Social media slang changing formal use of Chinese language, but is it good?
Published: May 25, 2022 01:11 AM
A child reads the new version of the Xinhua Zidian - Xinhua Dictionary (12th Edition) in the Beijing Book Building on Tuesday. The new edition was launched on Monday, adding new words such as chu xin

A child reads the new version of the Xinhua Zidian - Xinhua Dictionary (12th Edition) in the Beijing Book Building on Tuesday. The new edition was launched on Monday, adding new words such as "chu xin" (mission), "dian zan" (thumbs up) and "er wei ma" (QR code), making it the first time that an app and a paper book were issued simultaneously. The Xinhua Zidian is a Chinese language dictionary that was originally published in 1953. It is considered a symbol of Chinese culture. Photo: cnsphoto

 For hundreds of years, Chinese people have used formal expressions such as "e'ran" or "chayi," both meaning "surprised and speechless," to express their dissatisfaction and incomprehension of something or a person. Recently, these colorful expressions have been joined by a new word - "wuyu," a Chinese internet word that expresses the same meaning. It has even evolved into a mixed style fused with English, "shuan Q," which can be used as a popular way to say "I'm speechless" with a matching emoji attached behind. It seems no one would deny the effect of the internet. Some believe it makes language paler, but some see a brighter side as it makes online communication easier between strangers.

This topic was discussed in an article titled Chinese language probably no longer exists that appeared on social media and gained tens of thousands of views within a few days. The author, Wang Zuozhongyou, argued that simplified Chinese language is dying because people have stopped allowing it to grow.

The author then breaks down the argument by presenting four ideas, including the claim that language is getting more childish and less creative. In just 2,000 characters, the author described the predicament of the language and gained huge attention. But is this argument valid? The Global Times contacted social media users, students and scholars to find out their ideas.

"I often use words that have gone viral on social media when chatting with my friends as it shows I am keeping up with the trends," an 11th grade student at a Beijing high school surnamed Fang told the Global Times on Monday.

She offered the example of a kind of internet slang that uses abbreviations based on how certain groups of Chinese characters are written in pinyin. The slang has words such as "yyds" referring to God and "xswl" meaning making me laugh, that are popular among teenagers.

Fang said when she came across the slang, she chose to join in the trend and gradually began to feel that using this internet slang is interesting, especially when older generations cannot understand the content of their conversation.

"The words are like secret signals among us and also sound catchy," she added. But Fang noted that they also try to avoid using the internet slang in class.

A writer of online fiction called Cindy told the Global Times that she does not support the use of viral internet words as they ruin the beauty of Chinese.

"Chinese is one of the most ancient languages in the world and it has a specific rhythm and rules developed over thousands of years. I avoid using internet slang and blindly following the trend when I am writing, as I want to make my articles more beautiful."

Language experts told the Global Times on Monday that online language does pose some threat to the canonical use of orthodox expressions, but it can be avoided by regulating the use of internet words and official written expressions. But on the other hand, the cultural trend of using online language shows language innovation, vitality and creativity and there might not need to be too much interference.

Zhang Yiwu, a professor of cultural studies at Peking University, told the Global Times on Monday that the impact of the internet is also being felt by other languages including English and French. 

He pointed out the current hit form of "pandemic literature" written by people who are stuck at home and are imitating the tone and writing style of some well-known writers such as Franz Kafka, Marguerite Duras, Albert Camus and Ernest Hemingway. 

"Before the invention of the internet, this kind of literature appeared in other forms. This cultural phenomenon can be seen as a law in the evolution of language," said Zhang.

"Language development is a process of inclusion, integration and advancing with the times. We need to respect the laws of language development without totally banning the use of online language. Instead, we can avoid problems by regulating some negative, uncivilized internet language," he added.

Liu Haiming, a professor at the School of Journalism and Communication at Chongqing University, told the Global Times on Monday that this seemingly random phenomenon is actually a form of expression in the development of language.

Internet language is used for the self-expression of some netizens, which can stimulate creativity, and not too much interference is needed because language has a natural elimination rule. For example, many internet terms are replaceable words and are short-lived.

Both experts suggested that people should distinguish between online and standard language. Online expressions are more emotional and colloquial, while written expressions are more rational, serious and have stricter rules. The standardized use of written expressions is also conducive to improving people's literacy.