Language in Society

Research Articles

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


a1 Program in Linguistics and Cognitive Science, Dartmouth College, 6220 Reed Hall, Hanover, New Hampshire 03755-3506


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)

(Received July 31 2007)

(Reviewed October 28 2008)

(Accepted November 03 2008)

(Online publication November 24 2008)