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By Karl Brunner

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Ethnic identity and ethnic characteristics are defined by contact and interaction between ethnic groups. Ethnicity is created as a result of the contrasting interests of such different groups, and it is used and manipulated by strong persons in the groups. The forms which ethnic identity takes, the cohesion within the ethnic group and its links to other ethnic communities, define community power. Ethnicity and cultural identity, therefore, are volatile and malleable, but also very powerful, ‘instruments’ for social interaction.

To the European Union, the Chinese are three things: people ‘originating in non-EU countries’ (irrespective of their nationality), ‘third country’ nationals, and a culturally distinct group. The first notion is conceptually vague, the second not or only minimally true (large groups of Chinese in Europe are nationals of European Union member states) and the third a self-fulfilling prophecy (if the European Commission accepts a dialogue with the European Chinese community, such a community will emerge).

Speech segmentation in Europe undergoes changes over time. Until the 1980s, for example, there was a great unwillingness among Cantonese speakers in Europe to use Mandarin, a situation that rapidly changed in the late 1980s and 1990s due to the growing global importance of China and because of Hong Kong’s return to China in 1997. Social Cantonese speakers whose first speech is Hakka have mused that they have an advantage above Cantonese speakers whose first speech is Cantonese or Toysanese; Mandarin, they say, is closer to Hakka, and so easier for them to learn.

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