The Internet language as a mode of expression of group communication
The group communication represented by social media comes into existence in the age of the Internet, an age defined by post-modernist characteristics. Such a communication is essentially an act designed by the groups to carry out communication that is de-institutionalized, de-centralized and disposed of a supervisory authority. It abolishes the power center of communication, allowing the public to enjoy greater freedom in getting involved in the dissemination of information. What lies at the heart of group communication is the subversion of the tradition and the abolishment of authority, seeking to create new symbols and new meanings of discourse by modifying, supplementing, deconstructing and even distorting and vilifying the symbols and icons forged by mass communication. Such theoretic concepts as diversity, deconstruction, planarity or two- dimensionality and playfulness, so vehemently advocated by post-modernism, can find full evidence of their manifestations in the kaleidoscopic usages of the Internet language.2
According to Saussure’s taxonomy of the signs, the reconstruction of the meaning of the existing symbols consists of two approaches, the substitution of the signifier and the creation of a new signified. A majority of the most noteworthy language developments in the Internet environment are primarily composed of the reconstruction of the symbols through those two prevailing approaches. The Chinese language is capable of expressing meaning through both the sound and the form of individual characters. Some of the ways of changing the signifiers in the usages of the Internet slangs include the following - the use of homophones (words with similar pronunciations but with different meanings), division of the two parts of a character to form two separate characters, variant characters with simulated pronunciations, coinages, deliberate use of wrong characters or words that have become generally accepted, substitutive words with metaphorical meanings, as well as the use of numerical figures and images to express new meanings. Such a large variety of online language usages are designed to revolt against conventional rules. As linguistic signs, their signifieds do not undergo significant changes; they simply make use of the variations in their external forms of expression to break up the conventional bond between the signifier and the signified in order to capture the attention of the reader. From the perspective of the rules of the standard language, such distortions of linguistic signs have often been subjected to questioning and criticisms. In the formal and standard contexts acknowledged by the society as a whole, there are numerous rules and regulations that reject such deviations. In 2014, the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film, and Television issued official regulations requiring radio and television programs as well as TV commercials to strictly conform to the standard expressions and semantic definitions generally acknowledged by the society in the use of the language and expressions. In those programs, informal usages of the online language should be discreetly avoided. The regulations promulgated by the Ministry of Education regarding the language used in college entrance exams require students to “take the exams by strictly using the present-day standard Chinese language.”
There is another category of language deviations, represented by the changes in the signified meanings, which often indicate subversions of the established authority and orthodoxy. Those deviations, by means of the newly generated meanings created via spoof or parody, aim to demonstrate their essential determination to eliminate centrality and authority in group communication. This category of usage includes the expansion of the context in which a term could be used, and the replacement of the existing meaning with a completely new meaning, and other forms of variations.
A typical example is the term “tuhao” (loosely translated as “nouveau riche” or “the new rich”). Initially, in the Chinese context before the founding of the People’s Republic of China, it referred to the landlords or the local magnets who used their power and wealth to bully the local villagers. They were the targets of the Chinese revolution and the targets of denunciation by the general public. With the founding of the People’s Republic, the term “tuhao” virtually vanished from the general usage as the group it represented was virtually wiped out. However, in the past few years, it has suddenly become widespread as an online slang, either expressing a satirical contempt for those who squander money lavishly but are utterly vulgar, or carrying a tone of ridicule of those who want to make friends with “tuhao.” These usages and coinages, as embodied in the online language, have kept emerging and gaining wide currency, breaking up the “conventional rules of arbitrariness” in the symbolic construction and exemplifying strong indications of subjective and intentional manipulations. They present totally different meanings by undergoing a process of transformation or metamorphosis in the frenzy of groups communication. The entire world, after entering the so-called postmodernist era characterized by information technology, has shown an unprecedented scene of the carnival of texts.3 In this great effusion of online “coinages,” the existing unitary relationship between the signifier and the signified is completely shattered and disintegrated, allowing those symbols to unleash their unfettered impact and subversive power.