What unites Canada and Singapore

Catherine Fieschi on how states use language policy to cope with diversity

The World Today Published 7 December 2018 Updated 8 February 2021 2 minute READ

Catherine Fieschi

Director, Counterpoint

Most of us don’t spend too much time wondering what Singapore and Canada have in common. We talk of Singapore as a mysterious hybrid of prosperity, diversity and control; and of Canada … as a much less mysterious hybrid of prosperity, diversity and democracy.

One thing these two countries do share, though, is an obsession with language policy. Both have used it to manage diversity.

Under the impetus of Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, when Singapore became independent of Malaysia in 1965, it decided to promote a policy of bilingualism. The policy is designed to ensure that everyone is fluent in English as well as their mother tongue − one of the three other official languages Mandarin, Bahasa Melayu, Tamil. English is an official language but not a mother tongue.

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