Kinship terms and fan identities in Chinese cyberspace
AffiliationSchool of Languages and Linguistics
Document TypeHonours thesis
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© 2021 Shiyu Zhang
With more time being spent online, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic, online communication is increasingly becoming the norm. As a consequence, the Internet has become a timely and important medium in which to explore the use of language and the construction of identity, particularly in the understudied context of Chinese-speaking cyberspace. While the semantics and pragmatics of Chinese kinship terms have been discussed by scholars, they have not previously been analysed from a sociolinguistic perspective in the context of online communication, where they are used extensively. This thesis addresses this gap. This thesis aims to explore how kinship terms are used in identity negotiation in online communication and their subsequent relationship with gender discourses. Three main research questions are posed: How are kinship terms used as part of the construction of different identities in Chinese-speaking cyberspace? How is fan identity represented and constructed in Chinese-speaking cyberspace? How does communication in Chinese-speaking cyberspace reflect broader discourses of gender and sexuality in China? The thesis focuses on the use of a specific kinship term in cyberspace, ‘wife’ (老婆), which has not been discussed in past studies. The thesis investigates how ‘wife’ is used in the discourse of fans to address the main character in a popular Chinese martial arts TV series, ‘Word of Honor’（山河令）. The thesis draws on third wave sociolinguistic theory and multimodal discourse analysis to undertake this analysis and qualitative data was collected through online ethnography. By analysing fan-created videos and comments about these videos, the thesis argues that the kinship term ‘wife’ is characteristic of a particular ‘fan style’. By examining the diverse social meanings of this kinship terms in different contexts, the thesis further argues that kinship terms gain contextualized meanings through repeated stylistic practices. A potential indexical field of ‘wife’ is generated, and identity categories, such as fans and Ni Su fans emerge and are reinforced through these repeated stylistic practices. The thesis also explores the relationship between fan identity and gender discourses, arguing that the ‘big D’ gender discourses reflected in the ‘small d’ discourse of fan communication reflect heteronormativity and an inherent gender binary, while at the same time, dynamic understandings of gender is increasingly accepted, so that ‘wife’ is increasingly used by female fans to address other female fans to signal solidarity, closeness, humour and a somewhat subversive view of sexuality, which might otherwise be considered taboo in other Chinese-speaking contexts.
Keywordsonline identity; kinship terms; gender; Chinese
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