Mandarin Chinese Heritage Language Maintenance among Mandarin-English Bi/multilingual Children in Saskatchewan
So far, there have been no significant studies in Canada or Saskatchewan that examine sociolinguistic factors (such as language attitude, language use, and language exposure) as well as a factor of age vis-à-vis heritage (Mandarin) language proficiency among Mandarin-English bi/multilingual children. Mandarin has prestige in China as the language of education and government, and the number of Mandarin speakers in Canada is increasing. However, more people in Saskatchewan speak Cantonese and Chinese dialects other than Mandarin. Thus, this study examines the Mandarin language proficiency of the bi/multilingual children from Chinese-speaking immigrant families in Saskatchewan, a province with a small demographic group of Mandarin language speakers and very little support for its maintenance as compared with other provinces, such as British Columbia and Ontario. In addition, this study explores what sociolinguistic factors contribute to Chinese immigrant children’s language proficiency in these settings. The relationship between language proficiency and sociolinguistic factors was investigated via the framework of Variationist Sociolinguistics. An audio-recorded narrative task was adopted to assess bi/multilingual (Saskatchewan) and monolingual (in China) children’s oral Mandarin language proficiency. Objective linguistic proficiency parameters (vocabulary size, syntactic complexity, and fluency) were extracted from the sound records and compared bi/multilingual and monolingual children. Questionnaires and interviews were conducted to assess parents’ and children’s language attitudes and language use, and the children’s language exposure in the home and social domains. Finally, statistical relationships were performed between contextual sociolinguistic factors and language proficiency parameters. This study has shown that bi/multilingual children are overall successful in learning and maintaining Mandarin as a heritage language in Saskatchewan. While some of the critical results suggest that attending community-run Chinese heritage language schools plays an essential role in learning Mandarin, the most crucial indicator of Mandarin heritage language acquisition and maintenance is the positive attitudes of the parents towards the Mandarin as a heritage language. Of equal (if not greater) importance are their efforts to create a supportive and consistent home language environment, and to provide sufficient and varied (in terms of quality and quantity) Mandarin language input within the home and family. Since the Mandarin language is core to Chinese culture, this research offers recommendations to the Ministry of Education, Public School Boards, and the University of Saskatchewan and Regina to promote Mandarin as a foreign language and as a heritage language. This would contribute to sound bilingualism among Mandarin heritage speakers and facilitate heritage language learning, acquisition, maintenance, and development.
Mandarin Chinese, Bi/multilingual Children, Heritage Language Maintenance, Saskatchewan
Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)