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The social semiotic of homophone phrase substitution in Chinese netizen discourse

Chu, Y. and Ruthrof, H. (2016) The social semiotic of homophone phrase substitution in Chinese netizen discourse. Social Semiotics, 27 (5). pp. 640-655.

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The paper addresses an ingenious way by which Chinese netizens manage to reach their intended audiences under the radar of censors surveying the Internet in China. One specifically Chinese social use of language in this respect is the option to express criticism by using inoffensive characters that share the same or similar pronunciation with politically sensitive phrasing. We identify this type of expression as homophone phrase substitution (HPS). The device has been part of Chinese since ancient times under the name political metaphor. We address the main constraints at work in HPS, especially the role of voice (prosodic contour) that guides the construction of two divergent kinds of aboutness. Leaving aside its critical function in contemporary society, by contrasting HPS with verbal irony, metaphor, and Australian rhyming slang, and by drawing on semiologie and semiotics, indirect speech acts and implicit deixis, we suggest that this linguistic option throws new light on the semantic/pragmatic distinction.

Item Type: Journal Article
Murdoch Affiliation(s): School of Arts
Publisher: Routledge, part of the Taylor & Francis Group
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