Open Journal of Modern Linguistics
2013. Vol.3, No.3, 208-215
Published Online September 2013 in SciRes (http://www.scirp.org/journal/ojml) http://dx.doi.org/10.4236/ojml.2013.33028
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
Construction of Cross-Cultural Identity by Language Choice and
Linguistic Practice: A Case-Study of Mixed
Hong Kong-Mainland Identity in University Contexts*
Tao Gong1, Lan Shuai2, Jia Liu1
1Department of Linguistics, University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, China
2Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, USA
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org
Received May 5th, 2013; revised June 7th, 2013; accepted June 14th, 2013
Copyright © 2013 Tao Gong et al. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attri-
bution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the
original work is properly cited.
Studying relations between language and speaker’s identity is an interdisciplinary field that involves in-
tersections among language, culture, and society. By examining the language choice and linguistic prac-
tice, especially code-mixing and code-switching, of the Mainland China students who are studying in
universities of Hong Kong, we reveal a mixed Hong Kong-Mainland identity in these students: those who
hold a Mainland-oriented identity tend to have a Putonghua-dominated language choice and linguistic
practice, whereas those who embrace a Hong Kong-oriented identity tend to prefer a Cantonese-domi-
nated choice and practice. This mixed identity helps better conceive the social image of Mainland immi-
grants in Hong Kong and discuss the cross-cultural identity formed by linguistic practice.
Keywords: Cross-Cultural Identity; Linguistic Practice; Code-Mixing; Code-Switching
Language is the primary resource and carrier for enacting
identity and membership of social groups (Tong et al., 1999;
Miller, 2000). Analyzing relations between language and speaker’s
identity is insightful to decipher the intrinsic characteristics of
language, culture, and society. This line of research was pio-
neered by the Asian-American study addressing the mixed iden-
tity triggered by interactions between the official language in
the American society (English) and those used by descendants
of Asian-American immigrants (Bucholtz & Hall, 2005). Until
now, there have been many studies based on different popula-
tions and many relevant theories explaining the formation or
change of various types of identities (e.g., Trueba, 1989; Nor-
ton, 1995; McNamara, 1997).
Simply put, identity is the social positioning of self and other
(Bucholtz & Hall, 2005). Instead of being a stable or pre-ex-
isting concept, identity is a discoursive construct not emerging
at a single analytic level, but operates during interactions; in
other words, socio-cultural interaction is the primary means by
which identities are constructed and socialized (Ochs, 1993). In
addition, identity is closely associated with language, and deeply
rooted in cultural beliefs or values (ideologies) about the sorts of
speakers who produce particular sorts of language (Bucholtz &
Hall, 2005). Some scholars even define identity as the linguistic
construction of membership in one or more social groups or
categories (Blot, 2003). Furthermore, the association between
language and identity is bi-directional. On the one hand, lan-
guage fulfills a function of expressing identity (Maass & Arcuri,
1996). For example, from features (e.g., dialect, accent, pronun-
ciation, lexical choice, and language choice) shown in a speaker’s
language production, one may tell the speaker’s place of origin,
gender, social status, educational background, etc. On the other
hand, stereotypical use of language and linguistic resources also
contribute to the construction of identity (Bucholtz, 2004). Fi-
nally, in a mixed culture formed by people from a variety of
language groups, the issue of language and identity is also link-
ed with language contact (the prolonged association between
speakers of different languages, Thomason & Kaufman, 1988).
Two outcomes of contact, code-switching (alternation of lan-
guages within a conversation, Matras, 2009) and code-mixing
(insertion of a word/ phrase into an utterance/sentence formed
in a particular base or frame language, Muysken, 2000), are in-
formative to issues concerning language and identity. All these
suggest that socio-cultural interactions, language contact, and
identity are closely correlated, and cannot be studied separately.
