From Third World to First

A Case Study of Lee Kuan Yew and Language Management in Singapore


  • Phyllis Ghim-Lian Chew Nanyang Technological University



Singapore, economics, management, language policy


In the early 1960s, Singapore had a third world per-capita GDP of around $2,200 per annum. By 1990 however, it had miraculously transformed itself into the ‘first world’, placed second on the World Economic Forum’s global competitiveness rankings, with a per-capita share of gross domestic product of more than $60,000 (US). Is there something that developing countries may learn from its political-economic-linguistic structuring policies and practices? There have been many reasons offered to explain the Singapore ‘miracle’ but what is little known are Lee Kuan Yew’s achievements in the linguistic arena. As one of the world’s longest serving Prime Ministers, Lee’s name is synonymous with the history of modern Singapore and any study on language sciences and the developing world must take this into consideration. This paper is divided into two main sections. Section 1 is on Lee’s linguistic strategies to catapult his party to power in the 1955 and 1959 general elections on the eve of the British departure while Section 2 outlines his language management policies.

Author Biography

Phyllis Ghim-Lian Chew, Nanyang Technological University

Associate Professor - sociolinguistics


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How to Cite

Chew, P. (2016). From Third World to First: A Case Study of Lee Kuan Yew and Language Management in Singapore. Linguistics and the Human Sciences, 11(1), 31–50.