By Fei Wu and Samantha Tsang
On September 20th, sophomore Fei Wu, junior Samantha Tsang and co-director of the Third Space Lab (TSL), Professor Xin Zhang presented their preliminary findings at the 2020 Duke Kunshan University Humanities Research Conference. Their presentation was titled, “Negotiating Third Space Personae through Chinese as a Second Language (CSL): Foreign Professionals in Modern Chinese Workplace” which focused on findings of the DKU Summer Research Scholar(SRS) program-funded research they had conducted remotely over summer 2020.
During the DKU family weekend on Nov. 7-8, 2020, Fei Wu presented the project at the poster session showcasing the 2020 SRS projects to families of DKU and visiting students.
Over the course of several weeks from June to August 2020, the team recruited five participants, conducted interviews via Zoom and analyzed interview data using NVivo 12 in an attempt to better understand the racialized identity aspect of Third-Space personae, more specifically the impact of race on the long-term motivational trajectory and identity co-construction of heritage and White American learners of Mandarin. Since this study aimed to shed light on Third-Space personae in the context of professional workplaces either in China or elsewhere, the participants recruited for this study were professionals with advanced Chinese skills and their native Chinese colleagues.
After several weeks of conducting remote research on this topic, two main research questions were identified: 1) What role does one’s heritage background play in navigating “foreigner” identity in the professional Chinese workplace? 2) How does the image of “foreigner” in Chinese discourse, namely the image of foreigners as western and white (Mao’s (2015 ), impact the way white non-native speakers are perceived by native Chinese speakers compared to their non-native heritage speaking counterparts? How does this image impact non-native individuals’ motivations for studying Chinese?
During the presentation, the two student researchers focused on three cases and discussed their preliminary findings:
1) There appeared to be a double standard in terms of linguistic expectations placed upon non-native heritage speakers versus non-native foreigners who fit the image of the ‘foreigner in Chinese discourse. In other words, those who appear to be vaguely of Chinese descent, whether or not they actually are, are assumed to be native speakers of Chinese and those who appear to not be of Chinese descent are assumed to not know any Chinese.
2) The two non-heritage non-native subjects were more likely to be motivated intrinsically throughout their language learning journeys even after achieving fluency in Mandarin. On the other hand, the heritage subject’s learning motivations were more heavily influenced by both familial pressure and professional ambitions.
3) Working in Chinese workplaces as foreigners, the three subjects often switched between English-speaking and Chinese-speaking personae in the workplace. However, their reasons for switching back and forth appeared to be highly context-specific and dependent on their personal expectations for the given interaction. Additionally, the subjects who had lived in China for longer appeared to be more adept at switching back and forth between these personae without experiencing internal conflict to the same degree as the subject who had lived in China for the least amount of time.