Over the past decade, the rapid development of Internet communication in
mainland China has resulted in a new variety of Chinese, which is generally
termed the Chinese Internet language (Henceforth CIL). The majority of
Internet consumers in China are aged between eighteen and twenty-four, who
are studying in two- or four-year colleges. This dissertation examines
identity construction in the use of CIL by young Chinese netizens. It
argues that the employment of CIL is not only attributable to such external
factors as constraints from computers as a medium of communication but
also, perhaps equally importantly, to such internal factors as netizens'
desire to construct various personal identities.
To make the argument, this dissertation first analyzes objective linguistic
data, CIL usages on the lexical, sentential, and discursive level that were
collected primarily from five Internet situations – BBS's, chatrooms,
Internet literature, personal e-mails, and public web sites. It then
examines the subjective data collected through a questionnaire survey
conducted in mainland China. The survey results strongly support the
argument that CIL is oftentimes utilized for the purpose of identity
construction. The types of identities that the survey participants would
like to construct include those characterized with being 1) entertaining
and interesting, 2) technologically well informed and being able to keep up
with social developments, 3) modern, fashionable and cool, 4)
internationally oriented or transnational, 5) unconventional and even
rebellious, and/or 6) young, fresh and innocent.
This study contributes to the understanding of the interaction between
language use and identity construction in the Internet arena. Aside from
documenting a new type of language contact and convergence in the digital
age, this dissertation also informs research on the social and
technological factors responsible for language variation and change.
Moreover, this dissertation study sheds light on such topics as language
and culture, functions of language, and language attitudes.