Examining the Value of Mother Tongue in Bilingual Singapore Through the Mother Tongue Perception Scale

Thematic Section: Mother tongue in English-prevalent communities: Perceptions, practices, and outcomes

mother-tongue, attitudes, practices, language mixing, home literacy

Clara G.H. Chan, Singapore University of Technology & Design (SUTD)
W. Quin Yow, Singapore University of Technology & Design (SUTD)
English has been adopted as the “international language” for speakers of different first languages (or Mother Tongue, MT) in many parts of the world (Seidlhofer, 2005). Due to globalization, many individuals value the mastery of English, and this inadvertently results in a decline in the usage of MT. An individual’s motivation in learning – and hence using – a given language is based on several factors, including the attitude towards the specific language in question, as well as the attitudes toward language learning in general (Lukmani, 1972). Given the social and cultural importance of MT language maintenance in English-dominant communities, we aimed to examine the MT perceptions of adults living in Singapore, one such English-prevalent community. We describe findings among community-sampled adults who identified Chinese, Malay, or Tamil as their MT (aged 18-90, N=1,668) based on the Mother Tongue Perceptions scale (adapted from Luk & Surrain, 2019). Using factor analysis, we identified two factors underlying the scale: (1) Perceived Societal Value of MT; and (2) Personal Value of Learning Languages. We also examined associations between scale scores and demographic characteristics. SEM analyses suggest that higher MT proficiency (beta=.28, p<.001), older age (beta=.11, p=.001), and lower education levels (beta=-.11, p=.002) were associated with higher Perceived Societal Value of MT. Being MT speakers of minority communities (Malay-speakers, beta=.16, p<.001; and Tamil-speakers, beta=.10, p=.001) were also associated with lower Perceived Societal Value of MT. Higher education levels (beta=.25, p<.001), younger age (beta=-.12, p=.001), higher MT proficiency (beta=.09, p=.007), and being a Malay-speaker (beta=.09, p<.001) were associated with higher Personal Value of Learning Languages. Results shed light on how MT is differentially valued in the community and may provide important implications on encouraging the use of MT in English-prevalent communities.