Language Choice and Identity Politics in Taiwan

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9780739123522: Language Choice and Identity Politics in Taiwan

Jennifer M. Wei argues that construction and perceptions of language and identity parallel sociopolitical transformations, and language and identity crises arise during power transitions. Under these premises, language and identity are never well-defined or well-bounded. Instead, they are best viewed as political symbols subject to manipulation and exploitation during socio-historical upheavals. A choice of language—from phonological shibboleth, Mandarin, or Taiwanese, to choice of official language—cuts to the heart of contested cultural notions of self and other, with profound implications for nationalism, national unity and ethno-linguistic purism. Wei further argues that because of the Chinese Diaspora and Taiwan's connections to China and the United States, arguments and sentiments over language choice and identity have consequences for Taiwan's international and transnational status. They are symbolic acts of imagining Taiwan's past as she looks forward to the future.

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About the Author:

Jennifer M. Wei is a professor in the English department at Soochow University, Taiwan.

Review:

Wei has made an important contribution to the larger interdisciplinary sub-field of Taiwan Studies. . . . She also shows the value of a linguistic approach to issues in Taiwanese politics and to the ongoing interdisciplinary study of the nature, meaning, and problem of Taiwanese identity. (Murray A. Rubinstein, City University of New York)

Taiwan's last century has been marked by a series of dramatic political transformations, many of which have been accompanied by equally dramatic linguistic reversals. Residents of the island have seen languages that were banned by one set of rulers promoted by the next and modes of speech marked backwardness in one period coming over time to signal all that is progressive. The result is a political and linguistic landscape that is complex and fraught to say the least, with language choices playing a role in everything from everyday encounters to presidential elections. Jennifer Wei has done us a great service by providing us with an astute and theoretically sophisticated guide to this terrain, which makes the most of both her intimate knowledge of local realities and wide reading in the comparative literature on other settings, such as Canada, where language choices often have important political consequences. (Jeffrey N. Wasserstrom, University of California, Irvine; author of China's Brave New World―And Other Tales for Global Times)

Wei writes crisply and informatively about otherness-identification with respect to accents, language choices, policies, political mobilization, and identities and the manifestation of them in many speech acts in contemporary Taiwan. She provides readers with linguistic insights into exploring how people interact with and relate to the others living in the high uncertainty that is attributed to rising ethno-nationalistic tensions. Her style is professional and reflexive, theoretical and empirical. This is a highly commendable book on Taiwan area study, and also on how people 'speak' about their differences of origin in relation to their political differences. (Mau-kuei Chang, Institute of Sociology, Academia Sinica, Taipei, Taiwan)

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