Heritage, history and identity : complexity in language maintenance within multigenerational families




Chiang, Wai-Fong 1967-

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My dissertation research employs theories that examine the relationship between language and social meaning to look at semiotic processes through which ideologies of differentiation are formed. This dissertation considers language use and heritage language maintenance in four multigenerational families whose ancestral language was a target of elimination by national language policies. Utilizing paradigms for examining the semiotic processes of ideologies of language differentiation, as well as identity formation, this dissertation attempts to untangle the various language ideologies surrounding the different language resources within the ethnic Chinese community in Singapore and examines their effects on identity formation and intergenerational interactions where different language competencies are featured. Linguistic resources in Singapore are legitimized with differentiating attribution of linguistic capital where four official languages are placed higher than the heritage languages, and within the official languages, English is legitimized as the language for business and science, and for use in interethnic communication. Differentiation is constructed among the languages, which then project indexical values to their speakers and their respective linguistic behaviors. Taking a discourse-centered approach and paying attention to historicity, this dissertation provides an in-depth analysis of language patterns in multigenerational families. The findings show varying degree of heritage language maintenance at home and language shift from the heritage language in the public sphere. The study also identifies a unique skipped-generational heritage language transmission phenomenon resulting from changes in woman’s roles, as well as from the complexity of identity configurations featuring ethnic, heritage, linguistic, and national affiliations. This dissertation also examines processes of intergenerational language negotiation foregrounding age and religion as two intersecting factors, discussing their implications on traditional family values, family structure, as well as heritage language maintenance. Utilizing multigenerational and multilingual families as a research site encompasses alternative linguistic markets and temporalities to examine the creative use of linguistic resources by speakers for identity formation and language maintenance efforts.




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