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2022-2023 L'IMAGE comics

To cite this page: Taniguchi, Ai, and Haili Su. 2023. Tim's Story - Heritage Chinese (Cantonese/Mandarin). In University of Toronto Language, Identity, Multiculturalism and Global Empowerment Project (L'IMAGE). Available online at Accessed on [date].

Tim's Story - Heritage Chinese (Cantonese/Mandarin)

[CN: Brief allusion to linguistic microaggresion on p.7]

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L’IMAGE comic series: Tim’s Story

Alt-Text with long description





[Page 1, Title Page]

Upper left corner of page reads: UofT L’IMAGE Project: Language, Identity, Multiculturalism and Global Empowerment


Subtitle over light blue box: The lived experiences of real multilingual students at U of T


Title over bright red box: Tim’s story**


Under the title banners, the character Tim smiles at the readers. He has dark, brown-black layered hair that barely touches his shoulders. He has medium-tan skin. He is wearing a navy blue t-shirt.


Bottom left corner of page shows the University of Toronto logo.


Bottom right footnote: **Some stories in the L’IMAGE comic series employ pseudonyms at the request of the featured student.


[Long description of text and images in the comic strip:

The comic strips in the L’IMAGE comic series uses the font Ames, which is the standard font for comics. Ames is an all-caps font. However, Alt-Texts for this project are not written in all-caps so that they will be more accessible for screen readers.

The comic artist for the series is Dr. Ai Taniguchi. Her drawing style can be described as: Japanese manga inspired, cute, large eyes, intentionally sketchy and unpolished line art, simplified, expressive. The comic strips are all digital, but she uses a pen that mimics the line weight of a traditional fountain pen. Her line art is on average 0.5mm in width (relatively thin), but the line weight varies and looks hand-drawn.

The title page of each comic strip is in color. It has a University of Toronto color scheme: navy blue, light blue, and bright red. The background is white with a navy blue frame. The references and acknowledgements page and the “About the L’IMAGE project” page also have this University of Toronto color scheme.

The comic strips themselves are black and white, and employ digital screen tones for shading and backgrounds.]



[Page 2]


Top panel: Tim is smiling with his teeth out, with a playful expression.


Tim’s narration: He! My name is Tim! I’ma. Chinese-Canadian student at UofT.


Bottom panel: Ai is bowing to Tim, and Tim is bowing back. They seem to be greeting eachother in Japanese. To readers who are familiar with Japanese, hand-written text above them says どーもどーも [Alt-Text note: these are Japanese characters] in Japanese.


Tim’s narration: I’m a heritage Chinese speaker (Cantonese and Mandarin), and English is my dominant language. I also speak Japanese, too!


[Page 3]


Top panel: Tim is looking at a piece of paper that seems to say “Dear Son” at the top. He is illustrated with Japanese manga effects that show sweating and negative emotions such as sadness, disappointment, and shock. Hand-written text above him says “uh-oh.”


Tim’s narration: I was born and raised in Toronto. Growing up, my mom always wanted me to learn Cantonese, her mother tongue.


Bottom panel: A young Tim is seen laying on the ground in a relaxed pose, wearing sunglasses, whistling, and reading manga.


I went to a Chinese language school every weekend when I was little. That’s where I was exposed to Mandarin. But I kind of went through a rebellious phase as a kid and resisted engaging with Cantonese and Mandarin. Instead, I started studying and learning Japanese, because I got interested in anime at the time.


[Page 4]


Top panel: Social media messages (probably Discord) between Tim and a friend named “Taro” is seen. They seem to be talking in Japanese. To readers who are familiar with Japanese, the message say, “Tim: 最新話もう見たー?” “Taro:   見た見た!”


Tim’s narration: Today, I am more fluent in Japanese than in Cantonese or Mandarin. Although not my heritage language, Japanese is still a pretty big part of my identity since I’ve been learning it for a while, and I have good friends who I speak Japanese with as well.


Bottom panel: Tim is typing on a laptop, with a slight smile.


Tim’s narration: I of course use English at school, and in my daily life generally. I’m also currently learning Korean, too! I generally love learning languages.


