Carnegie Mellon University

Lucy Pei

Lucy PeiMajors: Global Studies and Human-Computer Interaction
Minor: Business Administration
Adviser: Sue-Mei Wu
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Language Use and Code-Switching in Bilingual Immigrant Family Storytelling

Through this research project, I will investigate code-switching and language use in discourses of family stories in bilingual immigrant families through the frame of language socialization. Language use and code-switching have been investigated to understand the formation of identity and language ideologies among bilinguals. Family stories have been analyzed in prior research to understand how family stories can help form cultural and ethnic identity. This research will combine methodologies in linguistic anthropology with the study of family stories to understand more about the role of language use and code switching in family storytelling and the impact of both on identity. To conduct this research, I will be interviewing and observing Chinese heritage families and analyzing functions of storytelling and code-switching in their discourse. I will also be coding evaluative statements in the discourse to analyze language ideologies. The results of the proposed research will further understanding of identity formation in immigrants and the role of language and code-switching, which will be of use for educators working with immigrant populations.


奶奶的故事:Grandma’s Stories:
An uncomfortable tan wooden sofa with thin brocade cushions that always slide down, and Asian carvings that leave mazes temporarily tattooed to the backs of your legs
The air is always moist, humid, and sticky
Fragrantly steaming, a cup of over-steeped orangeish-gold 香片茶 jasmine tea
You sneak an ice cube into your tea, because for some reason everyone feels the need to drink hot tea despite the 40 degree Celsius weather

Then the stories start

…When I was young, my family had a lot of money. We had a magical goat, it was the protector of our fortune. And I had an uncle, he was bad, he smoked opium and he didn’t work, and one day he sold the goat to pay off debts. And after that our good fortune was over…

…Of course we were scared. Well in the first war, we had the fox spirit to watch over us. We left milk for him in the attic every day. The day the Japanese came to our house, we all hid in the attic, we didn’t dare move, the fear stopped our breath, but the fox spirit protected us…狐仙保護我們…

…When I met your grandfather, I drank him under the table. I came from a family where we all drank wine, since we were babies. You would just dip your chopsticks in wine and give it to your babies when they were crying. I was a nurse in the army, and he was a doctor. I never would have met him if it weren’t for the war. We never could have been married. He was a Chinese Muslim, he was not supposed to marry someone who wasn’t a Muslim. But the wars kept going, everything was a mess, we were far from our families, we decided to get married…

…長沙大火… the ChangSha fire... it was horrible. We were not warned, they did not evacuate the city before they burned it down. They burned it down, they burned down their own city so that the Japanese would not get it. Everything was burning. I was a nurse. I worked in the hospital, and I saw the most horrible things. The injured soldiers, amputees trying to crawl out of the hospital, but they couldn’t move fast enough. Shoes were everywhere. You put on anyone’s shoes, or you didn’t have time to put on shoes. Babies and children on the side of the road. No one had time to take them. They couldn’t run fast enough. All we could do was run. If you couldn’t run, you would die. So many people died. We just ran. What else could we do?

This is how I passed every summer of my life: listening to Grandma’s stories, her endless stories.

Listening to her stories has added a hundred years of life to mine; it has added love, war, true fear, regret, hope, pain, forgiveness, peace, a belief in magic, a place, and a loss of place, and despite the loss of place, an origin, a history, an identity.

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