“[The] Northern [dialect] sounds foreign to me”: Vietnamese heritage speakers’ investment and identities

Abstract. The trends of globalization and transnationalism have drawn researchers’ attention to the issues of heritage speakers as well as their investment and identities. Speakers of Spanish, Chinese, Korean are thoroughly studied while not much research has been done in the realm of Vietnamese heritage speakers and their dialects. This study investigates Vietnamese heritage speakers’ investment and identities in relation to the Vietnamese dialects they are exposed to. The findings suggest that the participants constructed and reconstructed different identities and their levels of investment in language learning varied due to their experience with the social worlds.

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JOURNAL OF SCIENCE OF HNUE DOI: 10.18173/2354-1067.2016-0104 Social Sci., 2016, Vol. 61, No. 12, pp. 36-47 This paper is available online at “[THE] NORTHERN [DIALECT] SOUNDS FOREIGN TO ME”: VIETNAMESE HERITAGE SPEAKERS’ INVESTMENT AND IDENTITIES Nguyen Thi Thu Ha Faculty of English, Hanoi National University of Education Abstract. The trends of globalization and transnationalism have drawn researchers’ attention to the issues of heritage speakers as well as their investment and identities. Speakers of Spanish, Chinese, Korean are thoroughly studied while not much research has been done in the realm of Vietnamese heritage speakers and their dialects. This study investigates Vietnamese heritage speakers’ investment and identities in relation to the Vietnamese dialects they are exposed to. The findings suggest that the participants constructed and reconstructed different identities and their levels of investment in language learning varied due to their experience with the social worlds. Keywords: The Northern dialect, sounds foreign, Vietnamese heritage speakers, investment, identities. 1. Introduction Language teaching and learning is now closely linked to globalization and speakers from diasporas, heritage speakers (HSs) in particular, become a topic that attracts a wealth of research in the field of sociolinguistics [7, 1]. While the issue of identities and investment of Spanish, Korean and Chinese HSs has been widely studied [4, 12,13, 14] research on Vietnamese heritage speakers is still limited. As understanding the learners, their investment and their identities is an essential part of heritage language (HL) teaching, researching Vietnamese HSs will expand our subject knowledge as well as enrich the existing literature on HSs in general. This research examines the investment and identities of the Vietnamese HSs at a university in the US Pacific in relation to the dialects they are exposed to. Using grounded theory, the study hopes to shed light on the HSs’ struggle in claiming identities and how it manifests in their language investment in their learning of the Vietnamese language as identities and investment directly influence HSs’ relationship to the target language [11]. Received date: 7/8/2016. Published date: 25/10/2016. Contact: Nguyen Thi Thu Ha, e-mail: hanguyen.hnue@gmail.com 36 “[The] Northern [dialect] sounds foreign to me”: Vietnamese heritage speakers’ investment... 2. Content 2.1. Background to the study Geographically and dialectically, Vietnam can be divided into three major regions: the North, the Central and the South. Vietnamese, despite not being the only language spoken, is the official language of the nation. The three main dialects in Vietnam feature differences in vocabulary and pronunciation [8; 266]. After 1975, many Vietnamese people sought refuge in other countries, the USA included. They started a new life in a whole new country whose language they did not speak. In the US, these immigrants often lived in Vietnamese communities and most of them did not speak any English. Many families have the children speak Vietnamese as their home language; others have the children speak both Vietnamese and English at home (usually to English-speaking family members). However, there are also cases where parents decide not to teach Vietnamese to their children due to the perceived socioeconomic and academic benefits that people can get if they speak only English. The participants in my study had Vietnamese parents and they all spoke Vietnamese at home: Jane’s family came from Hue with Central dialect (Hue dialect) and two others (Tony and Ellie) had Southern dialect (i.e., Sai Gon dialect). At the university chosen, students are required to complete four semesters of foreign language in order to graduate. The Vietnamese Program here offered four courses for students: VIET101 and VIET201 in the Fall and VIET102 and VIET202 in the Spring. Some students can be granted permission to start with VIET 102, VIET201 or VIET202 without taking the lower-level courses. The exemption is decided on the basis of a placement test. Jane was exempted from VIET101 so she only took three Vietnamese classes (VIET102, VIET201 and VIET202) at university while Ellie and Tony took all four courses. The dialect used for class instruction was the