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“Eating the food of our place”: Sociolinguistic loyalties in multidialectal Sui villages


Among the Sui people of rural southwestern China, descent-group loyalties are closely tied to linguistic features. In every village, long-term dialect contact occurs between local villagers and in-marrying women from different clans, yet most speakers maintain their original dialect features to a high degree. The present study conducts ethnographic interviews to more deeply understand why such behavior occurs. Most current, practice-based models of identity tend to emphasize dynamic, flexible, individualistic choices – an approach that suits variation on many levels in many societies. However, to understand the descent-group loyalties particular to indigenous, non-Western, clan-based cultures like Sui, a more tempered, culturally sensitive model is necessary. Speakers show a deep sense of stability, permanence, and collective loyalty to communities of descent, (re)produced through stable linguistic expressions: acts of loyalty. The study also highlights the use of indigenous minorities’ own categories (place, toponyms, lineage) rather than non-indigenous categories. (Language and identity, place, dialect contact, clan, indigenous minority, acts of identity, acts of loyalty, community of practice, community of descent)

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