Singapore Junior Scholar Seminar: 7 April 2022

(Editors’ note: The live webinar included sign language interpretation. Unfortunately, our Zoom recording did not capture the interpreter’s screen. We apologise for this technical hitch. The recording does, however, include captions. Please click the CC button if you don’t see them.)


Mother Tongue Orphan: Sign Language and Multiculturalism in Singapore

Timothy Y. Loh, PhD Candidate (History, Anthropology, and Science, Technology and Society), MIT

Thursday, 7 April 2022, 4-5pm Singapore time (GMT +8), via Zoom

A cornerstone of state policy in Singapore is bilingual education, under which Singaporeans are required to learn English as well as a “mother tongue” based on their ethnicity: Mandarin for Chinese Singaporeans, Malay for Malay Singaporeans, and an Indian language for Indian Singaporeans. Deaf Singaporeans, however, are exempt from this policy. By examining deaf Singaporeans’ experiences of the “mother tongues”, this seminar explores how the conflation of race with language in state policy “orphans” sign language, which refers to a range of signing varieties, as a mother tongue. Sign language in Singapore presents a challenge to the state’s claims to multiculturalism.

Timothy Y. Loh is a PhD candidate in History, Anthropology, and Science, Technology, and Society (HASTS) at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), where he is also a Graduate Fellow in the Language and Technology Lab. His ethnographic research investigates sociality, language, and religion in deaf and signing worlds spanning Singapore, Jordan, and the United States.


This seminar will feature live captioning by Ai-Media and simultaneous Singapore Sign Language (SgSL) interpretation by Equal Dreams. If you require access services, we highly recommend joining the Zoom meeting so that you can view the interpreters and captioning clearly. They may not be as visible on other platforms such as YouTube or Facebook because of Zoom’s internal video streaming settings.


Ng Bee Chin is Associate Professor in Linguistics and Multilingual Studies at the Nanyang Technological University’s School of Humanities. She works in the area of bilingualism and multilingualism with a focus on the impact of language contact on individuals and the community they live in. Her research approach explores both cognitive and social aspects of language use. Currently, she is working on language and emotion in multilinguals, language attitudes, identity and social categorisation and communicative aspects of ageing. More.


The Singapore Studies Junior Scholar Seminars are organised by AcademiaSG, an international collective of Singaporean scholars, as part of our mission to promote research on Singapore. If you are a PhD student or post-doctoral scholar with research to share, read our Call for Proposals. We also welcome essays and commentaries for our Academic Views section. Write to our editors through our contact form to pitch an idea.