Which Chinese? Dialect Choice in Philadelphia’s Chinatown

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Title: Which Chinese? Dialect Choice in Philadelphia’s Chinatown
Author: Yum, Cherry
Advisor: Fernald, Theodore B.; Napoli, Donna Jo, 1948-
Department: Swarthmore College. Dept. of Linguistics
Type: Thesis (B.A.)
Issue Date: 2008
Abstract: Immigrant communities such as Chinatowns have been primary sites for research on language maintenance and language shift. While there are many theories modeling the relationship between the mother tongues of immigrants and the dominant language in the host country, the dynamics of the languages within the immigrant communities is often not as clear. In recent years, the use of Mandarin Chinese is observed to be on the rise, displacing Cantonese Chinese and other Chinese dialects in China, Taiwan, and overseas Chinese communities. What might be the factors that lead occupants of Chinatowns to adopt one Chinese dialect over another? In this paper, we examine possible causes of this trend by analyzing political, economic, social, and cultural factors that affect language choice. Specifically, we study the situation of Cantonese, Mandarin, and English in Philadelphia’s Chinatown, which is a typical mid-size overseas Chinese community in the US and faces similar changes as other Chinatowns. We discuss how language outcome is affected by the language status of the dialects, the policies of the US, the language maintenance institutions in Chinatown, and the tension between traditional culture and assimilation. Due to the scope of this paper, it is not possible to evaluate the relative strengths of the factors identified in this paper. However, it might be a beginning point for further research in this area, and we hope to at least bring to focus the general language scene of a part of American society that can sometimes be overlooked.
Subject: Mandarin dialects -- Pennsylvania -- Philadelphia
Subject: Chinese language -- Dialects -- Pennsylvania -- Philadelphia
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Yum, Cherry. "Which Chinese? Dialect Choice in Philadelphia’s Chinatown". 2008. Available electronically from

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