Language competence, identity construction and discursive boundary-making: Distancing and alignment in domestic migrant worker narratives

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5 Citations (Scopus)


Many people in developing countries are faced with a dilemma. If they stay at home, their children are kept in poverty with no prospects of a better future; if they become migrant workers, they will suffer long-term separation from their families. This article focuses on one of the weakest groups in the global economy: domestic migrant workers. It draws on a corpus of more than 400 narratives recorded at a church shelter in Hong Kong and among migrant worker returnees in rural Indonesia and the Philippines. In sharing sessions, migrant women share their experiences of working for abusive employers, and the article analyses how language is used to include and exclude. The women tell how their employers construct them as "incompetent" and "stupid" because they do not speak Chinese. However, faced by repression and marginalisation, the women use their superior English language skills to get back at their employers and momentarily gain the upper hand. Drawing on ideologies of language as the theoretical concept, the article provides a discourse analysis of selected excerpts focusing on language competence and identity construction.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)97-122
Number of pages26
JournalInternational Journal of the Sociology of Language
Issue number262
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2020


  • Chinese and English in Hong Kong
  • distancing and alignment
  • domestic migrant workers
  • language competence
  • language ideologies

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language

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