Cities, cultural places, and identity: Linguistic and discursive construction of regional differences in multilingual Taiwan

Hsi-Yao Su

National Taiwan Normal University, Taipei, Taiwan


This study investigates the discursive and linguistic means through which Taipei and Tainan—two cities in Taiwan often considered representative of the North and the South and respectively noted as the most modern, cosmopolitan city and the birthplace of traditional Han culture in Taiwan—are constructed as distinct cultural places (Relph, 1976; Johnstone, 1999) in interview contexts. It examines the role language plays in the construction of regional differences in multilingual Taiwan and explores how individual identities are simultaneously constituted and shaped through the processes of rendering particular locations socially meaningful. Drawing data from two interviews whose interviewees come from Taipei and Tainan respectively, this study focuses on the dynamic nature of identity construction and investigates how ideologies concerning language and region are constantly contested and reshaped in on-going interaction during the interviews. The research questions I seek to answer are:

(1) In what ways are Taipei and Tainan discursively constructed as two distinct cultural places in the two interviews? What roles do common linguistic varieties in Taiwan, such as Mandarin, Taiwanese, and Taiwanese Mandarin play in the construction of regional differences?

(2) In what ways does the construction of regional differences interact with the two interviewees’ construction of self?

(3) Is there any correlation between levels of discursive consciousness of regional differences and linguistic practices at the levels of phonological variation and code-switching?

An analysis of the two interviews reveals that the two interviewees align themselves with the two cities and construct their self images in drastically different ways. It also shows that language is among one of the most frequently invoked resources in the interviewees’ respective discursive construction of regional and self identities. In addition to an analysis of the two interviewees’ discursive practices, this study also compares their linguistic practices on the levels of phonological variation and code-switching. The results show that there is a noticeable connection between levels of discursive consciousness of regional differences and micro-level linguistic practices. The study also illustrates how the two interviewees as social agents present themselves in interview contexts and how the agents’ identities and the social meanings of the languages and places in question are constantly negotiated and constructed.

This study is related to the conference theme, micro and macro connections, in at least two different senses. Firstly, it shows how the local construction of self in the interview narratives is deeply intertwined with the cultural discourses circulating in the society concerning the symbolic meanings of the two cities. Secondly, it demonstrates how micro-level linguistic practices, such as phonological variation and code-switching, are parallel to discursive construction of place and self identities, and in turn, both provide a windrow through which ideologies concerning common language varieties in Taiwan and the larger social structure can be observed.


Johnstone, B. (1999). Uses of Southern Speech by Contemporary Texas Women. Journal of Sociolinguistics, 3:505-522.

Relph, E. (1976). Place and Placelessness. London: Pion.

Session: Paper session
Code-switching 1
Thursday, April 3, 2008, 10:30-12:00
room: 10