Hong Kong, as a mixed community formed by people from a
variety of cultures, is a suitable place for studying issues about
socio-cultural interactions, language contact, and identity. Previ-
ous studies in this line usually focused on Cantonese-English
bilingualism and code-mixing or code-switching between Eng-
lish and Cantonese. For example, Chen (2005) discovered two
socially distinctive types of code-mixing styles between Eng-
lish and Cantonese, and Ho (2007) studied the insertion of Eng-
lish lexical items into Cantonese sentences. Other studies in-
vestigated the socio-cultural status of Cantonese and English.
For example, Cheung (1985) viewed English as the “language
of power” and Cantonese as the “language of solidarity”, and
*This work is supported by the Seed Fund for Basic Research in the Univer-
sity of Hong Kong.
T. GONG ET AL.
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 209
Gibbons (1987) found that English was closely associated with
higher social status and educational background, and con-
sidered more prestigious compared to Cantonese. As for studies
of identity, Mau (2005) summarized the historical development
of the Hong Kong identity. This identity is quite distinct from
the Mainland identity: although older generations of Hong
Kong people generally recognized themselves as absolute Chi-
nese, younger generations started to develop a unique identity,
deliberately highlighting differences between Hong Kong peo-
ple and Mainlanders. This was mainly due to two factors: the
loosening of emotional ties to Mainland, as younger genera-
tions usually grew up in Hong Kong; and the economic pros-
perity of Hong Kong, making Mainland China an underdevel-
oped region. Although the sovereignty hand-over in 1997 re-
duced the gap between Hong Kong and Mainland China by
reminding Hong Kong people of their Chinese identity (Mau,
2005), Hong Kong people still maintained the general percep-
tion viewing themselves as both Chinese and “Hongkongese”
(Bolton & Luke, 1999; Pennington, 1998).
Apart from Cantonese-English contact, in Hong Kong, socio-
cultural interactions between Mainlanders and Hong Kong local
residents have become extremely frequent, especially after 1997,
and contact between Putonghua and Cantonese is playing im-
portant roles in many socio-cultural aspects. Many studies on
language use in Hong Kong have recognized Putonghua as one
of the available linguistic resources being increasingly impor-
tant (e.g., Cheung, 1985), but little emphasis was put on Pu-
tonghua-Cantonese contact. Although previous work on identity
traced the development of the Hong Kong identity from the past
till now, little work actually addressed the identity of the Main-
land groups in Hong Kong.
In this paper, we address our attention to the Putonghua-
Cantonese contact predominantly occurring in a particular Main-
lander group and in a particular context. To be specific, we fo-
cus on the Mainland students who have been studying in uni-
versities of Hong Kong for three to four years, and explore their
construction of identity via daily interactions with Hong Kong
local students. Background of this Mainlander group in Hong
Kong is given in Appendix A. Our discourse analysis on the
interview data collected from a group of such Mainland stu-
dents explicitly shows that these Mainland students can form
their identity by consciously choosing languages between Pu-
tonghua and Cantonese and inserting Cantonese lexical items
into Putonghua sentences in various conversational situations in
a university context. Two types of identity emerge in this proc-
ess. The Mainland-oriented identity is marked by the higher
frequency of using Putonghua than Cantonese, and reluctance
to incorporate Cantonese lexical items into Putonghua senten-
ces, whereas the Hong Kong-oriented identity is marked by the
more obvious tendency in switching from Putonghua to Can-
tonese in different conversational situations, and adoption of a
variety of colloquial Cantonese lexical items in Putonghua sen-
tences. Although Mainland students only form one of the many
cultural groups in Hong Kong, our research discovering this
mixed identity formed by this group can shed some light on
future studies of larger Mainland immigrant communities and
relevant socio-cultural phenomena in Hong Kong.
