WP311 ‘I don’t speak Singlish’: Unequal Englishes, chutzpah and denial in the bidialectal classroom.
In Singapore, dominant narratives of Singlish as ‘bad English’ and an impediment to acquiring the Standard co-exist with discourses about Singlish as a marker of Singaporean identity. One consequence of such competing discourses has been characterised as a polarity between linguistic anxiety about Singaporeans’ proficiency in Standard English on the one hand, and on the other, rationalised confidence in using both registers appropriately – what Wee (2014) terms ‘linguistic chutzpah’. This paper examines a phenomenon that is neither exclusively anxiety nor chutzpah, focusing on a specific site where metapragmatic evaluations of Englishes abound – a secondary school ELT classroom where an experimental bidialectal programme of Standard English and Singlish is being taught. Here I observe that while some students portrayed confidence in reasoning how Singlish might be appropriate in certain contexts, there are also instances where the same student might deny being a user of Singlish. More than anxiety, this denial is a reflection of the unequal values of Englishes in wider society, even when bidialectalism is being promoted in the classroom.