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Taiwanese continuing speaking to you in English even if they know you speak good Mandarin/Taiwanese

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Re: Taiwanese continuing speaking to you in English even if they know you speak good Mandarin/Taiwanese

Postby Teddoman » 08 May 2012, 22:45

ironlady wrote:
chupachups wrote:Hello.

...I mean that behavior, when your appearance is “objectified” that way, that you are expected or demanded to be an English speaking person and people continue to speak to you in English even if they know they could not and you are trying to continue in Mandarin/Taiwanese (and simultaneously they speak in Mandarin/Taiwanese to others but not to you) and they exclude you from the community this way.


This is a rather large assumption, don't you think? I'm a sociolinguist and my belief is that this phenomenon has more to do with group identity and visual channel cues than a conscious effort to exclude. I think it would also be useful to look at the norms for language use in group situations among Chinese speakers with particular reference to the dialect situation. I've been in many situations where people would use their local dialect in front of other Mandarin speakers who didn't speak it, and no one thought anything of it (and we did ask).

I have had people insist on speaking English, even if I was answering them in Mandarin (or Taiwanese, but I could hardly blame them considering the sad state of my Taiwanese :D ) but I don't think I've ever felt it was an effort to exclude. After all, if it's obvious I understand Mandarin, what's the point? I still know what's going on, and I'm still using Mandarin as the code to communicate with the rest of the group.

Just not quite sure what you're getting at.

Hmm, seems to me there's a difference between the two situations you described though.

Since mixed Mandarin/Taiwanese is standard behavior in Taiwan, then they are basically acting the way they would normally act if you were not present. So actually, in that situation, they are treating you less like an outsider by not being particularly sensitive to your inability to comprehend Taiwanese.

But the other situation is one where there does seem to be an implicit classification of the foreigner as a non native speaker of Mandarin, even if you do speak Mandarin. That does present a bit of a conundrum. For foreigners with bad Mandarin, I can kind of see how a Taiwanese person might see it as a way of being on equal terms. They speak bad English while you speak bad Mandarin to them. You're both equally handicapped. You're both accomodating each other's bad language skills.

But it's happened to me many times where we were not equally handicapped. I was pretty fluent in Mandarin but they were severely handicapped in English. So it's a bit harder to understand what that means and what drives it.

One obvious explanation is that many Taiwanese hope to improve their English, and practicing with a foreigner is perceived as improving their English, so a percentage of them will simply be consciously trying to practice with their one foreigner friend or in their one encounter with a foreigner. Also, they may simply have a complete lack of awareness of how bad their English is and how futile this form of one off "practice" is. Though the obvious futility of it might be apparent to an English teacher. They may simply be hell bent on practicing for free and choose to ignore how awkward and unpleasant the conversation has become due to the lack of conversational fluency.

A friend of mine here in the US is married to a Taiwanese woman who arrived without almost any English skills (she wasn't someone who was in the foreigner crowd). Despite seeing me speaking Mandarin to my son, and despite seeing my son speak Mandarin back to me, and despite knowing he is learning Mandarin, she insists on speaking only English to me. But my other friend's wife in the same social group is Chinese and so they only speak Mandarin to each other. She has classified me as a non native speaker and put me in the English speaking group. It's probably a good idea for her to speak more English, I just find it interesting how she has made this very clear distinction in her mind.
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Re: Taiwanese continuing speaking to you in English even if they know you speak good Mandarin/Taiwanese

Postby chupachups » 08 May 2012, 23:24

ironlady wrote:I still strongly recommend you read existing literature concerning sociolinguistics, language choice, and group identity before coming up with this sort of hypothesis for testing. I think you are making assumptions about a multicultural phenomenon using monocultural assumptions.



I am not going to test hypothesis. I want to learn about this behavior from more experienced people and than form some bettern understanding and better opinion about this phenomenon.

Literature from sociolinguistics may be useful for me, thank you for suggestion! However I want to first make opinion and than look to this literature. Looking to the literature instead of speaking with people has disadvantage, that this literature was written by people, who were not familiar with concrete phenomenon studied (in psychology those are often professors sitting in some office in the US and writing theories). Therefore it is not so beneficial to frame understanding of some phenomenon by these theories before getting some better knowledge about the phenomenon.

