Malay, English and religion: language maintenance in multilingual Singapore

  • Mukhlis Abu Bakar National Institute of Education, Nanyang Technological University


The ideologies underlying Singapore’s language-in-education policy drive home the message that students should feel some form of emotional connection to their mother tongue. At the same time, English is privileged leading many to index it with education, upward mobility, modernity and prestige. Singapore parents are cognisant of these ideologies and play an important role in mediating their children’s affiliation to the respective languages and influencing their language use patterns. This study seeks to obtain a sense of how parents of 8-year old children struggle with competing ideologies when enrolling their children in one of two Islamic religious education programmes: English-medium Kids aL.I.V.E. and Malay-medium mosque madrasah. Parents of 35 children from the two programmes reported on their use of Malay and English, and their children’s proficiency in, and use of, the two languages. Their reports suggest that the children were equally proficient in both languages but English was their dominant language. Parents were highly supportive of the language medium of the respective programmes, but irrespective of which language they supported, many were strongly affiliated to Malay citing reasons that mirror the state ideology that calls on its citizens to stay rooted in their ethnic heritage through their mother tongue.


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How to Cite
Abu Bakar , M. (2015). Malay, English and religion: language maintenance in multilingual Singapore. Issues in Language Studies, 4(1).