[Page 5]


Top panel: A traditional-looking drawing of a Japanese man is seen. There is illegible, vertically written script reminiscent of Chinese characters around the man. For readers familiar with Japanese history, the image is recognizable as a drawing from Hyakunin Isshu.


Tim’s narration: In high school, I got interested in Classical Japanese. I found the history and language change fascinating.


Bottom panel: The background is a drawing that mimics the texture of ink. The drawing is reminiscent of East Asian art. In the drawing, a man seems to be standing at the top of a cliff. For readers familiar with Chinese history and art, the image is recognizable as “Poet on a Mountaintop”.


[Page 6]


Top panel: The background shows a traditional Chinese pattern. Over it, calligraphy of a Chinese and/or Japanese character is seen. To readers who are familiar with Chinese characters, the character is 家. [Alt-Text note: this is a Chinese character]


Tim’s narration: Since then, I’ve been practicing my Cantonese and Mandarin more. I practice speaking with my mom and other extended family members. I also love doing calligraphy, too!


Bottom panel: An elderly man and an elderly woman, both wearing glasses, are seen smiling.


Tim’s narration: Being able to talk to my family in Cantonese is really awesome, I feel much closer to them as a result. I’ve also written poems for my grandparents in Classical Chinese, which they’ve really liked!


[Page 7]


Top panel: Tim looks slightly annoyed, and is talking on his smartphone.


Tim’s narration: Being a heritage Chinese speaker can give rise to funny situations sometimes. One time I got a scam call in Mandarin. I started interacting with them in Mandarin with the objective of wasting their time.


Bottom panel: Tim is in the same position as the previous panel, but now the top half of his face is covered by a shadow. He has an angular smile. Someone one the phone is saying to him, “Why is your Chinese so bad???” There is some sort of sound effect written in Japanese to the left of Tim. The background is dark, and there is a series of vertical lines coming out from the top of the panel.


To readers familiar with Japanese manga effects, the shadow and the lines depict negative emotions, in this case shock and disappointment. The sound effect in Japanese is ガーン. [Alt-Text note: these are Japanese characters]


Tim’s narration: After a while, the scammer started scolding me about my Mandarin… They eventually hung up on me (skull emoji).


[Page 8]


Entire panel: A traditional Chinese pattern is seen in the background.


Tim’s narration: Navigating a multicultural identity isn’t always simple. A heritage language user may have desires deep down to actively express their heritage, whether it be through language or other means. But at least for me, sometimes there was external social pressure to assimilate to the dominant local language and culture, too. I now have the realization and appreciation that you don’t have to belong to just one “category”. I can take part in the practices of my heritage community in a way that feels natural to me. Simultaneously, I can have an identity outside of that group. My various identities may intersect as well. This is me, and it’s OK to be me.


[Page 9]


Entire panel: Tim is seen smiling confidently at the readers. The background effects evoke feelings of hope and inspiration.


Tim’s narration: My name is Tim. I’m many things at once, and I’m proud to be all of them.



[Page 10]


Page title: About the L’IMAGE project

Project PI and comic artist: Ai Taniguchi, Assistant Professor, UTM Department of Language Studies

Research Assistant: Haili Su, MA Student, UTSG Department of Linguistics

Special thanks to: Gilbert Lin, Assistant Director, Intercultural & Global Initiatives, UTM International Education Centre

With the generous support of: UofT International Student Experience Fund, UTM Department of Language Studies, UTM International Education Centre

Learn more:

Bottom right of page shows the University of Toronto Mississauga logo and the University of Toronto logo.







[Page 1]


As we learned in a previous L’IMAGE 5-Minute Linguistics lesson, “Chinese” isn’t a single language, but rather a branch of the Sino-Tibetan language family that encompasses many linguistic varieties. While Putonghua (Standardized Mandarin) is regarded as the “standard” variety in China, a Chinese speaker could be a speaker of one or more varieties such as Cantonese (Yue), Hokkien (Southern Min), Hakka, Shanghainese (Wu), etc. 92% of the Chinese population, most of them Han Chinese, speak a Chinese language.


Since the 19th century, Chinese-speaking migrants have been establishing many diasporic communities in many parts of the world and bringing the linguistic diversity with them in this process.


L’IMAGE Aji is seen smiling in the bottom left corner.



