Space, scale and languages: identity construction of cross-boundary students in a multilingual university in Hong Kong
The article to be reviewed is titled “Space, scale and languages: identity construction of cross-boundary students in a multilingual university in Hong Kong”, and was written by Mingyue Michelle Gu and Ho Kin Tong. The article draws on the ideas of scale and space while investigating identity construction among a group of mainland Chinese cross-boundary students. The authors accomplish this by exploring their choices of language and linguistic characteristics in a multilingual university locate in Hong Kong. The authors endeavor to explain how the movements by these students across spaces produced differing index values concerning languages and impacts how they use language, which becomes symbolic of people and the identity of their groups. The authors show that the principles developed by the students in their places of origin could be influential of their identity construction and peer communication within the university. The article finally shows that the students take advantage of their multi-lingual capabilities to demonstrate multi-layered identities and to be accepted within their social circles (Li, 1995).
An increasing number of researches have attempted to explore the linguistic forms and identity constructions of both international and local migrants. The researches have basically paid attention to (1) revealing the connections between features of language choice and code-switching among various groups belonging to the same community; (2) exploring the characteristics as well as identity negotiation of bilingual individuals returning from abroad; and (3) investigating the micro-differences of linguistic forms of domestic migrants. Thus far, not much focus has been directed to exploring the linguistic characteristics of learners who move into sibling circumstances for academic purposes, for instance, Chinese students from the mainland pursuing tertiary studies in bilingual colleges in Hong Kong. Consequently, the authors indicate that there is a need to improve and enrich people’s understanding the educational encounters and socialization practices of cross-border students in universities in host nations (Chen, 2008).
The study conducted by the authors is an extension of a bigger project exploring the linguistic ecology of a multilingual university based in Hong Kong. The study relied on previous theories of sociological scales as well as spatial investigation, to examine the way movement through spaces has impacted the linguistic practices of a collection of Chinese cross-border students from the mainland. It also explored the fundamental reasons for those observations and the identities resulting from them. The research primarily drew from the perceptions of students from mainland China and Hong Kong, who make up the largest majority of students in Hong Kong universities, with international learning providing additional views.
The authors examine the way students apply linguistic patterns to establish their identities and to negotiate borders inside and among peer groups. The research relies on data collected from field surveys done within a single semester in a multinational college located in Hong Kong. The institution is the only one in Hong Kong devoted mainly to professional teacher learning. It has a population of approximately 7000 students, 94% of whom are from Hong Kong, about 5% from the mainland while the remaining come from overseas. Data was collected by conducting individual interviews, target group interviews, and audio recorded while holding group discussions, and through observations. Twenty students were interviewed with the assistance of a semi-structured interview form while recording the students’ opinions on various languages, interactions within groups, and cross-group encounters within the campus. Five target group interview were done to examine any distinct or unique information that came up in the course of the interviews and to establish and ascertain developing issues. The follow-ups enabled the authors to gain a deeper and wider understanding of the groups (Williams, 2008).
Observational data plays a significant role in the comprehension of the practical use of languages in the construction of identity and the formation of groups and are used by the authors to ascertain or refute claims made by the students during the interviews. Though the main focus of the research is not the observations and the audio recordings of interactions of the participants from Hong Kong and mainland China, offer a record of real multicultural interactions between students and, therefore, add to the available data. The authors recorded four sessions of class observations involving students from mainland China and Hong Kong, with each lasting about ten minutes in length.
According to the results obtained by the researchers, scaling processes provide the language with various indexical values that consequently give meanings to languages, users, and positional activities. For instance, Putonghua is the language mainly used in public places and for social mobility in mainland China. On the other hand, the language is considered a peripheral one associated with rural, uncultured identity by the collection of university learners who have a lower competency in Putonghua compared to that of mainland students from China. Therefore, competence in Putonghua, one of mainland Chinese students’ most valuable emblematic resources, in of low value in their new social setting, a process described by Bourdieu (1990) as ‘misrecognition’. The data examination also recommends that the students embrace contradictory bivalent positions towards languages and language orators. For instance, mainland learners find Cantonese valuable for its role in socializing in Hong Kong, nonetheless still considered a non-urban language. These same learners have a weakness when it comes to Cantonese, they perceive that they have a cultural advantage because of their mainland upbringing and having had instructive experiences in both regions (Willoughby, 2009).
In a similar fashion, Hong Kong learners situate themselves relative to Putonghua and Putonghua languages within inter-related, if somehow inconsistent stances. On the one hand, they uphold their cultural and societal advantage by establishing some distance through an ‘othering’ procedure that portrays Putonghua speakers as a standardized, lesser group and central China as a regular, lower place. Conversely, they acknowledge Putonghua’s rising emblematic international status and have a mark of unity with both languages. Students from both Hong Kong and the mainland follow standards and rules conditioned in their places of origin and maintain stereotypical perceptions of their colleagues that hinder free interactions, openness to variations and rebuilding of the environment. In a multi-lingual environment, there would be the possibility for effective communication if people with different linguistic and cultural circumstances were able to assess events on the basis of not only their individual exemplified history and biased positions, but also on those of different groups. Having a peripheral position in Hong Kong, mainland learners are occasionally effectively silenced by their accented Cantonese and their unfamiliarity with the location. In spite of this, they overcome these challenges by using their own several languages (Willoughby, 2009).
CritiqueThe authors examined identity construction among Chinese students from the mainland studying in Hong Kong, from the viewpoints of both the Chinese students from the mainland and their colleagues from Hong Kong, with additional observations from overseas students. The article is quite informative and was deeply researched with the right number of participations, whose conclusions could be comfortably generalized to the entire population. The researchers additionally recommended the areas that they perceive to be in need of further research while highlighting the implications of the study. They further used the most appropriate methods of data collection, through the use of individual interviews, group interview, audio-recordings of group discussions and observations. The article is properly arranged beginning with an abstract, an introduction, methodology, discussion, and finally conclusion.
The authors were able to identify an opposition between the identity of mainland Chinese students and that of Hong Kong students. The authors indicate that additional research is required to examine how the social and political past of the two regions have contributed to the negative relations between the two groups and ways of overcoming the negative relationship and repaired through the recognition of legitimate differences. The authors point out that it is worth noting that the participants in the research were all enlisted from the departments of English and Chinese, who are likely to hold diverse language perceptions and varying linguistic practices from the other students. The authors recommend that that would be an area for future studies, which is also required to examine how to permit and motivate students to take advantage of the multilingual nature of the university to open up learning opportunities. The research would also explain how to use various languages and social tendencies to uphold cultural diversity at a time of globalization.
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