Ethnicity and language boundaries
—An empirical study based on the Hui people in Huhhot, Inner Mongolia
Hui people is an ethnic minority in China with a blood tie from the Muslim Middle East. They were not Chinese-speaking nationality/ethnicity in history. However, with their ethnic boundaries dissolved as the result of assimilation, Hui is more regarded as a “Chinesized Muslim minority” compare with other Muslim minorities in China (Leslie, 1986). Linguistically, Hui is governmentally recognized as a “solely Chinese-speaking ethnic minority in China” with some distinct linguistic phenomena discovered by academia (e.g. few Arabic/Persian code-mixing in Chinese dialogue, special language taboos, a series of specific business jargons, etc.).
Ethnic boundaries tend to coincide with linguistic ones. To explore the ethnical identity of Hui and its relationship to language boundaries, this paper presents an empirical study of narratives collected from Hui people living in Huhhot, Inner Mongolia. The finding suggests a pragmatic difference of Hui people with a wide range of corresponding Hui identities. As Avital Feuer (2008) once said, the language attrition is proportional to identity attrition. Different proportion of “Chineseness” and “Muslimness” among Hui people contribute to the ingroup language discrepancy and identity crisis. The result of this paper could partly reflect the fading of old, boundary-based ethnicity and the rise of new, imagination-based state-defined ethnicity in China.
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