Materials and Methods
Following the socio-cultural linguistic approach proposed by
Bucholtz & Hall (2005), we construct a dialog-like interview
and ask several language choice and linguistic practice ques-
tions during the interview, and then, conduct analyses on these
discourse data. Among the five principles raised by Bucholtz &
Hall (2005), including emergence, positionality, indexicality,
relationality and partialness, we concentrate on indexicality and
relationality, which are the most explicit principles reflecting
the socio-cultural and inter-subjective nature of identity. We
examine the language choices of these Mainland students in
social settings of a university context, and two types of linguis-
tic practice, namely code-mixing and code-switching between
Putonghua (the mother tongue of Mainland students) and Can-
tonese (the local linguistic resource). These choices and prac-
tices can be directly observed in these students’ answers to par-
ticular questions and their language production during the in-
terview. From the socio-cultural perspective, Blom & Gumperz
(1972) further divided code-mixing into two categories: situ-
ational switching, wherein a change in linguistic form represents
a changed social setting; and metaphorical switching, referring to
the use of two language varieties within a single social setting.
In our study, we focus on metaphorical switching and examine
the change of Putonghua and Cantonese within the same social
setting. Meanwhile, code-mixing of linguistic items in the same
utterance can occur at various (phonological, lexical, gramma-
tical, and orthographical) levels (Ho, 2007). In our study, we
focus on lexical items by analyzing the insertion of Cantonese
colloquial items in Putonghua sentences.
13 Mainland students (4 males, 9 females, age range 22 - 24)
who had been studying in universities in Hong Kong for three
to four years participated in our study. They all signed the con-
sent form before the interview and got paid after completing the
interview. All participants had a native proficiency of Putonghua,
despite their different hometowns and distinct regional dia-
lects in Mainland China. Nearly all participants viewed Putong-
hua as their mother tongues, and three to four years of living in
Hong Kong gave them sufficient time to socially interact with
local students and pick up Cantonese, the local dialect. They
were all competent and comfortable in using Cantonese when-
ever necessary or suitable in conversational settings.
Quantitative and qualitative data were collected from the par-
ticipants during the 20 - 30 minutes interviews. Putonghua was
used throughout the interview, except for occasions for explain-
ing or elaborating examples of Cantonese words or sentences.
During the interview, participants answered a number of inter-
view questions in the same order. Audio recording was also
conducted for transcription and discourse analysis.
We designed three types of interview questions (basic infor-
mation, starting questions, and situational questions, see Ap-
pendix B). Starting and situational questions were designed to
respectively record five aspects of linguistic practice: situatio-
nal questions 1 - 9 recorded code-switching and language choice
in different conversational situations; starting questions 9 - 11
recorded code-mixing between Putonghua and Cantonese on le-
xical level; starting questions 7 and 8 recorded frequency of us-
ing Cantonese; starting questions 2, 3, and 6 recorded attitudes
toward Cantonese; and starting questions 12 - 15 recorded non-
linguistic practice concerning social interaction habits and per-
ceptions of Mainland and local students. The data collected
were analyzed from these five aspects of linguistic practice.
Quantitative data were visualized in histograms, qualitative data
obtained by open-ended questions on participants’ perceptions
of Mainland students (e.g., Starting question 14) were analyzed
T. GONG ET AL.
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
using thematic analysis (Braun & Clarke, 2006) and shown in
tables, and qualitative data about participants’ personal experi-
ences were excerpted from transcriptions.
Language Choice and Code-Switching
The situational questions recorded the choice and code-
switching between Putonghua and Cantonese in various con-
versational situations. The answers to them showed that the
participants preferred Cantonese over Putonghua in daily con-
versations. Cantonese was selected pre-dominantly in seven out
of nine situations, whereas Putonghua was chosen only in two
situations where interlocutors (local students) speak Putonghua
first. In addition, among the nine situations, situations 3, 6, 7, 8,
and 9 involved active language choice: the participants initiate
conversations in these situations, and any language previously
spoken may not affect their choice. Answers in these situations
could reflect the participants’ conscious language choice. In
contrast, situations 1, 2, 4, and 5 involved passiv e language
choice: the participants’ use of language may be affected by
interlocutor’s use of language.
As shown in the data, Cantonese was used to initiate conver-
sations (see Figure 1(a)). In situations 1 and 2, language choice
was dependent on the language used by local students who
started conversations. In situations 4 and 5, the participants
tended to switch to the language used by interlocutors, regard-
less of the language used to initiate conversations (see Figure
Code-Mixing at Lexical Level
The participants not only recognized immediately the collo-
quial Cantonese words cited in starting question 9, but also pro-
vided many examples of Cantonese words and expressions to
answer starting question 10 (see Table 1), which indicated that
the participants knew lexical resources of Cantonese well, and
could clearly distinguish them from those of Putonghua.
