Potential Influence of 'Mother-Tongue' on the Written English of Secondary School Students in Singapore

Yeo Nyuk Peng, Josephine
English Language Honours AE, NIE, 2001


It is compulsory for all children in Singapore to learn a 'mother-tongue' as well as English, where the definition of 'mother-tongue' in Singapore and this dissertation refers to a second language undertaken by students according to their paternal ancestry. The linguistics situation in Singapore schools therefore lends itself to transfer studies, which look at the influence of one language on another.

This study investigates the cross-linguistic influence of 'mother-tongue' on the written English of secondary students in Singapore. This quantitative analysis is divided into two parts. The first part presents an investigation of whether 'mother-tongue' influences in the writing of students can be detected by readers through predictions of writers' ethnic groups. The second part of the study is an examination of two grammatical categories: passives and adverbials. These two structures were selected because for both Malay is similar to English while Chinese is different, so Malay 'mother-tongue' can serve as a baseline for investigation the influence of Chinese 'mother-tongue' on the writing of ethnically-Chinese students.

Results for the first part of the study show that readers are unable to predict the ethnicity of writers, which suggests that influences of 'mother-tongue' cannot be detected by reading. Findings from the second part point towards the existence of Chinese 'mother-tongue' in the use of passive where the ethnic Chinese corpus presents a tendency in using passives less regularly than the Malay corpus. Similarly, the Chinese corpus shows a higher percentage of initial pre-verbal adverbials than that of the Malay corpus.

The statistical findings of the study indicate tendencies of possible influences of Chinese 'mother-tongue' on the writing of ethnic Chinese students in Singapore. However, the inability for readers to determine the ethnicity of writers suggests that most people are not aware of these influences.