Hoisan-wa reclaimed: Chinese American language maintenance and language ideology in historical and contemporary sociolinguistic perspective

Genevieve Yuek-Ling Leung, University of Pennsylvania


This dissertation looks at the language and cultural maintenance efforts of a specific heritage of Chinese Americans: Hoisan-wa heritage people. Hoisan-wa is one of the languages linking nearly all early Chinese immigrants in the U.S., and its speakers have important histories to be brought forward, as their language backgrounds have not only been slowly erased by other Chineses' existence in the U.S. (e.g. Standard Cantonese and Mandarin) but they have also been perpetually omitted in research for the last 150 years. Informed by a language ideology framework, this interview-based qualitative study addresses the circulation and contextualization of language ideologies about Hoisan-wa across generations and the impact these evolving ideologies have on the prospects for the Chinese American family in maintaining Hoisan-wa. Data come from sociolinguistic interviews with 93 Hoisan heritage people aged 8–97. Along with questions about use of different Chinese languages and English across domains, participants discussed issues of language maintenance, including ways Hoisan-wa is used in the family, intergenerational communication, and perceived challenges in using and keeping Hoisan-wa. I first present the statistical findings from the domain analysis. Then, I complicate these findings by presenting discourses about Hoisan-wa across the generations, providing specific discourses that deal squarely with language and the family. I also explore how humor and laughter that was manifested among many interviewees serve as a counter-hegemonic, positive affective stance towards Hoisan-wa and Hoisan heritage. While domain analysis of self-reported language choice across three generations suggests language shift, despite ongoing changes in context of use and esteem, Hoisan-wa is still significant in ways that have diverged across generations, thus making it possible to find ideological and implementational spaces (cf. Hornberger, 2005) wherein Hoisan language and the unique Chinese American history associated with Hoisan heritage people can be shared and transmitted. Understanding these local-level processes has implications for how speakers of Hoisan-wa and other minoritized languages can bring their languages forward into modern and relevant contexts.

Subject Area

Bilingual education|Linguistics|Language

Recommended Citation

Leung, Genevieve Yuek-Ling, "Hoisan-wa reclaimed: Chinese American language maintenance and language ideology in historical and contemporary sociolinguistic perspective" (2012). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI3542824.