Semantically unique: already got one

As a result of crosslinguistic influence from ethnic languages like Chinese, Malay, and Tamil, a substantial number of commonly used English words in Colloquial Singapore English have expanded their semantic functions and are used in a different manner from Standard English. An in-depth investigation of three semantically unique words - already, got, and one, will be presented in this chapter. The examples below show how the semantic functions of these words have expanded in Colloquial Singapore English.

(1) She cannot sleep already.

‘She is now in a state where she can no longer sleep.’

(2) She got two brothers.

‘She has two brothers.’

(3) She very short-tempered one.

‘She IS very short-tempered.’

In Example (1), already is used to indicate inchoative aspect (see Bao 2005; Teo 2019 among others). This means that already expresses the beginning of a state or event, and the state of ‘not being able to sleep' in (1) had begun at a particular point of time in the past and still holds true at the time the sentence was uttered. In Example (2), got has a possessive meaning (Nomoto and Lee 2008), which means that the referent of she in (2) has two brothers. Lastly, in Example (3), one functions as a contrastive focus marker (Teo 2014). This means that one asserts or emphasizes the truth of the proposition that the referent of she in (3) is very short-tempered.

For the rest of this chapter, each word’s semantic functions will be examined in detail, and they will be compared with the way in which they are used in Standard English. Following which, the manner in which similar words in the ethnic languages function will be described and an account of how these functions came to be transferred to Colloquial Singapore English will be provided. Thereafter, the manner in which the presence of parallel constructions between ethnic languages and Colloquial Singapore English influence the synchronic use of these words will be investigated. Lastly, the way in which crosslinguistic influence from the ethnic languages interact with other social factors like English language proficiency and language attitudes will be examined.

Colloquial Singapore English already, got, and one

In the following sub-sections, the way already, got, and one are used in Colloquial Singapore English and how they differ from Standard English in terms of their syntax and semantics will be described.

Colloquial Singapore English already

Like Standard English, already in Colloquial Singapore English can express the meanings of‘change of state’ and ‘contrary to expectation’ (Teo 2019). ‘Change of state’ refers to a new state or the starting of an event, while ‘contrary to expectation’ refers to a proposition that is contrary to a hearer’s expectations. Examples (4) and (5) from Soh (2009: 624-625) will further illustrate these meanings.

(4) As people get older, their bodies are more able to float. Mostly this happens at puberty. John is only nine years old, but he already floats.

The already in Example (4) is used to indicate both ‘change of state’ and ‘contrary to expectation’. A ‘change of state’ reading is available because John has transitioned from a state of not being able to float on water to a state of being able to float. Additionally, ‘a contrary to expectation’ reading is also available because most people will not think that John has the ability to float since he is only nine years old. In other words, the hearer’s expectation will be that John cannot float on water. However, since he can float, it is contrary to the hearer’s expectation.

(5) A: Hey, I have just come up with a magical chemical that will make oil float on water.

B: Don’t be silly. Oil already floats on water.

Example (5) shows that a ‘contrary to expectation’ reading can be separate from a ‘change of state’ reading. In this case, a ‘change of state’ reading is not available because there is no state in which oil can float on water, hence, there is no change of state possible. On the other hand, ‘a contrary to expectation’ reading is available because speaker A apparently thinks that oil does not float on water. His or her expectation is that oil cannot float on water. However, since oil can float on water, it is contrary to his or her expectation.

Another similarity that Colloquial Singapore English already has with Standard English already is the syntactic frame that it appears in. In both varieties,

already can appear in sentence-initial, sentence-final, and pre-predicate positions (Bao 2015), or in this syntactic frame [_ subject _ predicate _]. Although the syntactic frame for both Colloquial Singapore English and Standard English already is the same, the most frequent syntactic position that already appears in is different for the two varieties. In Colloquial Singapore English already appears most frequently in the sentence-final position, whereas for Standard English already appears most frequently in pre-predicate position (Brown 1999).

The main difference between already in Colloquial Singapore English and already in Standard English is its ability to convey three different aspectual meanings - completive, inchoative, and prospective, without the need for periphrastic expressions to provide additional meaning. Completive aspect refers to actions that are carried out to completion; inchoative aspect refers to the beginning of an action or state; and prospective aspect refers to actions that will happen shortly in the immediate future.

  • (6) I say, yah the mother know, she call the mother already.
  • (Malay Female, 30 years old)

Example (6) shows how already can be used to convey that the action of calling her mother on the phone has been completed at speech time. This illustrates how already is used to indicate completive aspect.

(7) When they go army then after that come back work already mah.

'When they complete their military service and return to civilian life, they will start to work.’

(Tamil Male, 37 years old)

Example (7) shows how already can be used to convey that the state of having started work has happened sometime in the past and is still continuing at speech time. This illustrates how already is used to indicate inchoative aspect.

(8) She come home already.

‘She is already on her way home.’

Example (8) shows how already can be used to convey that the action of returning home will be completed sometime in the near future. This illustrates how already can be used to indicate prospective aspect. Taken out of context, Example (8) acmally has three possible readings. A completive reading - she has completed the action of coming home and is at home at speech time; an inchoative reading - she has finally moved back home from some other location and may or may not be physically at home at speech time; and a prospective reading - she is on hex- way home at speech time.

Unlike Standard English, Colloquial Singapore English already can appear in negative sentences because of its ability to mark inchoative aspect.

(9) Yah, some they also cannot make profit already ah.

‘Yes, some of them can no longer make any profit.’

(Chinese Male, 55 years old)

Example (9) shows already appearing in a negative sentence to say that some store owners can no longer make a profit now. This is one of the more distinct difference between Standard English and Colloquial Singapore English, as already cannot appear in negative sentences for Standard English (Bao 2011).

To sum up, in terms of semantics, both Colloquial Singapore English already and Standard English already can express ‘change of state’ and ‘contrary to expectation’. However, already in Colloquial Singapore English is able to convey three different aspectual meanings - completive, inchoative, and prospective, without the need to use periphrastic expressions to provide additional meaning. For instance, already in Example (10) can indicate inchoative aspect, which means that David has just started reading the book and has not finished it yet. On the other hand. Example (10) in Standard English can only mean that David has finished the book, if someone wants to indicate that he had just started reading it, he or she would have to include the verb start in the sentence.

(10) David read the book already.

‘David just started reading the book.’

As mentioned previously, the ability to mark inchoative aspect allows Colloquial Singapore English already to appear in negative sentences like (11). This is impossible in Standard English as Standard English already is not an inchoative marker as illustrated by Example (10).

(11) Suzie cannot run already.

'Suzie cannot run anymore.’

Example (11) shows how Colloquial Singapore English already can appear in a negative sentence to indicate the beginning or start of a negative state. In this example, Suzie presumably ran so much that she no longer has the energy to run anymore.

In terms of syntax, both Colloquial Singapore English already and Standard English already can appear in the same syntactic frame - [_ subject _ predicate _]s. However, the preferred syntactic position for already in both varieties is different.

(12a) I study already.

T studied already.’

(12b) I already studied.

The preferred syntactic position for Colloquial Singapore English already is sentence-final position as shown in Example (12a) whereas the preferred syntactic position for Standard English already it the pre-predicate position as shown in Example (12b).

 
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