Colloquial Singapore English never
Leong Xue Wei, Amelia
Negation in New Englishes has been a topic of great interest. However, although some general features of negation in New English varieties have been identified, few have investigated specific varieties and accounted for the deviations of usage patterns away from Standard English usage. This paper investigates the use of the Standard English (StdE) emphatic negator never, which has gained non-emphatic functions in Colloquial Singapore English (CSE). CSE never is regularly used to negate single past events, and can function as an aspectual or simple past marker. It is usually used with additional adverbial markers, but can occur alone if both interlocutors are well-informed of the conversational context. The various grammatical/morphosyntactic functions of CSE never were identified through a survey on Chinese CSE speakers’ assessments of the grammaticality of never in various sentences, and compared against those of Hokkien and Cantonese negative constructions bo and mo respectively (very similar to Mandarin mei you). The syntactic and semantic behavior of never in CSE was found to be highly similar to the Hokkien and Cantonese negative constructions. This is expected since the majority of CSE speakers also spoke either Hokkien or Cantonese as their native language, and could have transferred the functions of Hokkien bo and Cantonese mo to CSE never. However, the relation between the two constructs is not always apparent, and the specific functions of CSE never might arguably have arisen as a result of universal patterns of language learning rather than from substrata influence. However, although the surface structure of CSE never appears highly similar to that of never or other specific negation markers in other varieties of New Englishes, a closer look at the detailed functions and usage patterns reveals that these features of CSE never are highly complex, and bear too much resemblance to the unique grammatical patterns of Mandarin mei you to be attributable to universal patterns, or pure coincidence. Instead, the unique usage patterns of CSE never are determined by the discoursal and microlinguistic environment in which they occur, as well as the social context in which the exchange is taking place and the speakers’ motivation.
Negation; New Englishes; Singapore English; contact languages; linguistic variation