Vietnamese Northern dialect. The instructors included a native Vietnamese female lecturer, an American professor and a Vietnamese teaching assistant, all of whom spoke the Northern dialect. The textbook used was Elementary Vietnamese [10] with all conversations recorded in the Northern dialect. In an informal discussion, the coordinator of the Vietnamese Program in this university shared that he chose Northern dialect in teaching because it was the “standard” language heard on TV, radio, newspapers, etc. Also, songs (except for regional folk music) in Vietnamese are sung in Northern dialect, regardless of the singers’ dialects. The difference between the dialects at home and in class gives rise to this study. I will examine the HSs’ investment in learning Vietnamese as well as how their investment was influenced by different Vietnamese dialects they came in contact with. Also, I want to find out how they constructed and reconstructed their identities in relation to these dialects. 2.2. Literature review First and foremost, it is important to define the notion of HSs. There is no single definition of HSs and it has mostly been associated with the speakers’ proficiency or 37 Nguyen Thi Thu Ha their ethnic group. “A heritage speaker is an early bilingual who grew up hearing and speaking the heritage language (L1) and the majority language (L2) either simultaneously or sequentially in early childhood (that is, roughly up to age 5) but whose L2 became their primary language at some point during childhood (typically after the onset of schooling)” [1; 6]. This paper adopts the recent view on HSs as proposed by Leeman [9;103]: Either all individuals with an ancestral or family tie to the language – even if they have extremely limited or no proficiency in the language – or just those who have some productive and/or receptive ability. As the role of HL education is becoming pivotal in the context of globalization, the issue of HSs and their identities emerges as a subject of debate among scholars. Many argue that HSs’ identity issue is far more complex than just the relation between one’s ethnicity and language since it is “how a person understands his or her relationship to the world, how that relationship is structured across time and space, and how the person understands possibilities for the future” [5; 36]. Identity, in other words, is not fixed; it is fluid and subject to constant changes within people’s social worlds. It is also constructed and reconstructed all the time based on individuals’ perception of themselves and their images as seen by other members in the community [9]. HSs’ investment and their identities have been the focus of research recently. Blackledge and Creese found that Bengali HSs’ identities are directly related to history, language ideologies and can be imposed on them yet negotiated by them via linguistic resources [2]. Leeman (2015) reviewed studies on HSs’ identities in the U.S in survey-based research and ethnographic research and linked the issue to education [9]. Other authors investigated the Chinese HSs’ identities and how their identities were affected by the learners’ home dialects. The findings suggested that the HSs’ Chinese identities were maintained but they were also shifted during their struggle when there exists the gap between the instruction dialect and their home dialect [13]. The studies mentioned, however, are on HSs of other languages rather than those of Vietnamese. Not until recently have there been more studies on Vietnamese HSs. Do (2015) investigated how second generation Vietnamese Americans negotiated their identities in their communities of practice (CoPs). He found that language competence was not the only factor deciding the HSs’ participation or their perceived legitimacy in using the HL in their communities. He indicated that the participants, denied membership by “old-timers” due to their limited proficiency, used imagined communities as a way to connect to and identify themselves with the heritage culture. Additionally, Do examined how these HSs negotiated their identities as language brokers (doing the translation and interpretation for the family) when they encountered difficulties as their HL proficiency was not sufficient for the tasks [6]. The limited amount of research on Vietnamese HSs implies the need for additional research. An understanding of Vietnamese HSs’ identities and investment will enable educators to better support the heritage learners and therefore positively contribute to HSs’ language and culture maintenance. 38 “[The] Northern [dialect] sounds foreign to me”: Vietnamese heritage speakers’ investment... 