Attitudes toward accents of Mandarin in Singapore
Like many other countries, Singapore has seen some public tension fermenting over what is sometimes perceived as the government’s generous open-door immigration policy. Some Singaporeans appear to have taken to regarding themselves as rightful “natives” by distinguishing between local and foreign accents (see Jacobs 2012; Oon 2012). With a sizeable number of foreigners hailing from China, do Singaporeans have negative attitudes toward non-local Chinese accents because of these ‘anti-foreigner’ sentiments? This paper examines the language attitudes of Chinese Singaporeans towards speakers of Mandarin from three locales: Beijing, Taiwan and Singapore. It describes an attitudinal test using the verbal guise technique, comparing the attitudes of 100 Singaporean Chinese youths toward the Beijing, Taiwanese and Singaporean accents of Mandarin along the dimensions of prestige and solidarity. This study shows that there are distinct differences in the ways in which the three accents are perceived by Singaporeans. However, contrary to expectations, the foreign accents are not discriminated against, but are in fact ranked more favourably as compared to the local accent. Ultimately, functionality and economic goals of advancement seem to override other socio-cultural aims of the nation as Singaporeans focus on the prestige that the foreign Chinese accents can bring them.
Keywords: Mandarin, Singapore, verbal-guise, language attitudes, accents
Published online: 02 August 2013
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