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The son (érzi) is not really a son

Kun Yang, Jing Chen
Published: 22 September 2022

Abstract: This paper aims to explore the generalization of address terms in online discourse, a largely unheeded pragmatic phenomenon. Taking the generalized Chinese kinship term “son” (érzi) as an example, it analyzes its referents and functions. The analysis was based on a sizable data set collected from WeChat, and interviews with some WeChat users. It demonstrates that the address term “son” (érzi) conveys its faithful meaning when referring to the male child of (a) parent(s) but virtual meaning when referring to the addresser’s friends, classmates or pets. It is also argued that the generalized use of the address term “son” (érzi) can function to enhance relationships, make jocular abuse, and express emotions. These functions suggest the users’ identity avoidance and relating needs in a virtual community. This study attempts to contribute to a better understanding of the virtualization of address terms and rapport management in online discourse.
Keywords: functions / rzi / son / child / WeChat / address term / virtual / online / discourse

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