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Shirley Huang Presents at the American Association for Applied Linguistics Conference

shirley huang
Seaver professor Kelle Marshall and student Shirley Huang present at the American Association for Applied Linguistics (AAAL) Conference on March 24, 2018, in Chicago.


PR: You recently presented your research at the American Association for Applied Linguistics Conference. How did this particular research project come about?

Shirley Huang: In Fall of 2016, I took a class with Dr. Kelle Marshall, now Associate Professor and Coordinator of the French Program of the International Studies and Languages Division. For that semester's final paper, I summarized a master's thesis on the historical discourse associated with a separatist political party in the province of Québec, Canada. While discussing this topic of political party discourse with Dr. Marshall, I shared with her my curiosity of whether present-day political parties in Québec maintained the traditional discourse from the 1960s that came to define a significant aspect of the Québécois identity within the province decades later. As we discussed how to investigate this question, we found that social media seemed to be one of the primary channels that these political parties utilize to communicate to their constituents. In Summer of 2017, through research we conducted through the Summer Undergraduate Research Program (SURP), Dr. Marshall and I developed these initial research questions: "How do Québec's main political parties that claim to represent the Québécois identity express their political identities and purposes through tweets?" We picked Twitter as the primary channel for communication because of its classification as a microblogging tool, a form of communication which limits the length of a social media post. We thought, due to its length limitations, that the words the parties tweet will hold the most symbolic meaning that, according to them, best represent their ideologies. The timing of our research also amazingly coincided with an event that would come to be known as a moment that challenged the Québécois identity. In January 2017, an extremist sympathizing with the Québécois separatist movement launched a terrorist attack on a Mosque near Québec City. A well-known media outlet published an article associating xenophobia and exclusivity with the Québécois identity. This instance of violence therefore prompted us to choose to analyze tweets from one month before and one month after the attack to answer if the parties had adhered to the traditional historical discourse both before and after the mosque attack or if they had perhaps shifted their discourse after the attack to present the Québécois political identity as more inclusive.

PR: Please tell us about this specific project as it relates to your scholarly process. What question(s) did you hope to address with your research?

Shirley Huang: Our SURP and Academic Year Undergraduate Research Initiative (AYURI) research projects focused on the social media discourse of political parties generally thought to represent the Québécois political identity adhered or diverged with the traditional, separatist discourse that was present during the initial independence movement in Québec within the 1960s. We narrowed our initial research questions, asking:

a. How do the PQ, the BQ, and the CAQ express their political identities and purposes through tweets?

b. Which political ideologies are represented in these parties' tweets; what are points of convergence and divergence among them?

To answer these questions, we captured more than three hundred tweets from Québec's three prominent political parties and performed a hand-coded Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA) on them. We separated the tweets into the following categories: the aim or goals of each party; party norms; and party positions, focusing in particular on the parties' ideologies. After we had finished the process of coding the tweets into each category, separated also by each political party, we then analyzed the discourse found within each tweet.

PR: Tell us about your larger research interests in general – where do your interests lie?

Shirley Huang: I hope to eventually enter a Master's program in linguistics in my home province of Québec. As an immigrant to that region, I grew up an allophone, which in Québec means that neither French nor English were my mother tongue. Statistically, however, a majority of allophones within Québec are at least trilingual with many being multilingual (i.e. speaking three or more languages). The sociolinguistics class I took here at Pepperdine have inspired my interest in doing research on the allophone population in Québec. Specifically, I am curious as to the identity and cultural values my fellow allophones associate with the French language. Globalization has brought to Québec and the rest of Canada millions of new immigrants, almost all of whom speak a different language other than the two official languages of the nation. In Montréal, where I grew up, it is very common to find individuals with native proficiencies in French, English, and another language even though they were born in another corner of the world. However, the more I looked into the available linguistics and sociolinguistics research during my AYURI in Spring 2018, the more I realized that there was very little research on the allophone population within Québec.

When we attended the American Association for Applied Linguistics Conference, there was this heavy focus on the benefits of personal bilingualism. However, growing up as a trilingual individual, I wanted to know more about how multilingualism affects how individuals perceive their identity or identities and culture(s). With increased global mobility and migration, "third-culture kids" and multilingual children are becoming more and more common, but research on them is fairly new – especially in sociolinguistics. I hope that my future linguistic research can shed a better light on the effects of multilingualism and bilingualism.

PR: How has your participation in this research project and presentation impacted you?

Shirley Huang: The results of our research revealed that one of Québec's oldest separatist parties has begun to promote inclusion and diversity in its party discourse. This seems to be a shift in its political ideology as historically the party had been known to promote a strictly homogenous Québécois political identity associated with the original French settlers of the region. Our results suggest that the Québécois parties are promoting a more inclusive political identity. As long as newcomers, no matter their origins, come to accept and promote the importance of the French language and culture in Québec, they will be welcomed as a member of the Québécois society. This aligns with literature we had reviewed which suggested that the Québécois were shifting to
emphasize a civic rather than an ethnic citizenship. However, to actually see this shift towards inclusion and acceptance in play in the discourse of one of the oldest separatist political parties somehow really moved me. As an immigrant to any region, people go into that new society knowing that they do not share the same ethnic origins of the people in that region so starting from ground zero, many of us already have a sense of insecurity. For an in-group to essentially say, "We'll accept you as one of our own regardless of your ethnic origins, religious beliefs, cultural values as long as you respect our language and culture," somehow really resonates with me as an immigrant.

Additionally, the AAAL Conference itself made me truly appreciate the importance of language and the study of language in society. At the conference, I learned about the extent of the interdisciplinary nature of the field of applied linguistics and in general taught me about the infinite potentials of applying linguistics to society. For example, the fact that bilingualism can actually delay the onset of symptoms of dementia and Alzheimer's—diseases that have no
known cure to date—is groundbreaking news for the push for learning another language. Also, a fairly new study with impressive longitudinal data which was mentioned in one of the plenary speeches has shown that being multilingual may actually raise one's IQ!

Overall, however, this project has taught me how to confidently present my research in a professional setting. The awareness that I was one of the very few undergraduate students at a conference for graduate students and professors motivated me to do the best I could to show the knowledge I had and gained from all the literature we read and all the data we gathered and analyzed to the best of my abilities.