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Introducing Tingting Hui, PhD candidate at LUCAS

Tingting Hui started her PhD project at LUCAS in September 2015. Her promotors will be Ernst van Alphen and Yasco Horsman from the Literary Studies department.

Tingting Hui was born in Yulin, a 'small' city (with five hundred thousand people) in the north of China. She did not really feel that she belonged there. Tingting explains: “… because very few people ever showed interest in my bookshelf, I craved being different and living somewhere else, so that I could love my hometown from a safe distance and under the spell of nostalgia.” We asked her a few questions…

What kind of Bachelor did you do? And where?

“I did my bachelor in Teaching Chinese as a Second Language (TCSL) at Northwest University in Xi’an. Afterwards, I decided to go abroad and study literature. Luckily, Leiden University held no bias against cross-disciplinarity, and admitted me for the one-year master program of Comparative Literature and Literary Theory. It was by chance that I had chosen the Netherlands; I didn’t know much about this country except that it was Vincent van Gogh’s birthplace. With no specific expectations in mind, I came to Leiden and was delighted that herring was no less enjoyable than van Gogh’s paintings”.

What exactly is the topic of your research? How did you come up with it and why do you have affinity with the subject?

“My research is about accents. With Yulin dialect being my mother tongue, I have noticed that deviations in pronunciation from the standard Mandarin and English can easily make the speaker the target of ridicule. What makes things worse is that sometimes people do not speak up even when they are treated unfairly, only because they feel ashamed of their accents. I have identified similar observations from writers like Amy Tan and Maxine Hong Kingston, whose reflections on the social hostility towards non-standard accents lead me to theorizing the political and cultural forces that structure people’s reactions towards various accents. In particular, I am curious about how to talk back when one’s speech itself is degraded. People often comment on my English accent, even before I begin to ‘lecture’ them on my research topic. Some people asked me why I did not speak the typical Chinglish. Some said that they could recognize the Dutch accent in my English. Some advised me to strengthen my pronunciation of /th/. At first I was annoyed and even offended. Yet, when I grew more confident about my language abilities, I became aware that these comments have largely helped to map out my linguistic trajectory and do not necessarily prescribe the ways I relate to my accent. Therefore, in my research I intend to analyze the interrelation between speakers and their accents, between language and body, and between speech and desire.”

What is the social relevance of your research or what purpose does it serve?

“In the contemporary context of globalization and migration, people tend to talk about accents and talk with accents, without acknowledging that accents can distinguish insiders from outsiders. This makes this project socially relevant and important. I contend that a critical attention to the discursive nature of the accent and the politics of its construction contributes to ongoing debates on political and societal openness to linguistic diversity, and the substantial gap between multilingual practices and the monolingual paradigm that is still dominant in western societies.”

Does your research open doors to other (interdisciplinary) research?

“It is my intention that through engaging methodologies of literary and linguistic studies, this project will develop a new set of tools, concepts, and reading strategies that open up possibilities to other interdisciplinary research.” 

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