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Dynamics of Language Contact in China: Ethnolinguistic Diversity and Variation in Yunnan.

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Title:Dynamics of Language Contact in China: Ethnolinguistic Diversity and Variation in Yunnan.
Authors:Gao, Katie B.
Contributors:Linguistics (department)
Keywords:Language Contact
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Date Issued:May 2017
Publisher:University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa
Abstract:The study of language contact epitomizes the dynamics of language as a system of human communication.
The competing linguistic forces at work when speakers of different language varieties
come into contact can be narrowed down to two basic concepts––convergence and divergence.
Looking at linguistic areas using a macro approach, languages in contact tend to show convergence
across all structural levels through diffusion and borrowing, but nevertheless, linguistic
diversity persists in regions of high interethnic language contact. Ethnicity often plays a significant
role in constructing identity, therefore a speaker’s linguistic choices can reflect ethnic identity
and intergroup relations. Because these processes occur in and as a result of complex societies,
“studies of interethnic language contact must begin by understanding the context in which speakers
in a community construct their own ethnicity, as well as the ideologies that affect how they
view other groups” (Fought 2013: 395). Southwest China is a particularly interesting region for
language contact research because high levels of ethnolinguistic diversity in remote areas perpetuates
traditional interethnic contact relations while these same groups are also currently under
social and economic pressure to assimilate to mainstream Chinese society.
This dissertation describes the social context of language contact in Yunnan Province’s Wuding
County, an under-researched mountainous county with more than half of the population classified
as non-Han ethnic minorities. Speakers of at least eight Ngwi varieties (Lolo-Burmese, Tibeto-
Burman), two Hmong varieties, and one Tai variety are represented in villages across the county,
although speaker numbers are diminishing due to widespread shift to Mandarin Chinese. This
dissertation presents original ethnolinguistic maps of the distribution of ethnic minority villages
in the county followed by two localized studies of interethnic contact scenarios in a Yi village area.
A demographic survey of reported language proficiency in Miqie and Geipo households illustrates
the role of access and geographic location in the rate of language shift to Mandarin; while the
second study discusses the role of ethnic identity in persisting Miqie and Geipo language variation
in intermarried households in the same village area. These studies highlight the dynamic social
context in which language is used and changes for constructing identity and improving social
mobility for speakers of languages facing endangerment in a rapidly changing society.
Description:Ph.D. Thesis. University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa 2017.
Rights:All UHM dissertations and theses are protected by copyright. They may be viewed from this source for any purpose, but reproduction or distribution in any format is prohibited without written permission from the copyright owner.
Appears in Collections: Ph.D. - Linguistics

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