The Semantics of Human Interaction in Chinese E-Communication

The Semantics of Human Interaction in Chinese E-Communication

Adrian Tien (National University of Singapore, Singapore)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-61520-773-2.ch028
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The current study investigated typical, everyday Chinese interaction online and examined what linguistic meanings arise from this form of communication – not only semantic but also, importantly, pragmatic, discursive, contextual and lexical meanings etc. In particular, it set out to ascertain whether at least some of the cultural values and norms etc. known to exist in Chinese culture, as reflected in the Chinese language, are maintained or preserved in modern Chinese e-communication. To do all this, the author collected a sample set of data from Chinese online resources found in Singapore, including a range of blog sites and MSN chat rooms where interactants have kept their identities anonymous. A radically semantic approach was adopted – namely, the Natural Semantic Metalanguage (NSM) model – to analyze meanings that arose from the data. The analyses were presented and compiled in the way of “cultural cyberscripts” – based on an NSM analytical method called “cultural scripts”. Through these cyberscripts, findings indicated that, while this form of e-communication does exhibit some departure from conventional socio-cultural values and norms, something remains linguistically and culturally Chinese that is unique to Chinese interaction online.
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Wierzbicka (1991: 1) began her influential book with the statement that “language…is a tool of human interaction. [There are] various kinds of meanings which can be conveyed in language... – meanings which involve the interaction between the speaker and the hearer”. This statement is testament to the fact that linguists no less semanticists are greatly interested in human social interaction and discourse behavior. While there is ample research into everyday human interactions in Chinese Mandarin (‘Chinese’ hereafter), comparatively little has been discussed in everyday human interactions through computer-mediated communication (CMC hereafter) or e-communication in Chinese, even less different kinds of meanings that get conveyed between speakers and hearers in Chinese e-communication (e.g. pragmatic meanings, discursive meanings, contextual meanings, lexical meanings etc.). Having said this, there is no valid reason for putting off a discussion on the current trends and issues in everyday Chinese e-communication, since, after all, millions of users of Chinese have become increasingly dependent on modern technology through electronic means in an attempt to communicate with each other and to express their ideas and thoughts, meanings and even emotions etc.

This chapter presents some preliminary findings from human interaction and the kinds of meanings that it conveys in everyday Chinese e-communication, as reflected by Chinese CMC in Singapore, with the main impetus being finding out whether certain cultural norms, values and practices can (or cannot) be and are (or are not) attested/preserved in everyday electronic discourse behavior and e-communication. To be precise, using concepts guanxi lit. ‘network(ing), connection, relationship’, xiao wo ‘the smaller self’, da wo ‘the greater self’, shu ren ‘an old acquaintance’, sheng ren ‘a stranger’, ziji ren ‘an insider’, wai ren ‘an outsider’ and mian zi ‘face’ as a benchmark, it can be established whether certain Chinese cultural norms, values and practices encapsulated in these concepts have been preserved (or not) in Chinese CMC.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Cultural Script: Using the NSM of semantic and lexical universals to formulate cultural norms, values, and practices in a way that is clear and precise to both cultural insiders and outsiders).

Semantics: is the study of linguistic meanings

Socio-cultural Interaction: How people interact with one another socially and culturally

Discourse and Pragmatics: is the study of human interaction and language use in speech and conversation.

Cross-Cultural Communication: means communication between speakers of different languages and cultures.

Language and Culture: Links and interplay between language and culture.

Digital/Electronic communication: is communication via electronic means, namely the computer and the internet.

Natural Semantic Metalanguage (NSM): A reductive method of semantically complex linguistic meanings, using a set of 60 or so semantically primitive concepts which are also lexically universals

Chinese Linguistics: The study of Chinese language

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