Multilingualism, Identities and Language Hegemony: A Case Study of Five Ethnic Minority Students in China

Multilingualism, Identities and Language Hegemony: A Case Study of Five Ethnic Minority Students in China

Jing Li (Simon Fraser University, Canada & Southwest Forestry University, China) and Danièle Moore (Simon Fraser University, Canada)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-9618-9.ch020
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This paper presents the findings from a case study of how five post-secondary ethnic multilingual students (three Bai and two Zhuang) at a local university in Southwestern China experience multilingualism and ethnic identities (de)construction and invest themselves in an active negotiation for legitimate membership in mainstream educational Discourses (Gee, 1990, 2012). The authors seek to understand how the perceived hegemony of Mandarin has impacted their social positioning and delegitimized their multilingual assets and ethnic identities in mainstream educational Discourses, and how they managed to negotiate their identities as ethnic multilinguals in different social Discourses. The authors argue that through the legitimate dominance of Mandarin, these students are not merely being positioned as members of a negatively stereotyped ethnic group but also concurrently participating in reconstructing the Mandarin language hegemony in those very Discourses, which runs the risk of further expanding the existing educational inequalities between Han and ethnic minority students..
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Research Background

SWF University

Yunnan is a multi-ethnic province in Southwestern China. Of the 55 officially identified ethnic minority groups in China, 25 inhabit the region and “22 of them speak 28 languages” (Tsang, 2005). Located in the capital city (Kunming) of Yunnan Province, SWFU is a local university with more than 16,000 registered undergraduate and graduate students coming from 31 provinces of China. Approximately 30%1 of the whole student population is composed of ethnic minorities from 27 minority groups. Within this group of 30%, more than half are identified as ethnic language speakers. These ethnic minority students have a complex pattern of language use. They speak an ethnic language at home and in the local communities, use both Mandarin and the ethnic language in schools, and study and practice English, a third language, at school and university. However, as Wang, Tsung and Ki’s (2012) case study has shown, ethnic multilingual students at postsecondary level in Yunnan struggle in their academic performances and social inclusion because of the challenges caused by social and linguistic differences. Hu (2007) also reports that many ethnic minority students have a sense of inferiority which prevents them from building up strong confidence in academic study.

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