RESEARCH NOTE: Language with attitude: American slang and Chinese lǐyǔ1


Address correspondence to:Robert L. Moore
Department of Anthropology
Rollins College
1000 Holt Avenue
Winter Park, FL 32789


The Mandarin registers known as lǐyǔ (俚语) have commonly been translated as ‘slang,’ though traditionally lǐyǔ has differed from slang in English by virtue of its strong link to regionalism. A newly emergent version of lǐyǔ that is prominent among young Chinese is marked not by regionalism but by its Internet-enabled global purview. This youth-culture lǐyǔ, like the student slang described by Eble (1996), functions as a device to promote group solidarity while also serving as an identity marker for China's millennial generation. Lǐyǔ, like the numerous versions of slang described in English, Portuguese and other languages, is marked by ebullient or non-deferential affect, an attribute that helps explains the close association between slang and swearwords. Slang and lǐyǔ lexemes, in light of the affect they entail, are the pragmatic opposites of honorifics – terms which index deference within formal, hierarchical structures.
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