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"Truly a Language of Our Own" A Corpus-Based, Experimental, and Variationist Account of Lánnang-uè in Manila




Year Published:

Wilkinson Daniel Wong Gonzales

University of Michigan










sociolinguistics, Lánnang-uè, Chinese Filipino, Lannang, documentation, mixed language, variation


Lánnang-uè, as used in Manila, is a predominantly oral Sino-Philippine variety that has elements derived from Hokkien, Mandarin, English, and Tagalog. Its users, the Lannangs, are divided in their perceptions towards the variety – some view it as what is commonly known as a ‘language’, while the majority view it as broken Hokkien, ad-hoc code-switching, or an unstructured admixture. My previous research on Manila Lánnang-uè (henceforth, Lánnang-uè), which focused on three features, has shown some evidence for the former – that Lánnang-uè has high degrees of ‘languageness’. It also revealed an intriguing pattern: a mismatch between popular folk belief and linguistic practice.
This dissertation seeks to further explore the patterns found through a comprehensive investigation of the variety. It aims to answer the question: Where does Lánnang-uè fall in the cline of languageness? I do this by analyzing linguistic data across multiple levels of language with respect to established key properties relevant to languageness, such as systematicity, spread, stability, linguistic independence, clustering, and user attitudes. I employ a wide range of methods and tools (e.g., descriptive, experimental, computational, corpus-based, ethnographic, sociolinguistic) in the hopes of answering this question. Furthermore, using the evidence collected, I hope to situate Lánnang-uè in the constellation of contact varieties/phenomena.
The results suggest that Lánnang-uè is highly language-like. A series of investigations across multiple features in the variety indicates high levels of systematicity in the variety. For example, I found that Lánnang-uè has variation that is systematically conditioned by social and linguistic factors. For at least some features, there is a strong indication that variation is systematically used to express particular social meaning(s). Another major finding in my investigation is that the features in Lánnang-uè have a high degree of spread and stability within the community. My findings also suggest that the patterns/features are relatively independent from the source languages of Lánnang-uè. Furthermore, although many speakers do not perceive it as a full-fledged language, there are those who do, referring to it as ‘secret code’ and ‘mixed language’. The findings corroborate my previous work on Lánnang-uè, which also suggest that the variety has high degrees of languageness.
The close resemblance of many Lánnang-uè lexical and grammatical elements to Hokkien and the fact that many community members refer to Lánnang-uè as Hokkien (e.g., broken Hokkien, adulterated Hokkien, nativized Hokkien) might, at first glance, lead one to definitively conclude that it is a variety of Hokkien. However, a closer examination of the sociohistorical and linguistic patterns involving Lánnang-uè and its users indicate that that may not be the case. It shows that Lánnang-uè has features of “mixed languages”. Pending more research, the findings of this dissertation suggest that the most likely scenario is that Lánnang-uè is a mixed language or – if one shifts away from the idea of rigid typological categories and aligns with a view of a linguistic continuum – a variety situated somewhere in a continuum from ‘Hokkien’ to ‘mixed language’, leaning closely towards ‘mixed language.’ Overall, Lánnang-uè has features that set it apart from other linguistic varieties and language types in its linguistic ecology. It is rightfully labeled Lánnang-uè – a language that its users can truly call their own.

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