Answers to starting question 11 also revealed that the parti-
cipants tended to insert Cantonese words into Putonghua sen-
tences, and generally regarded such practice as natural or nor-
mal in their daily conversations and a habitual practice fre-
quently seen in their Mainland peers in university. Figure 2
lists the reasons for such code-mixing, among which the vivid-
ness of Cantonese expressions and lack of proper Putonghua
translation were chosen by nearly 64% of the participants, but
other reasons also contributed to such code-mixing.
Frequency of Using Cantonese
Answers to starting question 7 revealed that Putonghua was
used more often than Cantonese, and only one participant stated
that the frequencies of using Putonghua and Cantonese were
about the same. Nonetheless, the use of Cantonese was inevita-
ble in daily conversations: 46.2% of the participants used Can-
tonese 1 - 5 hours a week, and 30.8% 6 - 10 hours a week, al-
together 77% of the whole group. The variation in the fre-
quency of using Cantonese was mainly due to the following 3
1) Accommodation environment: the participants living in
residential halls with local roommates and having opportunities
Language choice in situations 3, 6, 7, 8, and 9(a) and in situations 1, 2,
4, and 5(b). Each value is a proportion of participants choosing Pu-
tonghua or Cantonese in a particular situation.
Cantonese expressions in answers to starting question 10, together with
the corresponding Putonghua expressions and English translations.
Cantonese Putonghua English
收皮 走开 Go away
嗰陣時 那时 At that time
餸 菜 Dish
嘢飲 饮料 Beverage
憨居 憨傻 Slow, stupid
攰 累 Tired
有米 富有 Rich
講大話 说谎 Lie
勁 厉害 Be good at, super
孤寒 吝啬 Mean
折朵 宅 Prefer staying indoor
着數 优惠 Discount
通頂 通宵 Stay over night
水鱼 易被骗的人 People who are easy to coax
大頭蝦 马虎的人 Careless people
to take part in hall-based activities tended to have a higher fre-
quency of using Cantonese than those living off campus with
2) Percentage of local classmates: the participants whose
academic programs involved a large percentage of local stu-
dents but a relatively low percentage of Mainland students
tended to have more chances to use Cantonese in academic
T. GONG ET AL.
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 211
Answers to Starting question 11.2. Each value is the proportion of the
participants who select a particular reason for code-mixing.
3) Attending Cantonese course: during the Cantonese course,
the frequency of using Cantonese was relatively higher than
that in the semesters without such course.
Attitudes toward Cantonese
Except two participants who spoke Cantonese in their do-
mestic environments, and hence had practiced Cantonese for
more than five years, 53.8% of the participants regarded that
Cantonese learning occurred in their daily lives after living in
Hong Kong, and only 30.8% stated that the Cantonese course in
the first year or semester of their university lives was the actual
learning time and opportunity. In addition, 61.5% of the par-
ticipants deemed Cantonese not difficult to learn compared to
other languages such as English or French, some deliberately
mentioned that Cantonese was Chinese after all, but the others
considered learning Cantonese quite hard. 69.2% of the par-
ticipants who deemed Cantonese hard to learn stated that the
hardest part came from the phonological (e.g., the subtle varia-
tion of tones) and lexical aspects (e.g., the difference in the use
of certain lexical items) (see Figure 3). In contrast, 30.8% of
the participants did not mind making mistakes on those aspects,
for them, being understood and able to communicate were
Answers to starting questions 12 revealed that 84.5% of the
participants tended to stick to their Mainland social circles,
instead of breaking into the local circles. Main reasons for this
include: 1) common language and topic for communication; 2)
similar cultural background and shared memories; and 3) simi-
As for academic activities such as in- or off-class group tasks,
72.2% of the participants who chose Mainland students to work
with thought that Mainland students were generally more reli-
able, hard-working, efficient, and shared similar learning styles.
