Marginalised second-language (L2) speakers
Being an outsider in the receiving society, migrant women in transnational marriages are an obvious public policy target for assimilation. Through the lens of methodological nationalism (Wimmer and Glick-Schiller 2002), their biological reproduction is intertwined with their adoption of local language, since the latter is related to social reproduction in the form of child-rearing and motherhood duties (Bélanger 2007; Bélanger et al. 2010; Cheng 2013; Lan 2019). Seeing their use of language from the perspective of aiding children's academic performance (Chin and Yu 2009; Hsiao 2009; Chen 2011) is a case of methodological sexism (Dumitru 2014) since women’s motherhood is evaluated instrumentally. Research interests in this regard (motherhood and early education) are legitimised by either verifying or rebuking popular discourses that frame ‘mixed’ children as lower achievers, due to the perceived incapability of their mothers (Keng 2016) and the absence of involvement of local fathers in their children's early development (Keng 2016; Hsiao 2009).
Migrant women’s use of language is not only held responsible for their children’s academic performance and personality development but also for their own wellbeing. Without stressing the equal responsibility of the host society in general and their husbands as well as in-laws in particular for investing in mutual understanding, scholarship also tends to consider that women’s use of language is responsible for their suffering of gender-based violence (Williams and Yu 2006) or their weak integration into the host society (Liao and Wang 2013). Insufficient integration can be viewed as isolation, discrimination (Yang and Wang 2011), or a lower level of social support, which is correlated with depression (Lin and Hung 2007). Since immigrant minorities are conventionally regarded as less resourceful at maintaining their mental and physical health, marriage-migrant women are also found to be less capable of caring for themselves because a language barrier restricts their access to information and care (Yang et al. 2015; Huang and Yang 2018).
Thus, migrant women’s use of language tends to be conceived as a quantifiable matter of personal endeavours and measurable results. That is, the higher the level of migrant women’s proficiency in local languages, the better off they will be socially, economically, mentally, and physically. Employing a lineal progressive approach, this stream of research emphasises women's subjective and proactive engagement with local languages in order to receive the rewards of better socioeconomic integration. Although agency is not absent from these research designs, it is conceived more as an end result of personal endeavours rather than being part of their interactions with their social environs. Some researchers have paid more attention to this interactional or relational agency and found that attending language orientation classes is utilised by some women as an escape from abuse (Wang 2007) and that language becomes a resource for collective action for improving their legal treatment (Hsia 2006, 2007, 2009). Critical of the lineal approach and aligning itself with the relational perspective, this chapter is aimed at exploring what migrant women do with their languages, including their own and those local languages spoken by the host society, for resisting their marginalisation and othering (e.g. Park 2017), rather than how they are measured by the host society for their linguistic performance as L2 speakers.
In sum, the literature reviewed above prioritises migrant women's experiences as L2 speakers without taking into account their identity as first-language (LI) speakers. The use of L1 and L2, the critical resources for their identity construction, is imagined as a trade-off rather than mutual constitution. When focusing on their L2 adoption, these studies are more concerned about the end result (how well they speak) rather than the process whereby the use of L2 is punctuated by the change of their life course and by their role playing inside and outside of the private home. To underline this dynamic relationship between these women and the fluid linguistic environment in their everyday life, this chapter proposes to see their use of LI and L2 as operating in a ‘linguistic borderland’ where they switch between different languages in accordance with the role being played, such as being a wife, mother, daughter-in-law, worker, or citizen. The concept of the linguistic borderland sees their use of language as a strategy for drawing on resources available to them as well as reacting to the marginalisation imposed on them. This concept rejects the approach of assessing their level of proficiency in
L2 and using this assessment to measure their level of integration. Applying the linguistic borderland concept foregrounds the dynamism that highlights what they do with their languages rather than evaluating how well they speak the language. The concept of linguistic borderland also grasps their performance of the hybrid identity that is role-contingent and context-dependent shifting between being an L1 and L2 speaker.