Cultural identity and code-switching among immigrant Chinese students, parents and teachers

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Language may be used to communicate, learn, and express identity. Adopting Chinese schools as a focal point, this dissertation explored how Chinese-Canadians establish their cultural identity through code-switching. This dissertation was guided by four research questions: (1) How is the prevalence of code-switching among Chinese teachers, parents and students at home and school? (2) How do the teachers, parents and students perceive and compare the communicative, learning and identity-reflective functions of language? (3) How do they form their cultural identity through language use and code-switching? (4) What do they understand as, the relationship between language use/code-switching and identity formation? Several types of data were gathered: Three Canadian specialists in Chinese language education were interviewed; 203 students were recruited from six Chinese language schools in Greater Vancouver to answer a structured questionnaire; eight triplets of parents, teachers and students participated in class observations, home visits, and group discussions; and data were gathered from students’ self tape-recording, written logs and instant messages. It was found that the students did the most between-turns code-switching, while the parents did less and the teachers did the least amount of code-switching. Most participants considered the communicative function of language the most important, the learning function less important and the identity-reflective function the least important. Some participants suggested that language may serve different functions simultaneously. I proposed that identity formation is dynamic and multi-faceted. The questionnaire results indicated that most students were proud of their Chinese cultural identity although the parents and teachers thought that the students were not mature enough to understand the real meaning of identity. Most participants thought that no direct relationship was between language use and identity formation because people can use a second language to reflect or form their cultural identity. However, from a broad perspective, a close relationship does exist because people can use any language to reflect their cultural identity.
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