However, this was based mainly upon the assumption that the
participants already knew some Mainland students in the class.
Given the situation where they did not know either Mainland or
local students in the class, either type of students would be fine.
Personal experience regarding discrimination and unfairness
generally covered the following areas: 1) Hong Kong students’
use of impolite or insulting forms of address; 2) comments on
Answers to starting question 6. Each value is the proportion of the par-
ticipants who select a particular aspect in Cantonese.
politically or socially sensitive issues (e.g. May 4th Movement);
3) Hong Kong students’ sense of priority and prestige; and 4)
sense of isolation and otherness.
Thematic analysis of the data indicated that these participants
perceived themselves as being different from their local peers
in social or academic aspects (see Table 2). In addition, al-
though the interview questions focused on difference between
Mainland and local students, some participants also mentioned
the difference between Mainland students studying in Hong
Kong and those studying in Mainland universities (see Table 3),
indicating that they also perceived themselves as being distinc-
tive from their Mainland peers having no living experience in
Hong Kong. Furthermore, when asked to describe the image of
Mainland students in Hong Kong, four out of 13 participants
explicitly classified them into two stereotypical groups, one
being more Mainland-like, and the other being more localized.
Detailed analysis of this is shown in the next section.
Construction of a Hong Kong-Mainland Identity
These participants constructed their Hong Kong-Mainland
identities by both linguistic and non-linguistic practice.
As for linguistic practice, following the socio-cultural lin-
guistic framework (Bucholtz & Hall, 2005), identity emerges in
interactions via the use of linguistic structures and systems ide-
ologically associated with specific persons and groups. In the
case of Mainland students in Hong Kong, Putonghua and Can-
tonese are available in daily interactions, with the former ideo-
logically associated with the Mainland group and the latter
strongly connected to the Hong Kong group. As shown in the
data, inserting Cantonese lexical items into Putonghua sentenc-
es was a habitual linguistic practice by all participants. Know-
ing many colloquial Cantonese words also showed that the lo-
cal linguistic resource, Cantonese, was available for the parti-
cipants. Moreover, seen from Table 1, each Cantonese word
provided by the participants has its equivalent but distinct
Putonghua expression, but when wanting to convey those mea-
nings, the participants would prefer Cantonese expressions,
even if the sentence was in Putonghua. Such Putonghua-Can-
tonese code-mixing in Mainland students elucidates their dual
associations with both the Mainland group, by using Putonghua
sentences, and the Hong Kong group, by inserting colloquial
Cantonese lexical items into those sentences. In addition, on the
T. GONG ET AL.
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
Stereotypical perceptions of Mainland students compared to local stu-
Main themes Subthemes
‐ Not fashion, lack of trendy items or accessories
‐ More casual and comfortable (e.g. sportswear)
‐ Less fancy, lack of fashionable style
‐ Seldom wear make-up
Go to bed and get up early
Prefer going to the library
Few extra-curricular activities
‐ Prefer Chinese cuisines to Western ones
‐ Less habitual afternoon-teas
Prefer traditional learning methods (e.g. writing notes on
papers instead of using laptops)
Cultural value Better understanding of Mainland China
Influenced by Hong Kong culture
Stereotypical perceptions of Mainland students in Hong Kong and their
Main themes Subthemes
Language Use English words in Putonghua sentences
Use Cantonese words in Putonghua sentences
Personality & value
More independent and individualized
Clear ambition and future goals
aspects of code-switching and language choice, Cantonese was
the dominant language used by the participants in various con-
versational situations with local students, especially when the
participants initiated conversations. In summary, the results of
code-mixing and code-switching collectively reveal Mainland
students’ frequent use of the local dialect, Cantonese, and their
mother tongue, Putonghua. Through such linguistic practice,
Mainland students have established a unique Hong Kong-
Mainland identity, ideologically distinctive from the identity of
either Mainlanders or Hong Kong people.
