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Goh, Yeng Seng
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With China’s re-emergence as a global political and economic power, accompanied by a rapid global spread of Mandarin Chinese, there is a growing interest in the study of language use, proficiency and identity among ethnic Chinese in overseas communities worldwide. Singapore, as the only country with a majority ethnic Chinese population outside China, provides a unique case study.

Over the years, the dominance of English as the working language in Singapore and a medium of instruction under the bilingual education policy has gradually impacted language use and proficiency within the Chinese community in Singapore. The purpose of this study is twofold, firstly, to examine the relationships among Chinese language use, proficiency, and ethnic identity in third generation young ethnic Chinese adults (aged 21-30 years) who are born, raised, and educated in Singapore; secondly, to investigate whether the growing global influence of China and global development of Mandarin Chinese have an impact on third generation ethnic Chinese’s perspectives on Chinese language and ethnic identity.

The study adopts an explanatory mixed methods approach to combine and integrate quantitative and qualitative methods. The initial quantitative phase seeks to examine if language shift in bilingualism among the third generation ethnic Chinese is parallel to a shift in identity. The subsequent qualitative phase investigates whether their willingness to improve Chinese language proficiency is to enhance their ethnic identity due to China’s re-emergence as a global power. Analysis of the data drawn from 159 survey responses in the quantitative phase shows that Chinese language proficiency, but not language use, is positively correlated with ethnic Chinese identity among the young third generation ethnic Chinese adults. As products of the English-dominant bilingual education system, their language dominance in English has resulted in a shift in self-identity from ethnic Chinese to Singaporean identity. The qualitative phase of the study adopts semi-structure interviews with six participants. It reveals that the growing influence of China does not have a significant positive impact on their ethnic self-identity, but on their willingness to improve Chinese language skills so as to acquire more linguistic capital to gain access to the global job market.

The study offers significant contributions to the existing literature. The relationship between Chinese as a heritage language and ethnic identity has gained more attention in North America and Australia. However, little or no similar research is conducted in other parts of the world. This study is the first attempt to conduct a systemic study on the relationship between language and identity among ethnic Chinese in Singapore, with a specific focus on young third generation adults. In term of terminology, having taken Singapore’s sociopolitical and educational context into consideration, the study has redefined “generational cohorts” as linguistic generation based on one’s family member’s education in his/her mother tongue/heritage language. The theoretical contribution of the study is that it proposes the dual function of Chinese, as both a heritage language and an international language, and provides fresh perspectives to the different approaches in the teaching and learning of Chinese language in Singapore and overseas Chinese communities worldwide.




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Call Number: 
PL1068.S55 Fon
Appears in Collections:Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

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