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Background for the Symposium

Globalization is not only changing the world economic order, but also the global language order. As China rises to become the second largest economy after the U.S., the Chinese language is also emerging as a global language. Earlier research (Zhou, 2011a, forthcoming) identified three main features of the globalization of Chinese. First, there is an extensive shift from Chinese dialects to Putonghua (Standard Mandarin promoted by Beijing) in Chinese diaspora communities around the world. Second, Putonghua, Pinyin Romanization, and simplified Chinese characters have been used as the standard in global Chinese language education, steadily replacing Guoyu (Standard Mandarin promoted by Taibei), Zhuyin zimu (kana-like phonographic writing), and traditional Chinese characters. Third, as part of its official effort at promoting Chinese as a global language, China has established over 350 Confucius Institutes and 500 Confucius classrooms in 105 countries and is planning to set up more. At the same time, earlier research (Zhou 2011b) noted that Chinese has evolved from a less-commonly-taught language and a heritage language to a critical language in the U.S. in the process of globalization.  It is now a language that matters to the U.S. with regard to its national security and economic competitiveness in the 21st century (see

The first and second features of the globalization of Chinese are of great interest to the field of linguistics. The first generally involves the contact of three languages: 1) Putonghua as a new heritage language, 2) a heritage Chinese dialect or Sinitic language, and 3) the common language of the country where a Chinese diaspora community resides. Traditionally, studies of language contact and linguistic variation usually focus on two languages in contact (see Thomason & Kaufman, 1988). Along this line, it is observed that Putonghua has been localized or vernacularized (integrating into it grammatical features from a contacted language or dialect) in its contact with Chinese dialects and minority languages since its rapid spread in the last two decades, leading to a ‘contradictory’ phenomenon of vernacularization in standardization (see Saillard, 2004; Zhou, 2006, 2012). In these two-way contact situations between Putonghua and a Chinese dialect or between Putonghua and a minority language, we find two-way contact impacts: vernacularization of Putonghua and upgrading of dialects (integrating into them grammatical features from Putonghua) or sinification of minority languages (integrating grammatical features from Putonghua/Chinese into them).  This has led to several new questions. Does the phenomenon of vernacularization in standardization take place in Chinese diaspora communities in the process of globalization of Chinese? What happens when there is a three-way contact between two forms of Chinese as a heritage language (global Chinese and a Chinese dialect) and the language of the resident country in a Chinese diaspora community? Does a vernacularized heritage Putonghua receive influences from both the heritage dialect and the language of the resident country, such as English or French? How are grammatical features borrowed from these two contact languages systemized in the vernacularized heritage Putonghua and why? Does the process of vernacularization in standardization involve linguistic variation or interlanguage or both and at what level?

The second feature of the globalization of Chinese generally involves two languages: global Chinese (Putonghua) as a second language (L2), and the native language (L1) of students of global Chinese, in second language acquisition (SLA) contexts. From the early observation of standardization and vernacularization of Putonghua in China, we wonder whether Putonghua is being vernacularized in global Chinese contexts in the same way as it is in its spread within China. The evidence from the spread of English in the last three centuries suggests that it is likely since a “singular” standard English, the King’s English or British English, became “plural” world Englishes (see Brutt-Griffler, 2000; Kachru, Kachru & Nelson, 2006). However, the process from a standard L2 to a variety of L2 concerns two different key concepts, interlanguage and linguistic variation. The concept of interlanguage is usually defined, with reference to individuals as biological entities, as states of their biologically endowed innate capacity or intermediate mental grammar, which belong to I-language (see Saville-Troike, 2012, 16-18; White, 2003). On the other hand, the concept of linguistic variation, particularly when a variety of a language is involved, is traditionally defined with reference to a speech community as E-language (Tagliamonte, 2012, pp. 1-22). As defined at different levels, how are interlanguage and linguistic variation associated in standard language spread, leading to vernacularization of the standard? Theoretically how do I-language and E-language interface in interlanguage and linguistic variation (see Chomsky, 1986, p. 26)?  

These questions are of great interest to linguists in general and to researchers in particular who study how language planning and language policy affect language spread, shift, variation, and change. We encourage interested scholars to break the barriers between biolinguistics and sociolinguistics and examine these questions in cross-fertilized approaches (particularly across subfields like theoretic linguistics, sociolinguistics, and SLA).


Cited References

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Chomsky, N. (1986). Knowledge of Language: Its nature, origin and use. New York: Praeger.

Kachru, B., Kachru, Y. & Nelson, C. L. (Eds.). (2006). The handbook of world Englishes. Oxford: Blackwell.

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Zhou, M. (2011a). A global Putonghua? Globalization of Chinese and the PRC’s global promotion of Chinese. Paper presented at the 16th World Congress on Applied Linguistics, Beijing, August 23-28.

Zhou, M. (2011b). Globalization and language order: Teaching Chinese as a second language in the United States. In L. Tsung and K. Cruickshank (Eds.), Learning and teaching Chinese in global contexts (131-149). London/New York: Continuum Publishers.

Zhou, M. (Ed.). (2006). Language planning and varieties of (modern standard) Chinese.  Journal of Asian Pacific Communication. 16. 2.