As regards non-linguistic practice, evidence of the construc-
tion of the Hong Kong-Mainland identity also exists. From the
socio-cultural perspective, identities are formed relationally
through several overlapping aspects of the relationship between
self and other (Bucholtz & Hall, 2005). Among various aspects,
producing similarity or difference between the self and other
social groups is a typical way of articulating individuals’ identi-
ties. By doing so, individuals consciously position themselves
toward or away from a social group. These two processes were
defined by Bucholtz (2004) respectively as: adequation, “the
ideological creation of an interactionally sufficient but neces-
sarily incomplete similarity between social groups or individu-
als” (p. 132); and 2) distinction, the ideological production of
social difference” (p. 132, see also Irvine, 2001).
Seen from the non-linguistic practice of the participants, a
strong tendency of sticking to the Mainland social circle was
obvious, indicated by their choosing Mainland peers to hang
out or work with. The main reason for this lies in the similari-
ties of cultural backgrounds and lifestyles. By showing simi-
larities among themselves and differences from local students,
Mainland students position themselves toward the Mainland
group through adequation, and meanwhile, away from the local
group through distinction. In addition, the thematic analysis of
the participants’ perceptions of Mainland students in Hong
Kong showed another tendency of their social positioning. Al-
though Table 2 shows that participants generally perceived
Mainland students as being distinct from local students in many
aspects, which reflects the process of distancing from the local
group, Table 3 shows that the participants also perceived them-
selves as being different from their Mainland peers not living or
studying in Hong Kong, which hints their distinction from the
Mainland group as well. In summary, Mainland students in
Hong Kong positioned themselves between Mainlanders and
local Hong Kong people, and constructed their identity by nego-
tiating between these two groups.
Two Types of Hong Kong-Mainland Identity
The participants’ descriptions of the image of Mainland stu-
dents in Hong Kong revealed two types of Hong Kong-Mainland
identity. The answers of two participants to starting questions
13 and 14 and situational questions elucidated these two types
of identity. Note that although these participants explicitly re-
vealed their distinctive identities, there was no clear-cut be-
tween these two types. It is meaningless to classify each par-
ticipant into either type; instead, it is the degree of orientation
toward either type that matters.
The participants holding the Mainland-oriented identity gen-
erally position themselves more toward the Mainlander group,
by sticking to Putonghua over Cantonese in conversational situa-
tions and adequating toward Mainlander group via non-lin-
guistic practice. For example, Dan (24 years old, male) had
been studying in Hong Kong for 4 years at the time of the in-
terview. He chose Putonghua as answers to all situational ques-
tions, yet, his Cantonese proficiency was quite high. No matter
initiating a conversation or responding to his interlocutors, Pu-
tonghua was definitely his first choice. Since individuals’ lan-
guage choice indicates their intended association with certain
social groups (Johnstong & Bean, 1997), Dan’s conscious cho-
ice of Putonghua over Cantonese reveals his strong sense of
affiliation to his Mainland identity, which is also shown in the
interview, “the reason why I speak Putonghua is that my iden-
tity is a Mainland student” (see Appendix C). He thought that
speaking Putonghua was an indication of his origin from place
where Putonghua was spoken. His excessive use of Putonghua
in daily communications was strongly related to his expression
and maintenance of his Mainland identity. Compared to other
participants, Dan intended to form a Mainland-oriented type of
identity through his Putonghua-dominated linguistic practice in
various conversational situations. In addition, non-linguistic
practices, such as a lower frequency of using Cantonese (<1
hour/week), holding negative attitudes toward Mainland stu-
dents who speak much Cantonese, and regarding them as a
“loss of identity” (see Appendix C), also supported his Main-
land-oriented identity type.
In contrast, the participants who embrace the Hong Kong-
oriented identity generally have better blended with the local
society. As for linguistic practice, they are apt to choose Can-
tonese over Putonghua in most interactional situations provided.
