Multilingual Lived Experience and Identity Construction in the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region of China

  • Disi Ai

Student thesis: Phd


This study examines ethnic minority individuals' multilingual lived experience and their identity construction, under the context of the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region (IMAR) of China. Mongolian students in China (also named Mongol-Chinese in this thesis) who are educated in ethnic multilingual schools need to learn Mongolian as their heritage language (L1), Mandarin as a second language (L2), and English as a third language (L3). However, how ethnic minority individuals negotiate their identities as Mongols and Chinese in their multiple language learning at school and everyday settings and how this influences their investment in language learning are under-explored, as well as how they balance the dilemma of inheriting their heritage language and acquiring more 'powerful' languages of Mandarin and English. Thus, this study adopts Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA) as a methodology to gain an in-depth and contextualized understanding of the relationship between the learning and practice of different languages and identity construction. Six Mongol-Chinese individuals were interviewed online via twelve open-ended questions. According to the double hermeneutic of IPA, data was processed with three rounds of analysis and interpretation, with specific goals of providing 1) a descriptive picture of what the participants experienced and 2) how the experience was related to a wider social context and theoretical framework and 3) emergent themes. The findings of this study highlight 1) how the understanding of linguistic capitals and the imagination of ethnic multilinguals towards their future (e.g. future self) are inscribed in their current sociohistorical and socioeconomic contexts, which is fluid and changeable over a lifetime. 2) The Mandarin-dominated society may (re)awaken ethnic minorities' ethnic awareness and their desire to maintain and develop their heritage language. 3) Mongol-Chinese multilinguals may suffer self-conflict from the practice of translanguaging. Generally, this study not only provides a long-term perspective to understand the theory of language 'investment' and translanguaging in the ethnic regions but also reveals how ethnic minority multilinguals construct and negotiate their ethnic identity in their language learning and practice. This study also shows the possibility of exploring multilingual experience under the IPA methodological framework, enabling these marginalized voices of ethnic minority(ies) to be heard.
Date of Award31 Dec 2023
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorAlexander Baratta (Supervisor) & Juup Stelma (Supervisor)


  • Interpretative phenomenological analysis (IPA)
  • Identity
  • Mongol-Chinese
  • Ethnic minority
  • Multilingualism

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