[Page 2]


The first wave of Chinese immigration to Canada began in the 19th century, composed of laborers working on the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR). Most of the laborers came from Guangdong (where Cantonese, Teochew and Hakka are spoken), and many of them speak Hoisanese (Taishanese), a Yue variety that is closely related to standardized Cantonse. Since then, multiple waves of Chinese-speaking immigrants have brought their own languages to Canada. According to the 2021 Census, over 530,000 people in Canada speak mostly Mandarin at home, while over 393,000 people use mostly Cantonese at home.


Under the text, a photo of a memorial in Toronto commemorating the Chinese railroad workers who worked on the CPR is seen. The memorial looks like an arch composed of many metal beams. The captions indicate that the photo was taken by Justin R. Leung.



[Page 3]


In Toronto, English is the dominant language spoken in the city[NN1] . The dominant language is the perceived default language of that locale. So for example in Toronto, English is used more than other languages in public schools, on the radio, and in other public settings. Non-dominant languages in Toronto include Cantonese, Mandarin, Tamil, Spanish, Tagalog, Portuguese, Italian, Somali, and more!


Being a heritage language user typically means that you were raised in a home where a non-dominant language was used. When you are a heritage language user, you started out your life with this non-dominant language as your first language, but you are increasingly expose dto the dominant language from a young age, which may compete with the non-dominant language.


L’IMAGE Aji speech bubble: Researchers define “heritage language” in various ways. A wider-scope definition of “heritage language” in the Canadian context includes any language other than the official languages of Canada that you have a cultural connection to. This definition would include 1st (and 1.5) generation immigrants under the scope of “heritage language users” too, not just 2nd generation and beyond. 


[Page 4]


There isn’t just one way to be a “heritage language user”. When your heritage language competes with the dominant language as you’re growing up, many different things can happen. Some people may retain fluency in their heritage language. Some may become less fluent in their heritage language.


Heritage language users fall within a continuum of proficiency: some heritage language users may be quite fluent, some know just a few expressions in the language, some might only be able to understand it (but not speak/sign it), etc. No matter where you are on the continuum, your language is valid!


A dark-skinned girl (probably Hafza from the previous L’IMAGE story), Tim, and L’IMAGE Aji are seen smiling at the bottom of the page.


[Page 5]


It is not OK for people to criticize heritage language users on the lower end of the proficiency continuum as being “lazy” or that they “just didn’t study the language hard enough”! There are many factors that go into the (non-)maintenance of a heritage language, including external social pressure to assimilate to the dominant language, your attitude(s) towards the home language and culture, availability of opportunities to practice the language and cultural traditions, and how much exposure to the heritage language you had in your community growing up.


Ai is seen speaking at the bottom left of the page. She is wearing a hoodie whose hood looks like L’IMAGE Aji.


Ai’s speech bubble: When I was in high school, I was often made to feel like being Japanese wasn’t “cool” by my peers, and I felt a lot of social pressure to fit in. At the same time, some Japanese people would also say that I was “too American”. These kinds of things can affect a person’s relationship with their language(s) a lot, whether they like it or not!



[Page 6]

Contrary to popular belief, a child does NOT acquire their first language through explicit instruction from parents and teachers! A typically-developing child will become fluent in the language(s) used around them in their community. Children’s brains observe the patterns in the language(s) they’re exposed to, and they use that to build a mental grammar of that language (or languages).


Our project PI Ai spoke only Japanese when she was living in Japan as a child. At the age of 6, she started speaking English. Hmm, why that timing? Well, she moved to the United States when she was 6, so that’s when she started having exposure to the English language! Child language acquisition is all about what language environment the child is put in.


L’IMAGE Aji speech bubble:  This means that for heritage language users, the availability of language communities and resources (not just at home) is very important for the maintenance of their language!



[Page 7]

Institutional support of non-dominant languages in a community is essential for the maintenance of heritage languages. Institutional support may come in the form of community culture centres, libraries, language schools and courses, social/cultural events, and more. In Toronto, the Chinese Cultural Centre of Greater Toronto (CCCGT[NN2] ) promotes Chinese culture and hosts various social events for Cantonese and Mandarin speakers. The School of Continuing Studies at the University of Toronto offers courses in various levels of Cantonese. Various school boards in the GTA (e.g., TDSB, TCDSB) offer international languages classes for K-12 students as well!


