One language, two systems: On conducting ethnographic research across the Taiwan Strait

Momesso, Lara orcid iconORCID: 0000-0002-4042-9384 (2019) One language, two systems: On conducting ethnographic research across the Taiwan Strait. In: Learning and Using Languages in Ethnographic Research. Researching Multilingually . Multilingual Matters. ISBN 9781788925907

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Mandarin Chinese has been regarded as one of the most influential symbols of the cultural unity and cohesion of Chinese civilisation; however, a rather different picture unfolds when one is in China. Besides the presence of local variations of Mandarin as well as non-Mandarin dialects throughout the country, even the writing system, praised for its unchanged features across places where different dialects or languages are spoken, is not so homogeneous as it is often claimed to be. Building on my experience as a researcher travelling between Mainland China and Taiwan, this chapter will shed light on the challenges a researcher may face when conducting ethnographic fieldwork in a country celebrated for its cultural and linguistic continuity, yet divided by the presence of subordinated groups which use language as a way to assert their political identities. To reach this objective the chapter will look at language not as a mere coding system and manifestation of the culture of a nation but rather as a realm where power and politics intersect to serve the interests of a dominant group, and which may have an impact on the research process and outcomes.

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