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Home | Singapore | Language in Singapore
Language in Singapore

Singapore has four official languages: English, Chinese, Malay, and Tamil.

English is the common language of the nation and is the language of business, government and medium of instruction in schools. However, English is the native tongue for only one-third of all Singaporeans, with roughly a third of all Singaporean Chinese, a quarter of all Singaporean Malays and half of all Singaporean Indians speaking it as their native tongue. Twenty percent of Singaporeans, or one out of every five, is unable to read or write in English.

Chinese is the language which is spoken as their native tongue by the greatest number of Singaporeans, half of them. Nearly half a million speak other Chinese languages (which the government describes as "dialects"), mainly Hokkien, Teochew, and Cantonese, as their home language, although the use of these is declining in favour of Mandarin and English.

Malay was chosen as the "national language" by the Singaporean government after independence from Britain in the 1960s to avoid friction with Singapore's neighbours -- Malaysia and Indonesia -- both of which are Malay-speaking. It has a symbolic rather than functional purpose. It is used in the national anthem "Majulah Singapura" and in military commands. Today, in general, Malay is spoken within the Singaporean Malay community, with only 16.8% of all Singaporeans literate in Malay[ and only 12% using it as their native language.

Around 100,000 or 3% of Singaporeans speak Tamil as their native language. Even though only Tamil has official status, there have been no attempts to discourage the use or spread of other Indian languages.

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