Performing linguistic and cultural authenticity: contemporary Mongolian wedding ceremonies in Inner Mongolia
thesisposted on 2022-03-28, 19:53 authored by Gegentuul Hongye Bai
This study examines the linguistic and cultural practices of contemporary Mongolian wedding ceremonies in Inner Mongolia, an autonomous region of China, where Mongols constitute around 11 percent of the population. Situated at the crossroads of minority linguistic and cultural revival, multicultural state policies and cultural commodification, contemporary Mongolian wedding ceremonies constitute a privileged window on linguistic and cultural change in the context of rapid socio-economic transformation. The study addresses three specific questions. First, what linguistic and cultural choices can be observed in Mongolian wedding ceremonies? Second, what ideologies are embedded in these semiotic practices? And, third, how do wedding practices and ideologies serve to produce and reproduce Mongolian “authenticity” and social hierarchies? To address these research questions, the study adopts a critical sociolinguistic ethnographic approach: a range of data were collected in Inner Mongolia in early 2016, including twenty-two video and audio recordings of wedding ceremonies, participant observation at weddings, interviews with “cultural entrepreneurs” involved in wedding planning and collection of wedding-related artefacts. Analysis focused on the discursive and material construction of a “perfect” Mongolian wedding; the ritual acts involved in weddings; and language and genre choice in wedding speeches. Findings show that contemporary Mongolian weddings are permeated by the hegemonic ideology of Mongolian tradition based on images of pastoralism, the imperial past, and the ideal of a “pure” Mongolian language. However, in actual practice, contemporary wedding ceremonies are heterogeneously constituted and range from monolingual Mongolian weddings through various bilingual and hybrid forms to Chinese-dominant weddings. Various forms of re-stylization, reflexivity and creativity contest the boundaries of tradition and modernity, minority and majority, local and global. The study also finds that material and linguistic indexes of authentic “Mongolian-ness” are only accessible to certain groups of Mongols, mostly well-educated middle-class urbanites. By contrast, rural farming Mongols are largely excluded from performing “Mongolian” weddings. The results of the study contribute to an improved understanding of Mongolian language and cultural change, maintenance, loss and revival in contemporary China. The research also makes a broader sociolinguistic contribution by complicating notions of minority language, culture and identity in the 21st century.