Putonghua as “admission ticket” to linguistic market in minority regions in China

Original Paper


This article reports on a multiple-case study that investigates the impact of the promotion of Putonghua on individuals’ social interactions and language identities in multilingual minority regions in China. Drawing on the theory of linguistic market, the study focuses on what mediates individuals’ access to the linguistic market. The 24 participants, from multilingual minority regions of Xinjiang, Tibet, and Inner Mongolia in China, had different linguistic repertoires (monolingual vs. bilingual), and lived in different sociolinguistic contexts where Putonghua or minority language dominates. Data were collected through prolonged, semi-structured interviews and workplace observations. The analysis of data revealed the complex interrelations between people’s language competence as linguistic capital, their exchange of and investment in such capital, and the formation and transformation of their identities. The study also uncovers the role of Putonghua as a high-status language in providing or prohibiting access of other linguistic capitals to the linguistic market, depending on the individual’s competence in Putonghua. In other words, competence in Putonghua serves as the “admission ticket” to the linguistic market, without which the linguistic capitals from other languages cannot be allowed in and exchanged. Therefore, it is important for policy makers to seriously reconsider the statuses of minority languages since Putonghua serves a managing role in the linguistic market.


Linguistic market Linguistic capital Language identity Multilingual context Promotion of Putonghua Mainland China 



This work was supported by a 2016 Major Project for MOE Key Research Centers for Humanities and Social Sciences [number 16JJD740002], and an earlier version of the paper was presented at the American Association for Applied Linguistics 2017 Conference in Portland. I am tremendously grateful to Professor Xuesong Gao for his persistent encouragement throughout the process of writing as well as his valuable suggestions on the theoretical positioning of the study. I also wholeheartedly thank the reviewers for their highly constructive and informative comments and suggestions.


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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V., part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.National Research Center for Foreign Language EducationBeijing Foreign Studies UniversityBeijingPeople’s Republic of China

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