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Thai in Diaspora: Language and Identity in Los Angeles, California

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Item Summary

Title:Thai in Diaspora: Language and Identity in Los Angeles, California
Authors:Thepboriruk, Kanjana
ethnic identity
Date Issued:Aug 2015
Publisher:[Honolulu] : [University of Hawaii at Manoa], [August 2015]
Abstract:Over 200,000 people self-reported as Thai in the last nation-wide US Census, a nearly 60% increase from the previous decade. Los Angeles has the largest concentration of Thais outside of Thailand, with local organizations estimating up to 80,000 Thais living in LA County. This study is the first examination of Thai language and identity in the diaspora. The study is in two parts: first, a phonetic analysis and second, a discourse analysis. The phonetic analysis is a four-way comparison of Thai lexical tones in mother-daughter pairs in LA and Bangkok (BKK) with data collected from wordlist readings. Studies have determined lexical tones to be salient markers for linguistic innovation in younger BKK speakers (Panroj 1990, Teeranon 2007, Thepboriruk 2010). Results show that BKK mothers and daughters have differences in tone pitch range, location of pitch peaks, and pitch heights of the tone onsets and offsets. Tones for LA daughters, however, more closely resemble the tones for LA mothers, with similar pitch range, pitch differences, and with the pitch peaks occurring at approximately the same places in the tone duration. BKK mothers and daughters have the expected generational differences in their tones that were not found in the LA group.
The LA group is more linguistically conservative when compared with their peers in Thailand with the LA teen speakers not serving as the linguistic innovators in their Thaispeaking community. The second part of the study is a discourse analysis of the linguistic stances taken by LA teen speakers during personal interviews, more specifically, their choice of pronouns when referring to the Thai people and community. LA teens take three types of stance: 1) alignment where the speaker shows psychological proximity by using ‘we’ when referring to the Thai community; 2) disalignment where the speaker shows psychological distance by using ‘they’ when referring to the Thai community; and 3) double disalignment where the speaker shows psychological distance from both Thais and Americans by using ‘they’ or the null pronoun form to refer to both groups. The double disalignment stance is taken, for example, when the speaker makes comparisons between Thais and Americans. The tonal conservatism found in LA teens can be attributed to both the importance of linguistic proficiency in their ethnic identity construction and their linguistic role models who are the community elders, particularly their mothers; whereas the teens in BKK do not model their speech after their elders. In conclusion, the tonal conservatism in the LA community is a phonetic reflection of the overall efforts by the LA speakers, particularly the teens, to construct their Thai identity and maintain membership in the Thai diaspora.
Description:Ph.D. University of Hawaii at Manoa 2015.
Includes bibliographical references.
Appears in Collections: Ph.D. - Linguistics

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