Losing Chinese as the First Language in Thailand

Hugo Yu Hsiu Lee


Much of the classical sociolinguistic literature on the issue of language maintenance amongst Sino-Siamese communities rely on language-use data on a sample of third-fifth generation Thais with Chinese ethnic roots, the majority of whose great grandparents immigrated to Thailand during the nineteenth and early decades of the twentieth century. As such, in this literature, are excluded the large sample of first-generation overseas Chinese and second-fifth generation ethnic Chinese immigrated to Thailand more roughly between 1970 and 2000. Thus, the linkage between factors governing language maintenance are to be interpreted with due caution in view of limitations in the samples discussed in the extant literature. The current study includes an assessment of the language-usage patterns and present perceptions of the vitality and sustainability of Chinese variants amongst not only the older generations, but also amongst those who have more recently immigrated, thereby rounding out a much fuller picture of the current sociolinguistic situation of those of Chinese descent domiciled in Thailand. Additionally, this study aims to examine the full range of sociological factors that contribute to the maintenance and extensive shift away from Chinese variants toward Thai and Mandarin. It accordingly complements the earlier research of Morita, but not lending support to the Skinnerian paradigm of assimilation. The sample gathered consisted of eight dialect groups. Three types of instruments of research-a questionnaire, observations, and semi-structured interviews-were utilized in collecting data. The data suggest that language-usage patterns, perceptions of vitality and sustainability of ethnic languages are strongly linked to generational changes in ethnic-linguistic identities and discursive practices governing social inclusion/exclusion, amongst other factors.

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5539/ass.v10n6p176

Asian Social Science   ISSN 1911-2017 (Print)   ISSN 1911-2025 (Online)

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