Encompassing Language and Religion in Burmese Transnational Identities

Author: Chu Paing (University of Colorado at Boulder)
Speaker: Chu Paing
Topic: Linguistic Anthropology
The (SCOPUS / ISI) SOAS GLOCAL CALA 2019 General Session


This paper explores linguistic adaptation and resistance among Bama (majority ethnic group) and ethnic-Chinese immigrant families from Myanmar, whose first language is Burmese, currently residing in New York City. Although all adult participants contribute positive attitudes towards maintaining Burmese, their family language practices reflect otherwise. Whilst there are more specific terms in formal Burmese to refer to religion (bāthātaya) and language (bāthāzaga), the black-clipped formbāthāis used to refer to both religion and language in colloquial Burmese. The historically, culturally, and linguistically ambiguous termbāthāreferencing both language and religion impacts my participants’ language ideologies and practices towards teaching Burmese in their households. The participants struggle with maintaining their languages due to the intertwining ideologies around language and religion. However, such ideologies assist them in successfully compromising between having to assimilate fully into mainstream American society and maintaining their heritage roots. Rather than highlighting the onset of language shift among my participant-families, I argue that they are successfully able to construct transnational, multifaceted, and hyphenated identities as Burmese-Bama-Buddhist-Americans by applying the ambiguous concept of bāthā in the process of heritage language maintenance.

Keywords: Burma, Bama, Colloquialism, Religion, Assimiliation