As for non-linguistic practice, they also show higher frequen-
cies of social interactions with local students. For example,
T. GONG ET AL.
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 213
Wan (23 years old, female) had been studying in Hong Kong
for 3 years at the time of the interview. She chose Cantonese in
8 out of 9 situations in the interview. The only situation she
chose Putonghua was “when you have started a conversation in
Cantonese with a local student but receive a reply in Putong-
hua” (situation 5). She thought that this situation occurred when
local interlocutors wanted to practice Putonghua, so she spoke
Putonghua to fulfill their expectation. Compared to Dan’s use
of Putonghua, which functioned as an indicator of his Mainland
identity, Wan’s use of Putonghua was to benefit local students
by adjusting her language according to their preference. Ac-
cording to Johnstone & Bean (1997), Wan’s language choice
indicated her identification with local students, adjusting her
own language not because of her own identity, but because of
her intimate relationship with her local friends. In addition,
Wan’s non-linguistic practice also supported her Hong Kong-
oriented identity. For example, the number of local friends she
had was about the same as that of her Mainland friends, since
she joined a student organization full of local students, and was
willing to work with local students when doing group tasks.
The community of Mainland students studying in Hong
Kong has been growing rapidly in recent years, which bring
many challenges and difficulties to these students living in such
a multi-cultural society in Hong Kong. Struggling between
Putonghua and Cantonese and identity-related issues are two
typical obstacles that Mainland students encounter. In this pa-
per, we examine the construction of Mainland students’ identity
through their language choice and linguistic interactions with
local students, and discover two types of Hong Kong-Mainland
identity constructed through linguistic practice of code-mixing
and code-switching between Cantonese and Putonghua and
non-linguistic practice of adequation and distinction. The lin-
guistic experience of such immigrant students forms a complex
negotiation of their social identity in the new society, which is a
process having profound implications for their attitudes toward
their own language and the local language (McNamara, 1997;
Due to certain constraints, the number of participants in this
study is limited and most participants were from the University
of Hong Kong, thus making the findings in this paper represen-
tative only for a specific group of students rather than the whole
Mainland students in Hong Kong. Future large-scale research
and systematic analysis of Mainland students’ linguistic prac-
tices and identities from the socio-cultural linguistic perspective
will help better understand this particular social community in
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Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
Appendix A: Background of Mainland Students
in Hong Kong
Universities in Hong Kong started to recruit Mainland stu-
dents in 1998, and the number of admitted students has been
increasing year by year ever since then. According to the statis-
tics, in 2010, over 1400 Mainland students were admitted by in
total 12 universities in Hong Kong (Xinhua News, 2010/07/21,
408010.htm). The high-quality education, international envi-
ronment, and large amount of scholarship make universities in
Hong Kong very attractive to students in Mainland China. At-
tending universities in Hong Kong has been viewed by many
Mainland students as both the destination of high education and
stepping-stone for international development (Li & Bray, 2007).
In addition, Mainland students in Hong Kong also have re-
ceived positive comments from university professors. They are
generally described as hard-working, intelligent in terms of aca-
demic performance, and getting along quite well with local and
Nonetheless, along with the growing number of Mainland
students in Hong Kong are various problems and challenges.
For example, among the 10 major difficulties faced by Main-
land students in Hong Kong, “different social dialect” and “be-
ing Mainlanders in Hong Kong” are the most frequent, and
struggling between their mother tongue, Putonghua, and the
local dialect, Cantonese, is the most critical challenge to Main-
land students (Hong, 2007). Moreover, Mainland students in
Hong Kong generally experience a gap between themselves as
Mainlanders and Hong Kong people, due to various factors,
among which language barrier is the dominant one. The sense
of being an outsider, instead of totally blending into the local
community as an insider, leads to Mainland students’ lack of
emotional security and loss of identity.
Appendix B: Translated Interview Questions
Basic Information: please fill in the blanks in the following
Name: __________ Gender: _________ Age: ______
Years studying at HK: _______ (University: _________)
Hometown in China: __________
Starting Questions: please indicate your choice or answers
to the following questions.
1) Are you a native speaker of Putonghua? Yes/No
2) How long have you studied Cantonese?
2.1) Do you find Cantonese hard to learn?
2.2) Do you find it necessary to learn Cantonese in your life
3) Did you start learning Cantonese before coming to HK?
