Language maintenance among Cantonese migrants in Brisbane

Au-Yeung, Kai Yin Gigi (2011). Language maintenance among Cantonese migrants in Brisbane MPhil Thesis, School of Languages and Comp Cultural Studies, The University of Queensland.

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Author Au-Yeung, Kai Yin Gigi
Thesis Title Language maintenance among Cantonese migrants in Brisbane
School, Centre or Institute School of Languages and Comp Cultural Studies
Institution The University of Queensland
Publication date 2011-05
Thesis type MPhil Thesis
Supervisor Ilana Mushin
Tiina Lammervo
Total pages 214
Total black and white pages 214
Language eng
Subjects 20 Language, Communication and Culture
Formatted abstract
This thesis reports on a study regarding the language maintenance of Cantonese migrants in Brisbane, Australia. It was conducted in order to develop a better understanding of language maintenance and shift in this community. This study investigates the factors that may affect the ways Cantonese migrants use the Cantonese language, and investigates their attitudes towards Cantonese and what is happening to the language in Australia. Specifically, this study addresses the following four research questions:
1.What are the language use patterns, language choice preferences, and Cantonese language abilities of first- and second-generation Cantonese migrants living in Brisbane?
2.To what extent does it seem that Cantonese is being maintained in Brisbane, despite the pressure of the two world languages: English and Mandarin?
3.In what contexts is Cantonese being maintained? Where is it more likely to be shifted?
4.Are there signs that Cantonese is being replaced by Mandarin? (cf Clyne & Kipp 2006).

Through the use of sociolinguistic questionnaires, focus groups and individual interviews, participants’ language use and preference in the home domain, the friendship domain, the church domain and the media domain, participants’ self-assessed community language proficiency, and their attitudes towards language maintenance were investigated.

Participants were either first or second generation migrants residing in Brisbane, ranging from 18 years to around 70 years old. Most of the first generation were migrants from Hong Kong.

Four main findings emerged from the results of questionnaries, focus groups and individual interviews. Firstly, a clear generational language shift from Cantonese to English in the second generation and among participants who migrated to Australia as children was found in the Brisbane community. This generational language shift was found to be more rapid outside the family domain, i.e. the friendship domain, the church domain and the media domain. Second generation participants and those who migrated as children in general reported using and preferring the use of English or Cantonese and English. They also showed a lower self- confidence in reporting Cantonese proficiency than those who migrated at an older age.

Secondly, home and cultural identity were found to be major factors contributing to language maintenance. Cantonese is primarily viewed as a “home” language. That is, it is viewed as a language to speak with one’s family and as an identity marker. This was reflected in the high number of participants who reported using and preferring the use of Cantonese in the family, and the strong support of “Communicate with friends and relatives”, “To retain one’s identity” and “To participate in the culture of the country of origin” as reasons for language maintenance among participants.

Thirdly, Cantonese is viewed as having low marketplace value by Brisbane Cantonese migrants. This lies behind the consistent reporting of Cantonese as having low marketplace value in Australia by the participants of this study. The low marketplace value of Cantonese support the language shift from Cantonese to English among Brisbane Cantonese migrants. In addition, the results showed that Mandarin is viewed as having high value among the Chinese varieties. This promotes the desire for Cantonese background people to learn Mandarin as a Chinese language. However, the results showed no sign that Mandarin is taking the place of Cantonese.

Finally, three institutions were found to play a role in maintaining Cantonese in the Brisbane community: community language school (Sacred Heart Chinese School), trilingual churches (Brisbane Chinese Alliance Church, Chinese Catholic Community of Brisbane, and Toowong Baptist Church) and Cantonese media. Results showed that community language school plays a supportive role in Cantonese language maintenance by providing formal training, especially literacy training to second generation speakers. Trilingual churches in community language were also found to be supportive in language maintenance, although not as much as the community schools. Cantonese media was also found to be a powerful source in providing contacts with the Cantonese language to the community. It therefore plays a supportive role in the Cantonese language maintenance. However, this only restricted to visual media like TV programs and videos. Print media was found to be playing a less important role in language maintenance among second generation speakers and those who migrated at a young age, as the Chinese reading rate was found to be very low among these speakers.

In conclusion, because it has a low marketplace value and is largely restricted to the use with family members, Cantonese in Brisbane appears to be at risk of facing a rapid generational language shift. In addition, as the speakers see no demand for Cantonese in the mainstream society, the communicative need of Cantonese in family communications, identity and culture maintenance have become the most important motivations that support the maintenance of the language. However, these motivations alone are insufficient for Cantonese to prevail as a community language as future generations continue to assimilate to mainstream Australian culture, including shifting to Australian English.
Keyword Linguistics
Language maintenance
Language shift
Language contact

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Created: Thu, 06 Oct 2011, 02:00:37 EST by Miss Kai Yin Gigi Au Yeung on behalf of Library - Information Access Service