UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Learning as laowai : race, social positioning, and Chinese language acquisition in China Ilnyckyj, Roma Areta


Due to China’s increasing economic and political power, interest in learning Chinese as an Additional Language (CAL) is growing rapidly around the world. Large numbers of learners with no historical or cultural ties to China are undertaking the study of Mandarin, often for professional or economic gain. Research in the field of CAL has traditionally been driven by cognitive considerations, and has only recently begun to examine social and cultural factors that influence the learning of Chinese. In particular, the relationships between language acquisition and social identity categories such as race, gender, and class have only begun to be investigated. This interview-based multiple case study explored the relationship between racial identity and language acquisition in China. Interviews were conducted with five adult, White learners of Mandarin who had previously studied or worked in China. The study found that participants were sensitive to their privileged position in the Chinese context, and worked to construct the identity of the conscientious sojourner in order to address this privilege. Simultaneously, their racialized identity as White sojourners caused their learning of Chinese to function as discordant knowledge, or knowledge that they were not, for social and cultural reasons, expected to possess. This discordance of their knowledge often allowed participants greater power or access to particular target communities. This study provides insight into the experiences of a particular set of White learners of Chinese, offering a starting point for further research into the relationship between racial identity and Chinese language acquisition.

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