Patterns of Language Use Among Three-Generation Malay Families

Zareena Kamarraj

English Language Honours AE, NIE, 1997


    In Singapore, the growing importance and the extensive use of English has affected the use of Malay and the other ethnic languages in some domains. The language census reported an increase in the use of English among Malay families in Singapore. There is an increase in the use of English and a subsequent decrease in the use of Malay in communication among parents and siblings in the home domain.

    Participant observation was carried out to determine the language patterns of five three-generation Malay families. Language choice patterns of speakers to different interlocutors were analysed. Linguistic patterns were analysed according to characteristics such as age, gender and social networks.

    The findings show a generational shift in language patterns among the families. The grandparent generation adopts monolingual language patterns whereas the child generation tends to adopt more bilingual patterns. There is a movement from the predominant use of Malay to the extensive use of both Malay and English in interaction with different interlocutors. There is also a certain amount of code-switching and code-mixing among bilingual Malay-English speakers.

    Linguistic patterns could not be adequately explained by differences in age or gender. Speakers with similar linguistic patterns do not necessarily belong to the same age group or gender. Social networks on the other hand, was a good indicator of language choice. Linguistic patterns of the speakers correlated with their social network scores. Speakers with high ethnic scores tended to adopt a more monolingual pattern. Speakers with high peer scores tended to conform to linguistic patterns of their generation whereas those with lower peer scores tended to deviate from their general linguistic pattern of their generation. The study concludes that generational shift in language patterns corresponds to social network ties of the speakers.