Aspiring to be local: Language ideology, practice, and variation in a Taiwan high school

Dominika Baran, Peter L Patrick

University of Essex, United Kingdom [both]


This study demonstrates through quantitative analysis how speakers use Taiwan Mandarin features to construct identities complying with or resisting dominant social structures (Bourdieu 1982, Eckert 1989, 2000). The data comes from sociolinguistic interviews conducted with 18 students at a Taipei County high school. The participants study in college-preparatory and vocational tracks, which in Taiwan’s highly structured educational system places them in rigid career trajectories, and in tightly linked communities who share most of the day together in one classroom.

Taiwan Mandarin has developed over the past 60 years since Chiang-Kai-Shek’s Kuomintang government took over Taiwan, imposing Mandarin as the official variety while suppressing local Chinese varieties such as Taiwanese (aka Southern Min). Taiwan Mandarin has developed from the influence of Taiwanese phonology and grammar on local learners’ acquisition, as well as from non-standard Mandarin features already present in the speech of many new Mainlander settlers who did not speak the standard Beijing variety.

Because Mandarin is associated with academic success, and Taiwanese with local networks and working-class occupations, vocational students are viewed as Taiwanese-speakers, and are simultaneously marginalized for it. This study shows that students in blue-collar training tracks (electronics) are much more likely to use Taiwan Mandarin features than students in college-preparatory tracks, although both speak Mandarin and Taiwanese natively. However, students in vocational tracks who do plan college education are least likely to use Taiwan Mandarin features. This social distribution of Taiwan Mandarin suggests that in institutional settings which promote Mandarin, the use of Taiwan Mandarin features claims a voice in the linguistic marketplace by “localizing” the dominant variety, thus making it a vehicle for expressing identities associated with speaking Taiwanese and being “local,” as opposed to those linked with school norms and values (Eckert 2000).

Of existing studies of Taiwan Mandarin, some treat it as “unsuccessfully” acquired Mandarin, analyzing “errors” made by local speakers (Lin 1983, Lin 1986). Others see it as a separate, natively spoken variety, but provide only descriptive lists of features (Cheng 1984, Kubler 1986). Variationist analyses have focused on the social distribution of de-retroflection, but without interpreting their results using social theory (Rau and Li 1994, Li 1994), or on de-retroflection (Kuo 2005) and the final [n~ŋ] merger (Li 1992) as changes in progress. Studies analyzing Taiwan Mandarin as a resource in accomplishing goals such as identity construction (Chung 2006) and performance of social roles (Su 2005) rely chiefly on anecdotal evidence, or treat Taiwan Mandarin as a uniform abstracted stereotype.

The present study demonstrates how local linguistic practice reproduces and challenges dominant ideologies transmitted through institutions such as the school. The study compares two features: de-retroflection of sibilant initial [ʂ] and deletion of prenuclear glide [w] in words like [wɔ], [kwɔ] and [ʂwɔ], the latter not previously researched. Their different social distribution among students suggests that they index different social meanings and argues against treating Taiwan Mandarin as a uniform category (cf. Kubler 1986, Feifel 1994).

Session: Paper session
Ideology 1
Saturday, April 5, 2008, 11:00-12:30
room: 13