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IN SEARCH OF NEW FORMS: IMPACT OF BILINGUAL POLICY AND “SPEAK MANDARIN” CAMPAIGN ON SINOPHONE SINGAPORE POETRY

E.K. Tan

This project examines the language reform in the first two decades of Singapore’s independence in 1965. By focusing on the bilingual education policy and the “Speak More Mandarin, Less Dialects” campaign, the essay discusses how the policy and campaign simultaneously deconstruct the heterogeneous Sinophone community and restructure it into a cohesive homologous unit with the promotion of Mandarin as the common language among the various Sinitic dialect groups. The implementation of the bilingual policy and the “Speak Mandarin” campaign also directly impacted the relationship between the three main ethnic groups (Chinese, Indian and Malay) and their mother tongues. In the case of the Sinophone community, Mandarin was assigned as the mother tongue to all Sinophone Singaporeans. Unlike in Europe, where the mother tongue is synonymous to the national language that ushers national projects into modernity and progress, the mother tongues in postcolonial multi-racial Singapore adopt the maternal figure as the preserver of traditions against western influence in the rapidly modernizing island-state. This essay analyzes three contemporary Sinophone poems by assessing how each of these poems directly or indirectly responds to the impact of the bilingual policy and the “Speak Mandarin” campaign on the Singapore society and its literary tradition.

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