determining the language choice of Chinese immigrant families in different countries. The author’s argument can be justified in the Singaporean socio-economic and cultural contexts in which the process of visible and invisible language planning is developed and implemented in Singaporean Chinese families. Drawing similarity with Curdt-Christiansen (2009) findings on the factors impacting and influencing the visible and invisible language planning in Chinese immigrant families in Canada, it can be said that not only the interlocutors, but factors like economic condition, the educational background of the parents, the immigration experiences, cultural disposition, and philosophical ideologies (especially Confucianism), all impact on the process of selecting and using either native Chinese dialects or multilingual modes by Singaporean Chinese. Moreover, drawing on the postulation of the author, it can be said that the perceived value of multilingualism also acts as a driving force behind language selection among Singaporean Chinese (Curdt-Christiansen, 2009).
Besides, Wei, Saravanan and Hoon (1997) have pointed out that apart from the interlocutors, some specific social and political factors also influence the language choice patterns of immigrant populations in different countries. The authors have stated that the influence of interlocutors becomes more pronounced among immigrant populations in the presence of other factors like marginalisation, socio-economic disparities, and the ethnocentric nature of the foreign culture into which the immigrants, either willingly or forcibly, are accommodated (Wei, Saravanan &Hoon, 1997). From the perspective of Wei, Saravanan and Hoon (1997), if the linguistic patterns, practices, and choices of Singaporean Chinese are evaluated then it can be seen that not only the interlocutors, but also the need of ensuring substantial socio-economic status, have compelled myriads of Singaporean Chinese to gradually resort to English-speaking in their social and professional communications, giving priority to English over other Chinese dialects, including Mandarin.
However, the significance of the role of interlocutors in the form of family members cannot be undermined under the lights of all those social, economic, and political factors that impact the language choice and language planning policies of different immigrant families. In this respect, emphasising the important role of interlocuters, in the form of partners, parents, siblings, children, etc, Spolsky (2012) has pointed out how the entire family language policy, constituted of dominant use of some specific languages (either native or foreign) can eventually influence and impact on the language choice of individuals, promoting the use of specific languages in the course of social, personal, and professional communications. The author has stated that the natural intergenerational transmission of language variety is largely determined by family language cultures and the dominant linguistic practices performed by family members in the course of familial interactions and communications (Spolsky, 2012). Hence, from the concerned perspective, the influence of interlocutors on the language choice of Singaporean Chinese can be ascertained.
Furthermore, emphasising the role of both interlocutors and personal perception of value propositions associated with Mandarin-English bilingualism, Xie and Cavallaro (2016) have conveyed that even though interlocutors have a significant role to play in terms of influencing the language choice of Singaporean Chinese, majority of Singaporean Chinese youths differ in their perception of the benefits (including general, communicative, cognitive, economic, and pragmatic) and disadvantages that are related to Mandarin-English bilingualism. Moreover, the authors have also pointed out how the concerns associated with sustaining the social identity of being Singaporean Chinese influence the language choice of Singaporean Chinese youths, making them either susceptible or not vulnerable to getting easily influenced by the interlocutors’ linguistic preferences (Xie& Cavallaro, 2016).
Conclusion on Language Choice Shift among Singaporeans
It has been found that there are several factors, including the role of interlocutors, which impact on the language choice and shift in language among Singaporean Chinese population. But despite the presence of several important social, economic, political, and psychological factor, the influence of interlocutors, especially in the form of family members, on the language choice of Singaporean Chinse individuals cannot be undermined. And in this respect, it has been found that a change in the linguistic pattern of an interlocutor can create contexts, surrounding those who are participating in a dialogue or conversation in a particular language, which eventually impact their language choice, which, if continued for a prolonged period, can bring about language shift between generations. In this respect, the change in the pattern of language choice that has been observed among Singaporean Chinese population can be attributed to interlocutor influence because study has found that bilingual speakers are often sensitive to their interlocutor’s language needs, which goes on to influence how they plan their language use and their language choice and selection in different contexts.