12 September 2011

Standard Singapore English

In my previous post, I mentioned that Lee Kuan Yew had said it is fine to sound Singaporean so long as you speak well and clearly.

This raises a question: what aspects of pronunciation can be encouraged so that speakers sound Singaporean but still speak clearly and can be understood in an international setting? In other words, what features of pronunciation might constitute part of Standard Singapore English pronunciation?

Actually, it is quite straightforward to suggest a few features of pronunciation that can be considered part of the Singapore accent but at the same time enhance intelligibility in an international setting. Here are a couple of suggestions (from my presentation at the ELIS launch that I attended last week):
  • In British English nowadays, there is a tendency for triphthongs, the vowels in words such as fire and hour, to undergo a process known as smoothing, as a result of which the vowel in both these words may be pronounced as [aə]. In fact, it is quite common in Britain now for tyre and tower to sound alike, and similarly shire and shower. In Singapore, this rarely happens, and triphthongs are generally pronounced as two syllables: fire is [faɪjə], and hour is [aʊwə]. As a result, tyre and tower would always be distinct, and so would shire and shower

  • In Britain, the overwhelming majority of speakers, especially young people, pronounce the vowel in words like poor, tour and sure as [ɔ:]. As a result, there is no distinction between poor and paw, or between tour and tore, or between sure and shore. Nearly all Singaporeans differentiate these words, as poor is [pʊə] while paw is [pɔ:], tour is [tʊə] while tore is [tɔ:], and sure is [ʃʊə] while shore is [ʃɔ:].
Note that in both these cases, Singaporeans are making distinctions that many people in Britain do not make, and I believe that the Singaporean pronunciation is more intelligible internationally.

I see no reason for Singaporeans to adopt the British pronunciation when it loses intelligibility; and I see no reason for people to try and pretend they come from the UK when they do not.