Language practices and identity construction in multilingual interactions in a Hong Kong university setting

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In recent years, universities in Hong Kong have attracted a large number of applicants from the Chinese mainland; however, despite sharing a common ethnicity with the locally born Chinese population of Hong Kong, these migrant students still encounter both linguistic and cross-cultural obstacles to their socialization (Gu 2011). Hong Kong students affected a particular Hong Kong style of code-switching between Cantonese and English (using Cantonese as a sentence base) to present a Hong Kong identity, through which to establish a group boundary (Gu, 2014). Putonghua is seen as an irrelevant language; to these students, not using Putonghua terms in daily intra-group communication is a means of establishing a Hong Kong identity, as opposed to a more generic Chinese one. Mainland Chinese students were found to have set up a Putonghua-speaking community at university, to resist the marginalized status of Putonghua. Furthermore, maintaining that American- or British-accented English is superior to other versions of the language, they practiced speaking ‘standard‘ English in order to establish an international identity, differentiating themselves from Hong Kong peers, who tended to speak Cantonese-accented English (Gu 2014). In addition to these two populations, there is a growing body of international students studying in Hong Kong, which makes the linguistic situation even more complex.
With multilingual speakers sharing Chinese ethnicity but having different cultural and linguistic backgrounds, tertiary campuses in Hong Kong are unique multilingual settings, sites full of struggle in relation and response to governmental ideology surrounding multilingualism, public discourse emphasizing the use of English, and diverse language ideologies held by different language-based and cultural groups. As part of a larger project investigating the linguistic ecology of multilingual universities, this study, drawing on notion of symbolic competence (Kramsch and Whiteside 2008) and insights from complexity theory (Lasen-Freeman and Cameron 2008), investigates the multilingual practices of university students from different cultural and linguistic backgrounds in group discussions. Linking the analysis of situated conversation data to the participants‘ different historical perceptions and cultural memories, this study offers a holistic look at code-switching among multilingual individuals in group discussions, in terms of language use, history and ideology. This study will shed light on how the individual sees oneself through the lens of one‘s embodied history and subjectivity and that of others, and create new relationships. Copyright © 2017 University of Murcia.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2016
EventSociolinguistics Symposium 21: Attitudes and Prestige - University of Murcia, Murcia, Spain
Duration: 15 Jun 201618 Jun 2016


SeminarSociolinguistics Symposium 21: Attitudes and Prestige


Gu, M. M. (2016, June). Language practices and identity construction in multilingual interactions in a Hong Kong university setting. Paper presented at the Sociolinguistics Symposium 21: Attitudes and Prestige, University of Murcia, De Murcia, Spain.


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