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Representations of the self among Chinese immigrants

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posted on 13.12.2019, 01:30 by Yanying Lu
This study investigates the interconnections between self-representation in language, culture and cognition. Twenty-five Mainland Chinese immigrants to Australia were interviewed. Linguistic features of speaking about oneself in Chinese provide a rich resource to explore cultural meanings of the self. This thesis looks into participants’ perception of selfhood, negotiation of social identities and construal of socio-cultural experiences by analysing linguistic constructions. To this end, data collected in the form of focus group interviews were analysed qualitatively, using a framework that incorporates elements from social psychology, sociolinguistics and cognitive linguistics.
   The qualitative analysis is organised according to the social psychological tripartite model of self-representation: the individual dimension, the relational dimension and the collective dimension. The individual dimension is informed by data where speakers
differentiate themselves from others as unique individuals. Utterances that express dyadic relationships fall under the scope of the relational dimension. The collective dimension is revealed as speakers negotiate memberships in terms of social collectives both explicitly and implicitly.
   Participants use language to represent themselves favourably throughout the discussion. The analysis highlights participants’ subject-positioning in discursive interactions as the social construction of the self is a matter of social performance. Situated in the context of immigrant Chinese, these performances find expression in self-reliant evaluations that promote sincerity, connectedness and sharedness, which can be argued as constituting a fluid socio-cultural construction of selfhood among the interviewed Chinese immigrants. In terms of their group membership, they feel themselves to be perceived as cultural exemplars of their affiliated Chinese communities. Meaningful variations for naming these Chinese-based social groups and evaluations of their characteristics constitute part and parcel of the construction of their Chinese ethnicity.
   Self-representational performances reflect speakers’ understandings of more enduring socio-cultural values. Sincerity and genuineness stand out as common values. Utterances that reflect descriptions and interpretations of dyadic relationships show that these Chinese speakers foster trustworthiness and cooperativeness by seeking discourse alignment and avoiding dis-alignment. Discussions about social collectives and membership categories show that participants try to establish a sense of authenticity and correctness by projecting their own interpretations of certain meanings associated with imagined cultural collectives onto their addressees.
   The study also finds linguistic evidence to support the view that the self is conceptualised in culturally specific ways. Participants’ accounts of individuality and self-evaluations and self-reflections embed the dynamics of self-representation. These utterances reflect depictions of interpersonal proximity and speakers’ imagined positions within dyadic relationships and group memberships. The ways self and other are conceptualised in the social space suggest that the listeners are not construed by the speaker as just the object or recipient of their utterance, but also as part of the speaker’s subjective world that is constructed intersubjectively through imagination. Individuals imagine themselves to belong to various communities, the process of which involves the creation and interpretation of meanings for these imagined cultural collectives and the negotiation of these meanings in the given socio-cultural context.


Principal supervisor

Alice Gaby

Additional supervisor 1

Gloria Davies

Additional supervisor 2

Anna Margetts

Year of Award


Department, School or Centre

Linguistics and Applied Linguistics

Campus location



Faculty of Arts