Naxi, Chinese and English

By September 12, 2012News

Bilingual signage in Lijiang: Dongba pictograms are in the blue banners (Source: Wikipedia)

The next seminar of the 2012 series of Applied Linguistics seminars at Macquarie University will be held on Tuesday, September 18:

Naxi, Chinese and English: Multilingualism in Lijiang

When: Tue 18/09, 1:00-2:00pm; Where: W5C 221

Presenter: Hongyan Yang, Macquarie University and Yunnan University of Nationalities

Abstract: This study examines language learning and language use among the Naxi, one of the 55 officially-recognized ethnic minorities in China. The majority of Naxi reside in Lijiang, Yunnan Province, Southwest China, a city which is attracting considerable domestic and international interest due to its UNESCO World Heritage status. This thesis attempts to situate multilingual language learning and use among the Naxi within the broader socio-political and economic contexts of Lijiang, contemporary China and global tourism.

This study employs a qualitative methodology to examine the relationship between the learning and use of the Naxi, Chinese and English languages as they are mediated by local beliefs and practices, state language policies and a rapidly globalizing economy. Specifically, the study draws on three sets of data to present a holistic picture of multilingual language learning and use: (1) language policy documents and government reports related to the learning and promotion of the Naxi, Chinese and English languages; (2) individual and group interviews conducted with 46 individuals in Lijiang and two other cities in Yunnan province between 2009 and 2010; (3) the interviews were complemented by participant observation in language classes at different levels of education from primary to tertiary.

The findings reveal that learning and use of Naxi, Chinese and English in Lijiang is embedded in a range of complex local, national and global factors. Although the statuses of all three languages have been legislated, the actual use of Naxi, Chinese and English in Lijiang, as well as the beliefs about these languages, is embedded in the ways in which they are used in schools and in the burgeoning tourism industry. The prevalent belief in Lijiang is that Chinese and English constitute a form of linguistic capital which enables individual, socio-economic mobility whereas Naxi is mostly seen as of symbolic value, tied to Naxi ethnic heritage and identity, and thus of limited socio-economic value.

However, these beliefs do not translate into straightforward language use practices. For most of the ethnic Naxi interviewed, Naxi is still the main language of the home and community and a marker of their ethnic identity. The relatively higher status of Chinese and English, by contrast, does not always translate into high levels of language use. These two languages are in the main restricted to the educational domain and to interaction with non-Naxi, particularly in the tourism industry.

Author Lg_on_the_move

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  • An interesting topic indeed.

    I would love to see a more thorough comparison between Chinese and English. If Naxi is to face any danger in the future, will that danger come from Chinese or English?
    What is the role of development in bringing the Naxi in contact with other residents of Lijiang City? And can that contact have a sociolinguistic impact on the Naxi in the long term?