Patterns of Language Choice : Perception of Cultural Identity: A Case Study of a Three-Generation Malay-Baweanese Extended Family

Lydiana Ismail

English Language Honours AE, NIE, 1999


    The inevitable influence of languages upon one another when they come into contact cannot be denied. According to Fishman (1989), the intrusive language either overpowers the indigenous language, loses its bid to takeover or the two flourish alongside each other and the intrusive language become indigenised. The Singapore socio-linguistic context sees instances of these processes, albeit the indigenous language here is indigenous only to the concerned ethnic group. The Baweanese, a minority group within the minority Malay community, experienced the intrusion of Malay when Malay was the lingua franca in the nineteenth century. As English now fulfils this function and has become the language of wider communication in Singapore, more and more Baweanese homes are feeling its intrusion.

    The purpose of this study is to analyse (i) how the intrusions of Malay and English in the homes of the Baweanese people have altered the patterns of language use in this domain and consequently (ii) how these intrusions affect perceptions of identity. The indigenising process of the intrusive languages also raises concerns on (iii) the continuity or loss of the Baweanses adat (culture).

    To answer these concerns, a case study of a three-generation Malay-Baweanese extended family living in Singapore was carried out.

    Results point towards a shift from Malay-Baweanese bilingualism in the Grandparent Generation to Malay-English bilingualism in the Child Generation. Similarly, there is a shift towards a supra-ethnic Singaporean identity among the Child Generation. Interestingly, findings still point towards a continuity of some aspects of the Baweanese adat.