Linguistic capital and linguistic selves of bilingual and multilingual taiwanese adults
: Motivation and identity rebuilding in learning Taiwanese heritage languages, Mandarin, English and other foreign languages

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Education


Taiwan is populated by a multilingual community consisting of five major ethnic groups: Holo, Hakka, Mainlanders, Taiwanese aborigines and Taiwanese new immigrants. However, historic Mandarin-centric laws and policies detrimentally affected the identities and inheritance of local languages and cultures for almost four decades. This changed drastically, when Taiwan began to embrace two key emancipatory concepts after the abolition of Mandarin-centric rule: democratisation and the ‘Taiwanisation’ of language policy.

Taiwanese adult learners have a number of perceptual uncertainties regarding their bilingual and multilingual repertoire in Taiwan’s complex socio-political, cultural and linguistic context. The purpose of this thesis, therefore, is to explore how participants perceive linguistic value and culture, and how this perception has an influence on self-identity throughout the process of learning languages, while also giving due consideration to the symbolic power of language and language hierarchy.

This thesis is embedded within a Bourdieusian inspired framework, in which the analysis focuses on how concepts such as cultural capital, cultural reproduction, habitus and field, social class, symbolic power, and the linguistic market all influence participants’ linguistic identity and selves. Twenty one adult participants with different language learning experience were recruited. The participants were Taiwanese adults who were proficient in at least three of the following languages: Taiwanese heritage language, Mandarin, English or another foreign language. Data was collected through semi-structured, in-depth interviews, with findings arrived at through thematic analysis.

This thesis uncovered four findings:
(1) Participants internalised perceptions of language status regarding their bi/multilingual linguistic capitals influence their linguistic identity and the construction of their subjective-selves.
(2) Participants’ selves oscillate dynamically due to continuous changes to their societal contexts, and their personal resilience, persistence and self-confidence.
(3) Successful language acquisition is impacted by six interdependent factors: motivation; learning experience and confidence; curriculum and learning environment; linguistic identity; social norms; persistence and resilience.
(4) Code switching between Mandarin, heritage languages and English is part of participants’ linguistic habitus.

These findings may not only help provide guidance to others who wish to become multilingual learners, but will also contribute to educational research by shedding light on the dynamic and intertwined state of language on one’s identity. In other words, one’s personal interpretation of the relationship between language and identity is in constant flux. Therefore, labelling people based solely on their original ethnicity or by the language they speak, might result in a misleading representation of one’s true self-identity.
Date of AwardJul 2021
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Queen's University Belfast
SupervisorAlison MacKenzie (Supervisor) & Ibrar Bhatt (Supervisor)


  • Linguistic capital
  • language hierarchy and symbolic power
  • Mandarin-only policy
  • academic competition and social pressure
  • linguistic market
  • linguistic identity
  • selves

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