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UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Motivation of Mandarin speakers learning Cantonese in a transnational context : multilingualism and investment Li, Shuang


Globalization has intensified the cross-border mobility of people and languages, which contributes to the number of transnationals and the prevalence of multilingualism. Mandarin and Cantonese are two Chinese varieties and the competition between them has been transported from primarily Chinese-speaking regions to regions outside of Greater China, thereby creating an international issue among these transnational language users. In some overseas Chinese communities, Cantonese used to be the lingua franca but is currently declining and being replaced by Mandarin due to political, economic, cultural, and demographic factors. However, there is a new generation of Mandarin speakers interested in learning Cantonese in some English-dominant locations, such as Vancouver, Canada. In general, Mandarin is the sole official language in Mainland China and Cantonese is defined as a dialect, but this positioning is problematized in different contexts. This thesis will focus on one transnational context to explore the motivation of official-language (Mandarin) speakers to learn a value-declining regional language (Cantonese) in English-dominant Canada. The construct of motivation has been carefully scrutinized in the field of second language acquisition (SLA) in the past decades, but I find there is a huge gap between the research on motivation to learn English and languages other than English (LOTEs). This thesis examines if the English monopoly on motivational theories can be generalized to explain Cantonese learning behaviors among a transnational group of students in a transnational context. Through examining the Cantonese learning process of 61 Mandarin speakers in a Canadian university in both quantitative and qualitative ways, the study reveals that idealized multilingual identities play a significant role in motivating students to pick up Cantonese. Integrative motivation alone fails to capture the motivational features of the Cantonese learners in this study but instrumental motivation together with other intrinsic and extrinsic factors are still functional. Based on this study, instructors should recognize students’ transnational practices and global identities as resources to develop their multi-competence. Another prominent recommendation concerns the availability of formal language education in languages such as Cantonese, which supports the expansion of Cantonese language provision.

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