Grassroots multilingualism in Africa-China trade migration: “China shops” in Namibia and South Africa

A standalone China Shop along the Main Road in Oshikango, 2011. (Photograph by H. Han)

Principal Investigator: Dr. Huamei Han

Where to Learn More

Han, H. (2017) Trade migration and language. In S. Canagarajah (Ed.) The Routledge Handbook of Migration and Language, pp. 258-274. London & New York: Routledge.

This chapter conceptualizes “trade migration” as a form and category of migration involving seeking new goods or new markets and furthers the conceptualization of “grassroots multilingualism” (Han, 3013) as a useful applied linguistic and sociolinguistic concept that is associated with but goes beyond trade migration.  Recovering some historical roots and linkages and focusing on private trade migration which has interacted and intertwined with “public”/official trade in complicated ways, I emphasize it started in pre-historic times, continued through and survived European colonialism, and has expanded ever more widely and quickly in the current era of capitalist globalization but with many new players despite the fact that there is no dedicated migration category for long-term (e.g., over a year) stationed traders in the current visa-permit-and-residency scheme in most countries around the world.

Identifying and building on research on linguistic consequences or products traditionally associated with trade migration, namely the original “lingua franca,” “pidgins” and “trade jargons,” I further the conceptualization of “grassroots multilingualism” that has emerged from the context of trade migration between Africa and China. With data from my ongoing fieldwork in China and Namibia, I examine grassroots multilingualism at the individual and group level and attend to changes at both levels, and call for a shift of focus from linguistic products to linguistic and socioeconomic practices, ideologies, and processes in applied linguistics. 

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