“I scared he eat, then the stomach explode!”: Missing Tense and the Standardization of Singlish

Hannah Chu, Trevor Htoon, Youchuan (Aaron) Hu, Ann Mayor, Grace Yao

Can we detect language change right as it’s happening? As a result of nearly a century of colonial handoffs, the Southeast Asian Island of Singapore developed its own, unique variety of English: Singapore Colloquial English, more commonly known as Singlish. There is reason to hypothesize, though, that Singlish may be progressively becoming closer to standard English and losing some of its distinctive linguistic features. The following article attempts to identify whether an assimilation to standard English is currently taking place among Singlish speakers, and if so, which categories of speakers are leading the change. The study focuses on one particular feature of Singlish: missing (or “dropped”) tense words, including copular verbs and tense auxiliaries. In order to collect data on this phenomenon, a survey and subsequent transcript analysis of eight YouTube videos from four young Singaporean content creators was conducted to identify tense word dropping rates for various Singlish speakers over time.

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