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ICOS 2008 Conference Abstract

Building Names in Singapore: Multilingualism of a Different Kind

P K Tan
National University of Singapore, Singapore

There has been much discussion about the ideological or political underpinnings of toponyms, e.g., Faraco and Murphy (1997) on Spain, Cohen and Kliot (1992) on the Israeli administered territories, Nash (1999) on the Irish Republic or Yeo (1992, 1996) on Singapore. The Israeli, Irish and Singaporean examples are different from the Spanish one in that the struggle is also expressed linguistically through the form of the names chosen. Yeo (1996) notes the preference for street names based on the Malay language in the 1960s as an expression of Singaporean political independence. In this paper, I examine the names given to residential buildings (condominiums) in Singapore: what kinds of names are used and the reasons for any patterns discerned. While street names are usually tightly controlled by municipal boards, building names are usually given freer rein, although they would still need governmental approval. Building names would therefore reflect the attitudes of the commercially powerful rather than those of the politically powerful. In the context of the Singaporean state ideology of multilingualism (Singapore has four official languages: English, Malay, Mandarin Chinese and Tamil) and multiracialism (and therefore multiculturalism), it might therefore be expected that the multilingual nature of the community might also be expressed in the building names accorded. Preliminary analysis however indicates that although there is evidence of multilingualism, this includes languages such as French and Spanish which do not form a part of the normal linguistic repertoire of a Singaporean.

Cohen, Saul B. and Nurit Kliot (1992), ‘Place-names in Israel’s ideological struggle over the administered territories’, Annals of the Association of American Geographers 82:4, 653-680.

Faraco, J. Carlos González Faraco and Michael Dean Murphy (1997), ‘Street names and political regimes in an Andalusian Town’, Ethnology 36:2, 123-148.

Nash, Catherine (1999), ‘Irish placenames: post-colonial locations’, Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 24:4, 457-480.

Yeoh, Brenda S A (1992), ‘Street names in colonial Singapore’, Geographical Review 82:3, 313-222.

Yeoh, Brenda S A (1996), ‘Street-naming and nation-building: toponymic inscriptions of nationhood in Singapore’, Area 28:3, 298-307.

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