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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Memories of language lost and learned : parents and the shaping of Chinese as a heritage language in Canada Mizuta, Ai


Within the complex context of English language dominance and multiculturalism policy, Chinese language education is at a remarkable moment in Vancouver where history, politics and the economy are intertwined with demographic changes. This dissertation seeks to understand Chinese as a heritage language (CHL) in Canada through the stories of Chinese Canadian parents’ struggles and choices regarding their own heritage language. This study takes a life history research approach, which understands individuals’ life stories through a historical lens (Goodson & Sikes, 2001). The study consists of 10 parents from two groups of self-identified Chinese Canadians who reside in Metro Vancouver. The first group (Group 1) consists of parents who were either born in Canada or immigrated before the age of 4, had limited exposure to their heritage language, and predominantly speak English. The second group (Group 2) consists of parents who immigrated to Canada in their adulthood from Mainland China, Taiwan or Hong Kong, speak one or more of a variety of Chinese languages, and learned to speak English as an additional language. Beginning with the theoretical framework that perceives language practice as the outcome of the interrelation between socio-historical distributions of capital and the dispositions of individuals that are shaped and reshaped in their situated field (Bourdieu, 1991), this study captures CHL along multiple timescales (Braudel, 1958/2009) to understand the long term historical continuities of Chinese language education in a city shaped by colonial language hierarchies. The parents’ narratives show that despite the increasing popularity of learning Chinese and the rise of the Chinese economy, the challenges of CHL education have largely remained the same over decades. This study argues that English monolingualism as a foundational property in Canada is the root of the problem for CHL education and Chinese language programs in public schools, not the “increasing” presence of Chinese. As long as the unmarkedness of English today is (mis)recognized as natural and neutral, the markedness of Chinese as social other will still remain.

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