Eye on the Future: Diverse Family Language Policy in Three Singaporean Malay Homes with Preschool Children

Chen-Chen Cheng
page. 125~147 / 2020 Vol.14 No.1


Singapore’s bilingual education policy mandates children study English and a mother-tongue in school. To understand the language shift from Malay to English in Malay homes from the perspective of family language policy, this paper reports on the diverse language ideologies and practices of three Singaporean Malay mothers of preschool children. The in-depth interviews were conducted in 2013- 2014 and transcribed verbatim by a bilingual English-Malay transcriptionist. Although the mothers were of similar ethnic, religious, and socioeconomic backgrounds, their home language practices were distinctly different. Their language practices reflected the beliefs, values, and feelings they ascribed to Malay, English, and Mandarin, languages their preschool-age children were exposed to as well as their ideas about language development and bilingualism in Singapore. While subscribing to some state bilingual education policy assumptions, mothers actively formed different family language policies to resist the state bilingual policy, shield their children from academic pressure, and carve out a unique Malay identity. Major forces such as Malay as a minority, language and social mobility, and English ownership, in addition to state bilingual policy and education system, were discussed in connection to mothers’ family language policy.

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