Travel Grant Series: Linguistic Research in Southwest China

Summer Travel Grant 2011
by Katie Butler
EWC Degree Fellow
M.A. student in Linguistics

Aloha EWCA Hawaii Board,

First of all, I must say MAHALO to the board for the travel grant this summer! I spent a total of eight weeks in Southwest China, primarily in Guizhou Province, and was able to accomplish a number of things pertaining to my linguistics research.

Katie Butler Linguistics Research China

(EWC Degree Fellow Katie Butler interviewing an elder in Landge, a Qiandong village oustide Kaili in east Guizhou, China.)

Entering the second year of my masters this August, I wanted to spend this summer looking at different regions and potential topics for research, since I am planning to soon apply for the Phd program here at UH. Through new friendships with students at Guizhou University, I was invited to travel to different cities and villages in the province, which was a great opportunity to see the ethnic and linguistic diversity of this region. Though most people could not understand why an American university student would want to study Chinese minority languages, I felt welcomed in the various places I visited with my Chinese friends. In Langde, a Qiandong Miao village outside Kaili in east Guizhou, some elders (like the grandfather pictured above) were kind to let me record them speaking their Miao (Hmongic) language to tell about, for example, the history of their village or a specific type of embroidery. Though I will not pursue research in this particular Miao language, it was a valuable field experience to interact with the village elders and understand more about the language use and attitudes of this minority group.

My main project this summer was to collect a questionnaire among minority students at Guizhou University to learn more about the attitudes toward minority languages from these young adults. Soon after arriving at the university, I realized the survey that I had designed did not fit my target research group. “Minority nationality”, most commonly, is merely a political status on one’s ID card, rather than culture and language that one identifies with. Minority languages are most widely spoken in rural, farming villages, and in these cases, children are either sent away to Chinese boarding school (where they do not communicate in their minority language and come look down on their village) or remain in the village and do not complete education beyond junior high or high school. I altered my questionnaire so that any student (Han Chinese or minority) could answer, and with the help of a few friends, collected 130 questionnaires through both email and in-person responses. I am in the process of entering my data into excel so I can compare the results. To my knowledge, this is the first questionnaire about university students’ attitudes toward minority language in this region of China, so I hope my findings will be of interest and use to other language and culture researchers. I will be presenting my findings at a Linguistics Department Tuesday Seminar on Sept. 6 at 12:00 noon in St. John Hall 11. Anyone is welcome to attend.

An integral part of my trip this summer was getting connected with an EWC alumni and his wife (Zhang Ming and Han Mei) who are working to promote minority culture through their jobs at Guizhou University and the provincial minority art commission. They introduced to me to countless of their friends (the picture below is of a well-known artist in Guizhou who paints scenes of modern Miao culture) and made sure that I properly networked with the Miao academics in the city and also in Hawaii.

Katie Butler Linguistics China

(Katie with with a well-known artist in Guizhou who paints scenes of modern Miao culture.)

I have so many stories from this summer and consider myself fortunate to be able to travel and experience the things I did. I am very thankful to be a part of the EWC (God forbid any more budget cuts) and want to thank you again for alumni support both in Hawaii and in the field!

If you have any questions about my research, I would be happy to answer. Also, if you’re interested, here is a link to my Facebook photo album from the trip.

Many thanks,

Katie Butler