This dissertation explores complex positionings of Chinese heritage language (CHL) learners amid several intersecting discourses, including those around globalization, identity development and language policies. Using critical, qualitative methods, the study combines textual and site-based analyses, linking the language development experiences of diverse university-level CHL students to broader sociopolitical discourses.
An analysis of the concepts "heritage language" and "heritage language learner" serves as a foundation for ethnographic work at California Northern University (CNU, a pseudonym). Arguments for establishing expert meanings reflect unresolved, perhaps irresolvable, tensions among the disciplinary perspectives that are forming an emerging heritage language field. Interpreting the meaning "heritage" broadly for languages and narrowly for learners allows for uneasy equilibrium, leaving open questions about the significance of linkages between language and culture.
The study then explores this link in the context of university-level Mandarin education. Site-based field work at CNU from 2005-2008 examined policy enactments and their effects on diverse CHL learners. Findings under a dual-track program design, separating "regular" and "bilingual" learners at the introductory level, revealed complications around placements; when institutional policies did not meet students' language needs nor were in accord with their evolving sense of ethnic identity, some CHL students re-placed and re-positioned themselves, seeking to resolve tensions they faced when caught at the intersection of institutional values, program structure and their own linguistic and cultural resources.
After the program added a third track for Cantonese-background students, subsequent work focused on the experiences of diverse CHL students in this track. The first analysis details students' evolving investment in studying Mandarin as a "heritage" language whose spoken form differs greatly from Cantonese, examining identity negotiations and how Mandarin study interacted with students' sense of "Chineseness". The second analysis examines teachers' and students' beliefs about the relationship between Cantonese and Mandarin. The analysis reveals why "dialect" background matters for Mandarin development and that present theoretical constructions of CHL learners render invisible significant distinctions.
In sum, this dissertation connects issues of identities, pedagogies and policies in relational terms, demonstrating the importance of this approach for CHL education, and also within heritage language studies and applied linguistics.