That is also reason, why I think online discussion forum is not good for making opinion about phenomena - because the opinion of people is framed by terms and posts of people, who wrote before them.
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Taiwanese continuing speaking to you in English even if they know you speak good Mandarin/Taiwanese

Postby headhonchoII » 09 May 2012, 06:18

There is a competitive instinct at work. They see you, a foreigner, speak their language , and it rankles them and seems to remind them that they 'should' be speaking English too.
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Re: Taiwanese continuing speaking to you in English even if they know you speak good Mandarin/Taiwanese

Postby Flakman » 09 May 2012, 10:03

As an American working in Chinese company I find myself speaking Chinese even to those fluent English speaking Taiwan locals speaking to me in English. Why? My brain is too slow and inflexible to pop back and forth between English and Chinese. I know my Chinese is just so-so but I just stick to my Chinese in most situations...even when talking to the Filipinos. I can only make the switch to English if talking for a few minutes. Sad but true....but I must face my limitations. :cry: (I will leave the story about the Taiwan doctor looking at my brain MRI and saying I have a small brain for another day....)

For those of you with better brains...I hope you are enjoying them. :(
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Re: Taiwanese continuing speaking to you in English even if they know you speak good Mandarin/Taiwanese

Postby ironlady » 09 May 2012, 10:38

chupachups wrote:Literature from sociolinguistics may be useful for me, thank you for suggestion! However I want to first make opinion and than look to this literature. Looking to the literature instead of speaking with people has disadvantage, that this literature was written by people, who were not familiar with concrete phenomenon studied (in psychology those are often professors sitting in some office in the US and writing theories). Therefore it is not so beneficial to frame understanding of some phenomenon by these theories before getting some better knowledge about the phenomenon.


Research in sociolinguistics is based on data collected in the field, so I'm not sure why you would associate it with professors talking about theories without having any contact with the actual people. In doing academic research, generally one reviews the research that has been done before, and then builds on it, either by extending it or by challenging some of its results under different conditions.
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Re: Taiwanese continuing speaking to you in English even if they know you speak good Mandarin/Taiwanese

Postby chupachups » 09 May 2012, 20:07

ironlady wrote:
chupachups wrote:Literature from sociolinguistics may be useful for me, thank you for suggestion! However I want to first make opinion and than look to this literature. Looking to the literature instead of speaking with people has disadvantage, that this literature was written by people, who were not familiar with concrete phenomenon studied (in psychology those are often professors sitting in some office in the US and writing theories). Therefore it is not so beneficial to frame understanding of some phenomenon by these theories before getting some better knowledge about the phenomenon.


Research in sociolinguistics is based on data collected in the field, so I'm not sure why you would associate it with professors talking about theories without having any contact with the actual people. In doing academic research, generally one reviews the research that has been done before, and then builds on it, either by extending it or by challenging some of its results under different conditions.


OK. Keep your idea about how to do an academic research and I will keep mine! :-)
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Re: Taiwanese continuing speaking to you in English even if they know you speak good Mandarin/Taiwanese

Postby tsukinodeynatsu » 09 May 2012, 21:02

I wonder if accent comes into play with this? And ironlady, I'm surprised to hear it still happens to you O.o; do you speak a very 'standard' Mandarin then?

Chupachups, I think you'd better conduct the interview at least partly in Mandarin so you can get an idea of the interviewee's real conversation skills.

Also, I suspect this may happen more in Taipei than down South.
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Taiwanese continuing speaking to you in English even if they know you speak good Mandarin/Taiwanese

Postby headhonchoII » 09 May 2012, 21:21

It happens because you look like a white or non Asian, doesn't matter if you are fluent in Chinese or speak German or whatever.
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Re: Taiwanese continuing speaking to you in English even if they know you speak good Mandarin/Taiwanese

Postby Teddoman » 09 May 2012, 22:30

chupachups what's your end game on this? Co-write a paper with ironlady? Treat lots of expats complaining about this problem?
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Re: Taiwanese continuing speaking to you in English even if they know you speak good Mandarin/Taiwanese

Postby tsukinodeynatsu » 09 May 2012, 23:14

headhonchoII wrote:It happens because you look like a white or non Asian, doesn't matter if you are fluent in Chinese or speak German or whatever.


It very, very rarely happens with me, and only when I go to Taipei or Yilan. And even still, very, very rarely, like maybe once out of about ten trips.

I'm white, short, slim, brown hair, and speak Mandarin almost like a Tainan native. As in, when I go to Taipei the taxi drivers all know that I live in Tainan @.@;

I'm not sure if it's because I'm short and therefore don't quite meet the 'foreigner' expectation or if it's because I hardly sound foreign at all. I'm kind of leaning towards the latter, but I've never heard any of you other fluent speakers on here speak so I have no idea, but all the fluent speakers I have heard sound pretty non-native to my ears, which has always surprised me.
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