Language standards and attitudes in multilingual China: A case study of Ningbo

Author: Hui Zhao (Nottingham University)
Speaker: Hui Zhao
Topic: Language ideologies
The (SCOPUS / ISI) SOAS GLOCAL CALA 2019 General Session


With its rapid economic development, China has become more and more multilingual in the 21 st century. But research on languages, communities, and identities in contemporary Chinese society is still severely under-developed (cf. Liang, 2015; Xiao, 2007). In this paper, I investigate young adults’ attitudes to different languages/varieties, and how they co-exist with the state’s language ideology and policies in Ningbo in Eastern China, where the economic impact has brought remarkable social and linguistic changes. The goal is to understand what language standards exist in China and how younger generations (aged 18-28) perceive these ideologies in a fast-changing multilingual society.

Based on a wider project investigating language use and attitudes in China, the paper will draw on data collected from 20 university students based at universities in Ningbo through interviews and questionnaires. The participants are locally-born Ningbonese and their perception of Putonghua, local vernacular dialect (Wu dialect), and English are analysed, focusing on their general attitudes towards each variety. Using a mixed-method design, I also examine public and media discourse on language use, especially dialect use, government policies, and the linguistic landscape of Ningbo city to provide a fuller understanding of the current situation. Qualitative analysis on the data obtained from ethnographic fieldwork will show how these students, who live in a trilingual environment within a largely monolingual country, perceive the rigid language policies of China and use different language varieties to negotiate and construct their identity as local residents and competent users of the standard language. This research contributes to the understanding of language policies, ideology and attitudes in China, and bridges several subdisciplines by drawing from different data sources.


Liang, S. (2015). Language Attitudes and Identities in Multilingual China: A Linguistic Ethnography.
Springer International Publishing.

Xiao, J. (2007). Putonghua zhongjieyu yanjiu shuping [A review on Putonghua-based Interlanguages]. Journal of Yunyang Teachers College, 27(2), 119–122.

Keywords: China, Language planning, Language policy, Ningbo, Putonghua