TGIF SEASON 17 - Gendered linguistic gruntwork: Gender and capital conversion in neoliberal Taiwan

17 Mar 2023 03.30 PM - 05.00 PM SHHK Conference Room Alumni, Current Students, Industry/Academic Partners, Prospective Students, Public

In Taiwan, neoliberal discourses of competitiveness and internationalization valorize foreign language skills that the general public lacks, providing the ideal playing field for those in possession of these skills to achieve societal distinction by converting their valued linguistic capital into symbolic capital. Drawing on narrative interview data from a multi-case study of four young Taiwanese women who distinguished themselves from others in Taiwanese society by achieving high levels of proficiency in English and other foreign languages, I will, in this talk, examine the contextual circumstances that structured their success and constrained it, focusing especially on the role that gender played in the process. These women were remarkably successful in befriending foreigners, and the profits that resulted from their interactions with foreign men in both platonic and romantic relationships ranged from increased speaking practice with Skype buddies to trips abroad that were paid for by boyfriends. The findings of this study highlight the fact that copious amounts of linguistic capital, facilitated by classed resources and gender capital – ‘femininity as cultural capital’ (Lovell, 2000: 25), can result in a considerable amount of societal distinction through conversion to symbolic capital. 


Mark Fifer Seilhamer has been a lecturer in National Institute of Education’s English Language & Literature academic group since 2015. Before that, from 2012 to 2014, he was at the Division of Linguistics & Multilingual Studies, NTU, as a postdoctoral fellow. His research areas include language & identity and language ideologies, along with related areas such as linguistic landscapes and language planning & policy.