Forum to explore role of heritage language

February 14, 2017
Dr. Yuanyuan Hu
Dr. Dong Isbister

PLATTEVILLE, Wis. — What is the role of heritage language – a language other than the dominant language in a given social context – in immigrant families and communities?

To help answer that question, the University of Wisconsin-Platteville’s College of Liberal Arts and Education will present a faculty forum, “Wenzhounese: A Chinese Dialect in New York City,” on Thursday, March 2, in Room 136 Doudna Hall from 5-6:30 pm.

At the forum, Dr. Yuanyuan Hu, associate professor of English at UW-Platteville, will share highlights of a research project she recently conducted examining the role of Wenzhounese – a Chinese dialect spoken in Wenzhou, China – in immigrant families and communities in New York City, New York.

Hu, a speaker of Wenzhounese, visited New York City – mainly Manhattan and Flushing, where large Wenzhounese immigrant communities exist – in June and December 2015. There, she immersed herself in the communities and observed users and uses of Wenzhounese in a variety of settings. She conducted one-to-one interviews, mainly in Wenzhounese, with six Wenzhounese speakers, including a family of four, a relative of the family and a community leader. In addition, she video-recorded a Wenzhounese Buddhist religious ceremony, took hundreds of photographs of the communities and collected documents, such as restaurant menus and business cards, of Wenzhounese speakers.

“I hope audience members will gain an understanding and appreciation of the Wenzhounese dialect, the linguistic and cultural diversity in New York City and the United States, the role of heritage language in immigrant families and communities and the importance of language maintenance in a global context,” said Hu. She noted Wenzhounese is unique because it is largely unintelligible to speakers of Mandarin Chinese and other Chinese dialects and people from different parts of Wenzhou speak Wenzhounese with obvious variations.

Hu’s research project originated from her concern over the alarming and unprecedented loss of Wenzhounese among young generations in Wenzhou, China.

Following Hu’s presentation, Dr. Dong Isbister, assistant professor of women’s and gender studies at UW-Platteville, will discuss language services in medical settings in the United States and the impacts of variations in spoken Chinese on Chinese patients with limited English proficiency. Her topic is “Do You Speak Chinese”?: A Certified Healthcare Interpreter’s Stories.

Hu began teaching at UW-Platteville in 2007 after receiving her Ph.D. in English as an international student at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana. She is in charge of the undergraduate Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages program that provides students with the professional knowledge and skills necessary to teach English to speakers of other languages in the United States and/or abroad. She also coordinates UW-Platteville’s Master of Science in English Education program, established in 2001 in collaboration with South Central University for Nationalities, Wuhan, China.

Isbister received her Ph.D. in women’s studies from Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio, and began teaching at UW-Platteville in fall 2013. She teaches introductory and upper-level undergraduate courses in women’s and gender studies, geography and ethnic studies. She is also a nationally certified healthcare interpreter, providing interpreting services for providers and Chinese patients who speak different Chinese dialects and have limited English proficiency. She was in the first group of CCHI certified Mandarin healthcare interpreters in the United States. As an educator and trainer, she has designed and taught an online graduate course in healthcare interpreting for a Canadian university. She also serves on the Education Committee at International Medical Interpreters Association.

The forum is free and open to university students, faculty, staff and community members. Refreshments will be served.

The LAE Faculty Forum Series, a program instituted in the fall of 2004, is sponsored by UW-Platteville’s College of LAE. The purpose of the forum is to allow faculty to present information in their research areas. Presenters tailor their presentations to a general audience.

Written by: Laurie Hamer, College of Liberal Arts and Education, 608-342-6191,


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