2.3. Methodology The participants in this study consist of three people aged 22. To ensure their confidentiality, they were given pseudonyms which are Tony, Ellie, and Jane. The research data were collected when they were in their fourth semester learning Vietnamese (VIET202) at a university in the USA. Tony is a 22-year-old male student who majors in Law. After 1975, his parents went to the US and he was born on a Pacific island. Tony took four Vietnamese courses over two years at college because he wanted to talk to his family. Previously, he had only spoken Vietnamese at home but mostly in phrases or simple sentences such as Có gì ăn không má? (What is there to eat, Mom?), Ở thư viện (I’m at the library.) or Giờ con về (Now I’m coming home). As Tony stated, he could not explain “more complicated things” and usually had to shorten what he wanted to say. Ellie is 22-year-old female born in California. She had spoken Vietnamese fluently before taking classes at university. At home, she always talked to her grandmother in Vietnamese. With her parents, she used Vietnamese with occasional code-switching to English. Jane is a 22-year-old female born in Hawaii. Her family was originally from Hue. Her dad had come to the US as a refugee before her family reunited in New Orleans four years later and then moved to Hawaii. At home, she used Vietnamese (Hue dialect) with her mom and both Vietnamese and English with her dad. 2.4. Data Collection The data were collected from a series of in-depth interviews with the participants (2-3 sessions/each), which were then transcribed and analyzed. Each interview session lasted 15-30 minutes. I conducted the interviews in form of small talks in which I actively engaged in the participants’ stories to encourage them to elaborate with more details. I also chose to speak English to the interviewees not only to make them feel comfortable to talk but also to minimize the potential influence of my dialect. In the interviews, I was able to use my linguistic resource in Vietnamese to facilitate the participants’ talks. I also reminded the participants that they did not need to answer questions if they felt uncomfortable. Throughout the interviews, however, the participants were all willing to talk about issues I asked. 2.5. Data Analysis As HSs and their identities are a complicated issue [9], grounded theory is chosen as the framework for data analysis as it allows for flexible data collection and data treatment [3]. I followed the procedures of conducting grounded theory by Charmaz [3] and started with conducting then transcribing the first interviews. I then did line-by-line coding to obtain the initial codes before grouping similar codes into categories of focused coding, which helped me to decide what to ask in the next interview with the 39 Nguyen Thi Thu Ha participants. With the second interview transcribed, I repeated line-by-line coding and focused coding. These focused codes then underwent axial coding where the focused codes were compared, synthesized and related to dialect issue. 2.6. Findings 2.6.1. Learners’ investment As revealed in the interview, the participants came to VIET202 with different levels of linguistic and cultural capital. Also, their immediate families had a crucial impact on their investment in learning the HL. Although all three participants could speak Vietnamese before taking classes at the university, Jane and Ellie were fluent and they used Vietnamese as their home language. Jane also went to Sunday school ? so she had known how to read and write before enrolling the Vietnamese courses. Likewise, Ellie always used Vietnamese to talk to her grandma who did not speak English. With her mom and dad, she code-switched based on what language they used with her. Tony, on the other hand, spoke Vietnamese at home “as young as he could remember” but for him, his language was “simple” and “butchered”. He had limited exposure as he did not have a community outside of the family (relatives or friends) and he used some simple phrases or sentences “over and over” to his parents. Yet, he considered himself holding a lot of Vietnamese values. Later in the interview, Tony elaborated his idea of Vietnamese values as follows: My family [. . . ] doesn’t want to hug, they don’t like to say congratulations, just keep working hard in life and you know just make money and find. . . you know, support the family. And that’s where I hold my values because I have no time for crying, I have no time for stressing [. . . ] I just make sure I do what I have to without investing emotions, without stressing, without crying, without getting mad about all this stuff. In that sense, I think I hold Vietnamese values. In the interviews, Tony repeatedly mentioned his wish to learn Vietnamese to talk to his family, with no dialect preferences. As his family was the only resource of language exposure he had outside of class, they exerted negative influences on his language investment. Tony recalled asking his father the Vietnamese word for “snail”, which he pronounced incorrectly but was not corrected by his dad. Later he told his mom the word, she did not understand and she told him he had the wrong pronunciation. Tony realized his dad’s disinterest in teaching or reinforcing his Vietnamese: He just shows like he doesn’t want to, like, reinforce my Vietnamese, he just takes it as it is. It’s horrible, you know, “I’m not gonna dig deep and correct you” kind of thing. If I say something wrong he wouldn’t correct, yeah, unless it’s very bad. Tony also cited other examples when he asked his parents about their Buddhist prayer