Second generation internal immigrants' bilingual practices and identity construction in Guangzhou, China

Huang, Jing and Sebba, Mark and Unger, Johann (2018) Second generation internal immigrants' bilingual practices and identity construction in Guangzhou, China. PhD thesis, Lancaster University.

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Since China’s Economic Reform in 1978, there has been huge internal population mobility. The setting of this research, Guangzhou, is one of the cities that host the largest number of immigrants, and the dominant local speech, Cantonese, is unintelligible to immigrants who speak other language varieties, including China’s official language Putonghua. Since 2010 debates have arisen on the relationship between the state language policy of Putonghua Promotion which has been launched and implemented for sixty years and the narrower space for Cantonese use. A major discourse employed in the debates is concerned with immigrants associated with a Putonghua identity as a threat to Cantonese. There is little research on how the interaction between local language beliefs and the state language ideologies underlying Putonghua Promotion may influence immigrants’ life experiences and identities. This study investigates second generation immigrants’ bilingual practices and identity construction in individual and small-group interviews conducted in restaurants or cafes. I drew on critical discourse studies (Reisigl and Wodak, 2016) to examine participants’ use of discursive strategies in narratives of language-use-related life stories to construct social identities. I also use a framework integrating a sequential approach to conversation analysis (Auer, 1995) and membership categorisation analysis (Sacks, 1986b) to explore the role of code choices in accomplishing linguistic identities in interview conversations and naturally occurring service encounters. Adopting Jenkins’s (2008) notion of internal-external dialectics of identification, I found that immigrant participants’ identities can be understood as constantly negotiating categories imposed or assigned by others and managing diverse self-identifications in interactions. They resisted, challenged or re-defined an imposed derogatory category, laau, which was connected to their use of Putonghua in schools, workplaces, and other situations and to discrimination against them. They claimed their competence in using Cantonese for the negotiation of the categorization. They aligned with hybrid and complex social groups, and celebrated the seemingly contradictory but unique self-identifications. Meanwhile, they used Cantonese to align themselves with Cantonese speakers and distanced themselves from Putonghua speakers in group interview conversations, while in individual interviews they used Putonghua to highlight the most important information and Cantonese was used for less important topics. And in service encounters they used code-switching for ‘doing being’ Cantonese speakers or bilinguals. The discourse analysis and conversation analysis show the consistency in their assigning value to Cantonese as well as acknowledging the prestigious status and the practicality of Putonghua. In summary, this thesis is a contribution to studies of bilingualism and de facto language policies in urban China. It reveals that individuals and social groups of a language community can negotiate the Putonghua Policy through imposing the use of Cantonese and Cantonese-related categories to others in mundane talk and institutional interactions. It also contributes to studies of China’s internal immigrants in terms of exploring how immigrants’ life experiences are affected by conflicting language ideologies, and how immigrants can employ bilingual repertoires to negotiate problematic but taken-for-granted discrimination and manage to be at ease with their unique self-identifications.

Item Type:
Thesis (PhD)
?? bilingualismidentitylanguage policycritical discourse studiesconversation analysisimmigrantsputonghuacantoneseguangzhouchina ??
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Deposited On:
05 Jun 2018 09:12
Last Modified:
18 Dec 2023 00:54