Language, Identity and Ideology: Media-induced Linguistic Innovations in Contemporary China

Authors: Jing Lei (State University of New York, U.S.A.)
Yufang Rao (Wuhan University of Technology, China)
Speakers: Jing Lei, Yufang Rao
Topic: Anthropological Linguistics
CALA 2020 General Session


As we enter the 21st century, we often find ourselves living in an increasingly globalized world, a world which is characterized by the global cultural flows of people, technologies, capital, media, and ideologies (Appadurai, 2015). Language, as a part of culture, is always evolving in response to socio-cultural changes. Thus, linguistic innovations via social media offer a particularly interesting locus to track such global flows.

This paper aims to study how popular lexicons have emerged out of digital communication and been widely used and interpreted by different groups of individuals involved in social media in contemporary China. As China is increasingly integrated into the global economy, the widespread of media networks, such as WeChat, QQ and Microblogs, has provided Chinese citizens with easy access to new words and new ways of using old forms. When did these linguistic innovations appear? What linguistic resources are used to bring about such changes? Why are new lexicons and new meaning created? And how do Chinese citizens respond to these media-induced language changes? By addressing these questions, this paper is oriented toward exploring the role of social media in language change as well as the relationship between language, identity and ideology in the context of globalization.

Our findings suggest that these media-induced language innovations are not simple responses to the broader socio-cultural changes occurring inside and outside China. Instead, Chinese citizens, through creating, using or spreading new popular lexicons, are able to construct, negotiate, and make sense of multiple selves across those digital spaces. Therefore, social media has generated a network of “imagined communities” that allow individuals of various social backgrounds to have practical images, expectations and self-actualizations that extend beyond temporal spatial limits (Anderson, 1983; boyd, 2014)). As such, linguistic innovations in those virtual spaces have created multiple figured worlds, within which individuals’ identities and agency are formed dialectically and dialogically in global cultural processes (Holland etal., 1998).

Keywords: Language innovation, identity, ideology, China