rituals and they told him not to bother. Or another time when he told his dad (in Vietnamese) that he needed to leave early due to an emergency at work; his dad did not understand but he pretended he did. 40 “[The] Northern [dialect] sounds foreign to me”: Vietnamese heritage speakers’ investment... In Tony’s case, the HS expressed the eagerness to learn both Vietnamese language and culture to communicate more with his parents but his dad showed the lack of enthusiasm for language transmission and reinforcement. By his “I’m not gonna dig deep and correct you” attitude as perceived by Tony, he exerted the power of an insider and considered Tony an outsider - the American in the family. The failure to be included in Vietnamese conversations led to Tony’s frustration and abandonment of his effort to be a Vietnamese: “I don’t identify myself with it [Vietnamese culture]”. The rejection led to Tony’s resistance to invest in using the language to communicate: I wanna learn but I don’t want to speak it because I’m not there yet kind of thing. It just reminds me that my Vietnamese is not good, just makes me shy away from everything. I don’t know why. With further probing, it was found that ‘being there’ to Tony meant having good pronunciation. However, the failure in seeking inclusion resulted in his lack of investment in language learning. He decided not to take any other Vietnamese classes after fulfilling the degree requirement because it was not his “priority” and he felt the lack of exposure made it impossible for him to improve his language competence. In Jane’s case, she started with considerable knowledge of Vietnamese as her family encouraged her to retain the Vietnamese language and culture: In the beginning, they were more focused on their children getting an American education. Consider what they went through in the War time. . . so I guess they felt that it was beneficial for us to get as much as we can from America so I guess they were not that focused on Vietnamese but as we got older I think that they did want us to go back to our culture and language. They brought us back to Vietnam for vacation and then go back here and then I think that’s why they kept us in Sunday school so much because they knew that coming here we’ll get a lot of American influence [. . . ] so they want us to balance between giving us that opportunity but still have a tie back to our culture. As I grow older, I think that they felt that we’re losing part of our culture so my dad got more strict about us learning Vietnamese and learning about our religion [Buddhism]. It can be seen, Jane’s parents wanted their children to be educated and succeed in the US without losing their Vietnamese values (i.e: language, culture and religion). This affected Jane’s investment in learning the HL: she would go to Sunday school until the age of 14-15, she would read Buddhism books to her dad as a way of practising the language and she would talk to her relatives in Vietnamese when she came to visit them. She also claimed that going to class just “enhance[d]” her knowledge. In her stories, she remembered how she was “a bad child” and how she was against learning the language at her Sunday school as “the teacher was mean”, which influenced her attitude towards taking Vietnamese at college at first: I started with 102 first, I skipped 101 and in 102 I felt like I didn’t really care much about 102 because I think that because of my knowledge in my Sunday school and I already 41 Nguyen Thi Thu Ha had that feeling like “Urggg, I don’t want to learn this” and it was already a bad experience so then when I came here and started to take 102, I was like “Urggg, again. . . ” Initially, Jane was reluctant to learn Vietnamese due to her negative experience at Sunday school (i.e: “Urggg, I don’t want to learn this” and “Urgggg, again. . . ”). The previous “bad experience” seemed to prevent her from investing in learning Vietnamese at college. However, Jane’s attitudes changed when she liked the teacher and when she realized the benefit of learning. But after co Han taught us, I really liked her so I think she made a... she made an effect on me wanting to learn more about Vietnamese and then at my office, too. Our patients are mostly Vietnamese and I learnt that when I invested more time in 102 then I can talk to those patients more and then I took 201 now. At that time, Jane worked at a clinic where she met many Vietnamese Northerners who did not speak much English. She used the Northern dialect learnt in class to talk to these customers and to establish rapport with them. Speaking to them, like, in their dialect make me want to learn Vietnamese in that dialect better so when I go to my profession I can use that dialect with my clients because I feel they speak to you more when you speak their dialect. In other words, Jane projected herself as a Northerner when she talked to the clients as she perceived using the Northern dialect would grant her membership to clients’ CoP. Customers, thus, became an alternative investment to her language learning. Ellie, alt
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