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Research projects

Chalkboard with Different Languages

The Diaspora of Bilinguals:
Code-switching in Three Groups of Cantonese-English Bilinguals

Ph.D. Dissertation Project (Completed, 2020-2023)
Dissertation committee: Shoichi Iwasaki (Chair) and Judith F. Kroll (Co-chair), 

Ji Young Kim, Sung-ock Sohn, Hongyin Tao

Research has pointed out that one bilingual does not equal two monolinguals. However, do bilinguals who speak the same two languages the same? Using code-switching as a lens of investigation, my dissertation project examines three groups of Cantonese-English bilinguals who differ from each other in terms of language experience and cultural identity. Adopting an integrated psycholinguistic and sociolinguistic approach, this study reveals how linguistic factors, cultural identity, cognitive control, and language experience interact with one another in bilingual processing. This project is supported by an Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Completion Fellowship and a National Science Foundation Doctoral Dissertation Research Improvement Award (BCS-2042479).

For interim findings, please refer to my invited talk at UC Irvine, Chan (2020, 2021a, 2021b), and Chan, Iwasaki, and Kroll (2021, 2022a, 2022b).

Image by RoonZ nl

Toward a synergistic framework for bilingualism research

Ongoing project, 2020-
Collaborators: Andrew Cheng (Simon Fraser University), Judith Kroll (University of California, Irvine), Gregory Scontras (University of California, Irvine) 

An upsurge of research in the past decade has examined the cognitive mechanisms that enable bilingual speakers to code-switch to recognize speech in multiple languages and accents and to navigate the landscape of linguistic and cultural contexts.  A focus in contemporary research is to understand how variation in experience and interactional context influences these processes. But variation has been conceptualized differently in psycholinguistic and sociolinguistic research. Psycholinguistic research has approached language experience as either a categorical or quantifiable variable (e.g. LEAP-Q questionnaire language entropy). In sociolinguistics variability has been treated as a function of speakers’ sociocultural context and language experience is often analyzed qualitatively (e.g. deep ethnography discourse/Conversation analysis). We propose a new framework to begin to bring together these two approaches to variation.  We do so by focusing on the experience of heritage speakers who are difficult to classify according to “traditional” models of bilingualism but provide a unique lens for an analysis that includes language and cultural experience.

For interim findings, please refer to Kroll, Chan, Cheng, and Scontras (2022) and Chan, Cheng, Kroll, and Scontras (2021).

Lecture Room

The Multilingual COVID-19 Conversation Project

Ongoing project, 2021-


Collaborators: Shoichi Iwasaki (UCLA) (Principal Investigator), Kazuyo Murata, (Ryukoko University)(Co-Principal Investigator)

This research project asks the questions of "what" and “how" younger adults around the world narrate the COVID-19 pandemic in the midst of a disaster. Using multiple approaches from interaction studies (corpus linguistics, narrative inquiry, conversation analysis, discourse analysis, interactional linguistics, and functional linguistics), this multidisciplinary project employs both quantitative and qualitative research methods. Focusing on the generation of digital natives, we collect 180 sets of conversational data on the topic of COVID-19 pandemic from 30 unacquainted pairs of native speakers in each of the 6 different languages (Cantonese, English, Japanese, Korean, Mandarin Chinese, and Thai) on Zoom. Through comparative study, we examine both the general patterns, cultural, and linguistic differences considering the pandemic narratives across different languages.

Figure 2-Du Bois.jpg

Stance Negotiation through the Use of Animal Classifiers for Human Referents in Cantonese

Completed, 2017-2020

Classifiers are an important grammatical resource for Cantonese as in many other Asian languages. In normal circumstances, they occur with semantically congruent class of nouns (e.g., ‘dogs’ occur with an animal classifier zek3.)   In this study, I examined non-canonical use of animal classifiers in conversational context which are employed to encode derogatory attitude toward someone the speaker takes issue with by adopting the framework of Du Bois’ ‘Stance Triangle’ (2007). The data I analyzed come from A Linguistic Corpus of Mid-20th Century Hong Kong Cantonese (Chin, 2015), an online movie corpus based on 21 movies produced from 1952 to 1966.

For findings, please refer to Chan (2019) and Chan (2022) in Text and Talk.


Syntactic Variations of Cantonese Heritage Speakers' in the Greater Toronto Area

Collaborator: Naomi Nagy (University of Toronto) (Principal Investigator)

Completed, 2014-2017

This project is part of the larger project titled Heritage Language Variation and Change (PI: Naomi Nagy). In this project, we investigated the syntactic influence that three generations of Cantonese heritage speakers experience in the Greater Toronto Area. Specifically, we examined their use of comparative constructions (e.g. John is taller than Sam) and sortal classifiers (e.g. tiu4, classifier for fish). To learn more, please refer to our presentations at the 15th Workshop on Cantonese (Chan & Nagy, 2015), APLA-39 (Lo et al, 2015), and the 3rd International Conference on Heritage/Community Languages (Chan, 2018) for findings. 

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