Non-institutional support also mattes a lot: content created by heritage speakers (e.g., YouTube creators like Brittany Chan, Made with Lau, CantoMando) help with heritage language awareness and identity empowerment!


L'IMAGE Aji speech bubble: Are you a heritage language user? Check out our recommended resources at the end of this lesson!



[Page 8]

There are many benefits of multilingualism, including intercultural communication and professional development. There are even some studies that suggest that bilinguals do better with executive function than monolinguals, and evidence that bilingual children show less racial bias than monolingual children --- see Chapter 11 of Essentials of Linguistics (2nd ed.) and references therein! Maintaining your heritage language in particular may be especially beneficial because it can also help you communicate with your family. Multilingualism is not a harmful thing.


Ai’s speech bubble: If you are a caregiver raising a heritage language user, using a positive attitude to encourage your child to use their heritage language is important for their language maintenance. At the same time, please remember that your child may be navigating a complex multicultural/multilingual identity.


When I was a teenager, I remember wanting to maintain my Japanese identity yet not wanting to feel isolated from my English-speaking friends at the same time. It was a very delicate balancing act.


Please show your child compassion and flexibility, and encourage them to embrace all sides of their multilingual identity.



[Page 9]




Au, T. K. F., & Oh, J. S. (2009). Korean as a heritage language. In Lee, C., Simpson, G.B., & Kim, Y. (Eds.), Handbook of East Asian Psycholinguistics, 3, 268-275.


Benmamoun, E., S. Montrul, & M. Polinsky. (2013). Heritage languages and their speakers: Opportunities and challenges for linguistics. Theoretical Linguistics, 39(3–4), 129–181.


Bialystok, E. (2009). Bilingualism: The good, the bad, and the indifferent. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, 12(01), 3.


Guardado, M. (2002). Loss and maintenance of first language skills: Case studies of Hispanic families in Vancouver. Canadian Modern Language Review, 58(3), 341-363.


Kurpaska, M. (2010). Chinese language (s). In Chinese Language (s). De Gruyter Mouton.


Mizuta, A. (2017). Memories of language lost and learned : parents and the shaping of Chinese as a heritage language in Canada (T). University of British Columbia. Retrieved from


Nagy, N. (2009). Heritage Language Variation and Change. 


Polinsky, M., & Kagan, O. (2007). Heritage languages: In the ‘wild’ and in the classroom. Language and Linguistics Compass, 1(5), 368-395.


Statistics Canada. 2023. (table). Census Profile. 2021 Census of Population. Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 98-316-X2021001. Ottawa. Released March 29, 2023.




Learn more


1. Polinsky, M. (2018). Heritage Languages and Their Speakers. Cambridge University Press.

2. History of Chinese immigrants in Canada:

3. UofT’s Heritage Language Variation and Change Project:

4. More about child language acquisition:

5. Chinese Cultural Centre of Greater Toronto:

6. Storybooks in many minority languages in Canada, including Cantonese and Mandarin:

7. Coming soon: Nagy, N. (forthcoming). Heritage Languages: Extending Variationst Approaches. Cambridge University Press. [It has a full chapter on Cantonese!]

8. In May to June 2023: "Chinese Languages in Canada" exhibit at the Canadian Language Museum ( )




You will be acknowledged on this page! If you’d rather not be mentioned, let us know.


Expert Consultant**


Justin Leung, PhD Student

Naomi Nagy, Professor

Department of Linguistics, University of Toronto


**Errors, if any, are the PI’s oversight.



[Page 10]


Page title: About the L’IMAGE project 

Project PI and comic artist: Ai Taniguchi, Assistant Professor, UTM Department of Language Studies 

Research Assistant: Haili Su, MA Student, UTSG Department of Linguistics 

Special thanks to: Gilbert Lin, Assistant Director, Intercultural & Global Initiatives, UTM International Education Centre 

With the generous support of: UofT International Student Experience Fund, UTM Department of Language Studies, UTM International Education Centre 

Learn more: 

Bottom right of page shows the University of Toronto Mississauga logo and the University of Toronto logo. 



 [NN1]To avoid the possible interpretation that English is the dominant language within the Chinese community in Toronto

 [NN2]Add URL?

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