Perceptions of Differential Treatment Based on Language Background among Chinese Immigrants and International Students in the USA.

Terrence G. Wiley

Arizona State University, USA

WS162: Language Policies in Social Practice: Constructing Identity, (Re)Claiming Language Rights

This paper reports on a study of language attitudes among 750 Chinese immigrant/ international students in the USA toward: (1) the maintenance and use of Chinese heritage and community languages, (2) differential treatment based on language background, and (3) negative experiences with English speakers due to “Chinese-accented” English.

Background: Although Mandarin is the world’s leading mother tongue and the official language of the Peoples Republic of China, only 53 percent of the Chinese population speaks “standard” Mandarin (National Language Committee, 2006). This study probed the extent to which “regional accents” of Mandarin and use of regional languages among Chinese mark social boundaries, resulting in differential treatment or “linguistic profiling” (Baugh, 2000). The also study elaborates on existing language profiles of speakers of Chinese in the USA in order better to inform HL/CL initiatives geared to communities of Chinese speakers regarding the language varieties, attitudes, and expectations that may be found among their clientele. With increased mobility that accompanies globalization, the USA has over the last few decades become the temporary or permanent home to large numbers of young, highly educated people of Chinese origin.

Data from online surveys, focus groups, and interviews indicated some evidence of the perception of differential treatment among Chinese in the U.S. based on regional language varieties, as well as tolerance for language diversity. Similarly, concerns were evident regarding differential treatment among immigrants and international students for using “accented” English; however, the majority of those of Chinese origin appear to be relatively resilient in dealing with this problem.

Some differences were noteworthy regarding those from Hong Kong and Taiwan. Those from Hong Kong indicated lesser proficiency in Mandarin. The respondents from Taiwan were more likely to be multi-dialectal speakers of Mandarin and Taiwanese or Mandarin and Hakka. The absence of formal instruction for most of the major dialects in the USA, with the possible exception of Cantonese, will make it unlikely that these varieties will be maintained over time. Findings from the study also have implications for approaches to literacy instruction as those from Taiwan and particularly Hong Kong were less likely to support instruction in Simplified Characters. .


Baugh, J. (2000). Beyond Ebonics. Oxford University Press.

National Language Committee (2006). Chinese Language Usage Survey.

Session: Themed Panel (part 1)
Language Policies in Social Practice: Constructing Identity, (Re)Claiming Language Rights
Friday, April 4, 2008, 13:45-15:15
room: 06