Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository

Thesis Format



Master of Arts




Taylor, Shelley K.


This qualitative case study examines the identities of four adolescent students in a Chinese heritage language school in Atlantic Canada using a combination of semi-structured interviews, classroom observations, and textbook analyses. Drawing from the conceptual approaches of reflexivity and translanguaging, this study explores the participants’ understandings of what it means to be Chinese, how Chineseness relates to feelings of Canadianness, and the role Mandarin plays in their overall identity constructions. Existing literature (e.g. Lu, 2001; Shin, 2010) has found that maintaining fluency in a heritage language has positive effects on speakers’ cultural identities. The findings of this study show that feelings of Chineseness are linked to connections with a larger Chinese community and are indeed made stronger through communication in Mandarin. The implications highlight the importance of a translanguaging approach that validates the participants' multiple identities (Chinese/Canadian) and promotes cultural activities both inside and outside of the classroom.

Summary for Lay Audience

Heritage language speakers are individuals who grow up speaking a minority language at home but use a societally dominant language in everyday life. This study explores the importance of heritage language competence to an individual’s sense of cultural identity. Four adolescent students at a weekend Chinese school in Atlantic Canada were interviewed and observed in class to understand their attitudes toward Chineseness and Chinese language. Further data was collected through textbook analysis. The findings of this study suggest that the ability to speak Mandarin helped young Chinese-Canadians form and maintain connections to their Chinese community, resulting in stronger feelings of Chineseness in themselves. The Chinese school plays an important role in promoting Mandarin and creating a space to use it, but it is also important for the students to have access to cultural events and activities outside of the classroom.