Reflection on Ideologies and My Language Biography

By Jamie(Xuan)

It might be a bit late to mention about language biography now, but today’s class really inspired me on the concept of ideologies and how they are related to my own language learning/use in real life experience.

As a Chinese, Mandarin as my native language have made up most of my life so far, and as I’ve been exploring more parts in China, the change of locations really contributes to my understandings of ideologies (which I was not even aware of at that time). Here I will share some of my experience and my thoughts.

I was born in a coastal city named Dalian in the Northeast part of China, where most people speak Dalian dialect in daily life. Interestingly however, in other parts of Northeast China, people use basically the same dialect, the Northeast dialect. Therefore, whenever I visited my relatives outside Dalian, I tried hard to imitate the Northeast dialect in order not to be “too strange”. Still people recognized my nonnative accent and usually started with the question “Are you not from Northeast?” It does make me think that, is it the fact that Dalian dialect is largely different from those in other parts of Northeast, that actually isolates Dalian from other cities in this area to some extent?

Then I went to college in Shanghai, where I stayed for three years (and went on an exchange program for one year) and picked up some Shanghai accent. Last year I went to Beijing for a training program, and I took my Shanghai accent with me. There I received less friendly greetings in a lot of occasions (such as in grocery stores, subway stations, restaurants etc.) than the time when I still held a North accent several years ago. Since most urban parts of China were divided into North and South, and Beijing is seen as the capital of northern part whereas Shanghai is seen as the southern capital, there has been an invisible “competition” between these two cities (a bit like NYC vs L.A.). Therefore my Shanghai accent put me into an identity of Shanghainese, or at least some “Shanghai elements”, which people in Beijing do not like, so that they ignored the fact that I am actually from the North, but saw me as a “stranger”.

Here is a map I drew to give you a more visual concept about the regions.

Map showing different parts of China

Being identified as a “stranger” made me think. Those many different dialects and accents in China virtually divided people into different groups, and the social identities given by these dialects and accents even go beyond geographical identities, as my examples shows. The ideologies people have towards a different dialect/accent sometimes bring sharply a “foreign” figure that it could blur the fact that the person is actually from the SAME area and have the same culture. The mark of another area this person has makes him/her no longer one of “their” own.


Did that ever happen to you? What do you think we can do to it?

3 thoughts on “Reflection on Ideologies and My Language Biography”

  1. Hina

    Hi Jamie!
    Thanks for writing about your language biography!

    I really understand what you mean about dialects… I’m from the Kansai area (Kansai dialect), but my mom was born in Fukuoka (Fukuoka dialect), and my dad in Tokyo (Tokyo, or standard dialect), so I use a lot of different dialects when I speak Japanese… although it does also depend on who I’m talking to.

    The part of your blog that caught my attention the most though is how there’s a competition between Shanghai and Beijing, and people’s attitudes change depending on the dialect you use… People in Tokyo think that their dialect is the best because theirs is the standard dialect, while people in Kansai think theirs is the best because it’s the dialect most used on TV, radio, etc. Since my dialect is so mixed up, when I go back to Kansai, people sometimes look at me strangely because they can’t figure out where I’m from… but they can tell my Kansai dialect isn’t perfect!

    I don’t know what we can do to change it… I’ve come to accept it as part of life, in a sense… Perhaps if we raise awareness through better language education?


  2. Xiaoke #4

    Hello Jamie,

    Thank you for sharing your language biography! You posted a very interesting issue about dialects in China. I would like to share some thoughts on it.

    As you mentioned in your post, there is an “invisible competition” between the north and the south, each represented by Beijing and Shanghai. I do have the same feeling with you, but I think other issues behind this phenomenon need to be taken into consideration, such us the economic imbalance, political conflict, and cultural differences between the north and the south. Hence, it is, nevertheless, the accent of language generates the hostility from the northern people to the south. It is the social factors that produce the favorable (or unfavorable) feeling to a certain group.

    You felt people became less friendly when they noticed your Shanghai accent. First of all, I feel really sorry to hear that, but I do believe people in Beijing do not really mind the accent. Admittedly, some people have certain stereotypes about the dialects, but most of them welcome the diversified use of language. There is one possible reason could account your trouble that people you met did not fully understand your accent. Therefore, they might think avoiding too much conversation is the best way to eliminate any ambiguity or misunderstanding, rather than emphasizing the geographical exclusion or social segregation.

    Hope it’s helpful!


  3. Yu-Ting, Liu

    Hi Jamie!

    I found it interesting that language/dialect has always to do with identity. Whenever I have a family meeting I’m always too self-conscious to speak Taiwanese to my extended family, especially my mother side’s (from the South, where Taiwanese is used more often in daily life than the North). And because I have a “Mandarin” accent and that makes me sound not like a local. Whenever that happens, my grandparents always tease my weird Taiwanese (of course in a nice way) “are you wai-shen-jen”? It has a simple connotation means that people who don’t speak Taiwanese perfectly. However, even I speak with an accent that doesn’t mean I don’t belong to the culture and the social group. Every time I get such comments I only get “language anxiety”. Gradually, I only speak Mandarin to my family for not being embarrassed in front of every one.

    I believe sometimes accent brings you some advantages. When people recognize your accent is not local but still pretty fluent in their language, they would be even surprised that you could control the language so well. Anyhow, I understand your experience in Beijing, I got asked some questions as well when they heard my accent. I think people usually have great imagination about the person’s stories and backgrounds just by the accent. So I just assumed they were curious about me. Hope my sharing makes sense to you! Thanks for the post!


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