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Multilingualism in Greater China and the Chinese Language Diaspora

SHERMAN LEE AND DAVID C. S. LI

Introduction

Greater China consists of four distinct polities: Mainland China; Taiwan; and the two Special Administrative Regions – Hong Kong and Macao. Large-scale migration from these regions has also resulted in a huge Chinese language diaspora across the globe. Altogether, the communities subsumed under these two entities – Greater China and the Chinese diaspora – represent an incredible array of cultural and linguistic heritages, language situations, and multilingual resources. This chapter gives a sociolinguistic overview of those communities: their historical background, sources of linguistic diversity; and issues pertaining to bi-/multilingualism including language policies, bilingual education, language shift, language maintenance, and institutional support.

China

China, with over 1.3 billion inhabitants, is the most populous country on earth, and the Chinese language, in its multifarious dialectal forms, has the largest number of speakers in the world. By default, the term ‘Chinese’ refers to the largest ethnic group, the Han, who compose about 92% of the total population in Mainland China (National Bureau of Statistics of China 2011). The remaining 8% (about 90 million) comprises dozens of mainly distinct ethnic groups – shaoshu minzu or ‘minority nationalities.’ The distribution of population is very uneven. The overwhelming majority of the population live in the plains ...

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