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The Social Origins of Language

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Presents a new theoretical framework for the origins of human language and sets key issues in language evolution in their wider context within biological and cultural evolution


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Dissertation Information


Title: Language, Politics and Identity: The Making of a Taiwanese Language Add Dissertation
Author: Loretta Tam Update Dissertation
Email: click here to access email
Homepage: http://hku-hk.academia.edu/LorettaTam
Degree Awarded: Chinese University of Hong Kong , Department of Anthropology
Completed in:
2012
Linguistic Subfield(s): Anthropological Linguistics
Subject Language(s): Chinese, Min Nan
Language Family(ies): Sino-Tibetan
Director(s): Chee-Beng Tan

Abstract: This doctoral thesis looks into the government-led language revitalization campaign in Taiwan with special reference to the case of Hokkien, one of the “ben sheng” (local) vernaculars with Han Chinese roots, in terms of language rights, ethnogenesis, and cultural legitimacy. Tracing the rise and development of concepts such as cultural heritage, ethnic identity and democracy in the region, the focus is placed on the recent changes in Taiwan’s language ideology and the intricate emergence of Hokkien as one of the “national” languages and symbols apart from the official language i.e. Mandarin Chinese.


Against the backdrop where contesting discourses on language and culture discourses co-exist and crossbreed with each other, there are a number of closely-related issues that this thesis examines in particular: (1) the ways in which language choices are made and perceived in various contexts; (2) implications of such language choices as related to one’s cultural identities; (3) the role of language politics in self and group identification and ethnic classification in Taiwan; (4) the power dynamics in various socio-cultural spheres; and (5) the resulting competition of multiple speech groups in Taiwan for authenticity, legitimacy and superiority in the political arena by means of reconstruction and reinvention of ethnic languages and traditions.


The findings reveal that despite the practical relevance of Bakhtin’s theory of heteroglossia to Taiwan’s current ethnogenesis against the backdrop of multilingualism and multiculturalism, the political connections between the cultural plurality promoted by the government and the covert competition amongst various stakeholders are better understood in terms of Bourdieu’s theory of cultural reproduction and Foucault’s framework of power-knowledge. Language revitalization in Taiwan is thus an act of both empowerment and control, and a symbol of the mutual toleration and the cultural ambiguity that means to be used for contrasting with the old hegemonies’ conservatism by the current ruling power.