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Low Mai Yen (Sunway University)
Abstract ID: 325
Topic: Language, community, ethnicity
General Session Papers
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Different Chinese varieties were used among the different linguistic groups for cultural identity and kinship ties (Sim, 2012) during the Chinese diasporas in South East Asia in the early 1900’s. Thus, the initial Hubei migrants to Malaya spoke the Tianmen/Hubei dialect for cultural identity. However, multilingualism in the society has impacted the language choice and language maintenance of the heritage language in the Hubei families in Malaysia. Data obtained from forty-five respondents based on a questionnaire adapted from Coluzzi, Riget & Wang (2013) and an interview indicated a shift in the use of the mother tongue to other languages in the home, social and socio-cultural domains. Lamentably, there is a loss of inter-generational transmission of the language as the Hubei community in Malaysia is progressively losing members of the older generation who are the authentic native speakers of the heritage language.

This paper reports on the challenges of maintaining the use of Hubei among members of a Hubei family across three generations. Romaine (1995) declares that some of the factors that affect the maintenance, shift or death of a language are the size of the group in relation to other speech communities, the extent of exogamous marriage, attitudes of majority and minority speech communities and patterns of language use. Data obtained from forty Hubei family members from three generations reveal that the home ecology is susceptible to influence from other domains if a language shift away from the home language is permitted (Spolsky, 2007). The findings from the questionnaire and interview indicate negative language attitudes towards the heritage language in a multilingual environment. Therefore, this study highlights the challenges of maintaining a minority language in the home amidst a multicultural and multilingual environment.


Coluzzi, P., Riget, N. & Wang, X. (2013). Language Vitality among the Bidayuh of Sarawak (East Malaysia). Oceanic Linguistics. 52 (2), 375-395.

Romaine, S. (1995). Bilingualism. 2nd ed. Oxford, UK: Blackwell.

Sim, T. W. (2012). Why are the native languages of the Chinese Malaysians in decline? Taiwanese Language Studies, 1, 62–95. Retrieved from http://www.academia.edu/1520810/Why_are_the_Native_Languages_of_the_Chinese_Malaysians_in_Decline?

Spolsky, B. (2007). Towards a theory of language policy. Working Papers in Educational Linguistic. 22 (1), 1-14.

Keywords: minority language, language shift, language maintenance