Universiteit Leiden

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PhD defence

The Sociolinguistics of Rhotacization in the Beijing Speech Community

  • H. Hu
Wednesday 21 September 2022
Academy Building
Rapenburg 73
2311 GJ Leiden


  • Prof.dr. N.O. Schiller
  • Prof.dr. R. Sybesma


This dissertation investigates the social, attitudinal, and linguistic mechanisms behind language choice and language change in postmodern urban China. More specifically, it examines the language choice, use, and pronunciation norm formation of rhotacization in Beijing, the country’s capital city, due to the normative forces of urbanization, Standard Chinese, native dialects, and the expression of belonging. This dissertation studies the language attitude towards and language use of rhotacization in the Beijing Speech Community in quality and quantity, with the methods of sociolinguistics and phonetics.

The language attitude study shows that both Beijing native speakers and migrants report the perceived salience of rhotacization in the Beijing Speech Community and rhotacization imitation by migrants. In addition, both native and migrant respondents associate migrants with the upwards social mobility in Beijing, in the background of Standard Chinese promotion and influx of migrants. The prestige of Standard Chinse, the difficulty of learning rhotacization, and the non-necessity of using Beijing Mandarin are also reported.
A significant result in the phonetic study demonstrates that, as an important feature in both Beijing Mandarin and Standard Chinese, rhotacization is undergoing the decline of both tokens and types in native speakers’ natural speech. However, compared to migrants, Beijing native speakers still produce the biggest number of rhotacization tokens, types, and variants.

Together, this dissertation reveals the social, attitudinal, and linguistic forces on language choices and pronunciation norms formation in postmodern urban settings, advancing our understanding of the mechanisms from various aspects.

PhD dissertations

Approximately one week after the defence, PhD dissertations by Leiden PhD students are available digitally through the Leiden Repository, that offers free access to these PhD dissertations. Please note that in some cases a dissertation may be under embargo temporarily and access to its full-text version will only be granted later.

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