4) How did you learn Cantonese?
A. Required Cantonese course offered by university
B. Communicating with local friends
C. Tutoring lessons
D. Watching TV series in Cantonese
E. Other, please specify
5) How do you describe your Cantonese proficiency?
A. Fluent (in both daily communication and academic per-
B. Enough for daily communication only
C. Not quite good
D. Extremely poor
6) Do you think you have accent in speaking Cantonese? Which
area(s) below do you think you have problem with? (Or have
you ever heard local students commented on your accent in
the following areas?)
A. Tones are strange (some of the tones are difficult to grab)
B. Omit or use wrong check tones (e.g. the pronunciation of
“十 sup”, “一 yat”, “食 sik”)
C. Use wrong words (e.g. directly translate Putonghua into
Cantonese when a Cantonese word should be used. 教室
instead of 课室/班房)
D. Awkward sentence structures (e.g. Putonghua structure
instead of Cantonese one. 我卑你钱 instead of 我卑钱
6.1) Do you pay special attention to these areas when com-
municating with local students in Cantonese? Or you
think it’s OK if you could be understood perfectly?
7) How often do you use Cantonese in your daily life?
A. <1 hour/week
B. 1 - 5 hours/week
C. 6 - 10 hours/week
D. >10 hours/week
8) In general, which language do you use more often, Putonghua
9) Do you know the meaning of these Cantonese words? 搏尽
(studying or working hard), 吹水 (chatting casually), 挞皮
(not trying hard)…
10) Do you know other Cantonese colloquial expressions like
the examples shown above? E.g.
11) Do you sometimes use these above Cantonese expressions
in your conversation with Mainland friends?
11.1) If you do not do so, have you ever heard some of your
friends or others do so?
11.2) If you do so, why?
A. Can’t find proper or exact Putonghua translation of those
B. Those expressions are very vivid
C. I want to show that I have been in Hong Kong for some
time and have picked up some Cantonese
D. Other, please specify
11.3) If you do so, are these expressions pronounced in Pu-
tonghua or in their original Cantonese pronunciation?
12) Whom do you usually hang out with, friends from Mainland
or local friends from Hong Kong?
If Mainland friends, why? Why not more local friends?
If local friends, why? Practice Cantonese? Want to be part
of their clique? Differentiate yourself from other Mainland
13) Have you ever been discriminated or unfairly treated or
teased by local students regarding your Mainland identity?
14) Can you describe the image of Mainland students who
study in Hong Kong University? Are there any typical fea-
tures of them that make them different from local students
15) When doing group assignments (project, presentation, es-
say…), whom do you want to work with more willingly,
local students or Mainland students? Why?
Situational Questions: please select from Putonghua (P) and
Cantonese (C) in the following situations.
1) A local student starts a conversation with you using Canton-
2) A local student starts a conversation with you using Putonghua.
T. GONG ET AL.
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 215
3) You want to initiate a conversation with a local student. P/C
4) You have started a conversation in Putonghua with a local
student but receive a reply in Cantonese. P/C
5) You have started a conversation in Cantonese with a local
student but receive a reply in Putonghua. P/C
6) During in-class discussions or activities, your other group-
mates are talking in Cantonese. P/C
7) When you go to your program office or other administrative
sections (e.g. academic office, CEDARS, etc.) at university to
ask for some help or information. P/C
8) When you order food or in the canteens on campus. P/C
9) When you talk to librarians in the library. P/C
Appendix C: Selected Translated Transcriptions
between Interviewer (I) and Interviewee Dan (D)
D: I feel that some Mainland students speak too much Can-
tonese. They regard Cantonese as their mother tongue… they
lost themselves, that is, the loss of their identity. And I think the
reason why I speak Putonghua is that my identity is a Mainland
I: Well, that is, you think that speaking Putonghua is the in-
dication of your identity, right?
D: Yeah, yeah, I think so. Because, I originally come from a
place where Putonghua is spoken… Then why you ask me to
speak Cantonese instead of me asking you to speak Putonghua?