Keeping the mother tongues alive: Singapore's bilingual challenge

Pragmatic concerns underlie language attitudes. Using the mother tongue at home and attracting youth are key, observers tell Insight


"Logically, the decision is obvious. Emotionally, the choice is painful."

That was how then-Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew described the "stark choice" of pairing English with Mandarin, and not other dialects, in bilingual policy at the launch of the Speak Mandarin Campaign in 1979.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on November 03, 2019, with the headline 'Keeping the mother tongues alive Singapore's bilingual challenge'. Subscribe