"Where are you really from?": Nationality and Ethnicity Talk (NET) in everyday interactions

Zhu Hua*, Li Wei

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Citations (Scopus)


The article examines the significance of questions such as "where are you really from?" in everyday conversational interactions. Defining this kind of talk as nationality and ethnicity talk (NET), i. e. discourse that either explicitly or inexplicitly evokes one's nationality or ethnicity in everyday conversation, the paper discusses what constitutes NET, how it works through symbolic and indexical cues and strategic emphasis, and why it matters in the wider context of identity, race, intercultural contact and power relations. The discussion draws on social media data including videos, blogs, on-line comments and the authors' observations, and focuses on NET around Asian people living outside Asia. It argues that the question "where are you really from" itself does not per se contest immigrants' entitlement. However, what makes difference to the perception of whether one is an "interloper" - someone who is not wanted - is the "tangled" history, memory and expectation imbued and fuelled by power inequality.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)449-470
Number of pages22
JournalApplied Linguistics Review
Issue number4
Early online date31 Aug 2016
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2016


  • folk theory of race
  • nationality and ethnicity talk
  • stereotype

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language


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