Saturday, March 31, 2012

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What we have brought to you is a snapshot of the many phenomena of language and communication happening on Internet nowadays, with a special focus on the context of Hong Kong and mainland China. While some of these cyber language are used to distance oneself from criminal troubles in a highly disciplined society, some are to signal an in-group identity with other netizens. In addition, the use of emoticon is a cute and fun way to show friendliness and express emotions that might not be captured in a pure text effectively.

Living in this Information Age, characterized by its fast-changing cyberscape and massive flow of ideas, we expect new terms and usages will continue to emerge. So, stay tuned!

If you have any interesting thoughts about e-communication to share, feel free to contribute to our blog by clicking on the "comment" button!

C U L8tr! 88! :-)

Is e-communication a bad thing?

A number of people, especially language experts, maintain a rather pessimistic view towards the influence of these newly emerged words and structures on formal usage like education. Yet, is it really the case? Is electronic communication necessarily a bad thing?

There does not have much statistical evidence to support such a claim that cyber language is the culprit. In the educational perspective, the most concerned group would probably be young students who have the most time to spend on e-communication as compared to other age groups. However, when it comes to formal education, they seem to be quite aware of the inappropriateness of using these kinds of cyber language in formal situations. For instance, they will not use emoticons or Romanized form of Cantonese in their English composition and examinations.

According to the Candidates’ Performance issued by Hong Kong Examination and Assessment Authority every year after the end of open examinations (i.e. Hong Kong Certificate Examination, and Hong Kong Advanced Level Examination), examiners indeed recommend students to take advantage of the advanced technology nowadays and use media to broaden their horizon. Especially, these could enhance their knowledge in current affairs happening in society, though examiners did emphasize that students should increase their exposure to ‘authentic’ English.

Furthermore, it may actually be a good thing to know the words since the rationale behind e-communication is largely based on efficiency. For example, during the listening section in open examinations, candidates could take advantage of these abbreviations and terms to help jot down the most information out of the recording.

The few of the negative impacts of e-communication on education would be the tendency of making more spelling mistakes. It is mostly due to the presence of auto-correct function in many electronic devices and computer software, such as iPhone, and Microsoft Word. This could lead to a reliance on electronics and, hence, the language users will start to forget the spelling of the words.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Case Study: Internet Forum

We will now use Internet forum as an example for electronic communication.

What is an Internet forum?

It is an online discussion platform in which the conversation is carried out by posting messages. The topics for discussion vary from computer, fashion, investment, current affairs, sports, family, to travelling. In some forums, users share online resources like songs, pictures and video clips.

Internet Jargons

As such form of electronic communication functions just like a network society, the users have created a set of Internet jargons for the convenience of communication.

Action jargons
These jargons are used to describe the actions confined to the context of online discussion forums.

潛水 (tsim4 seui2)
Literal meaning: ‘to dive’
Actual meaning: means to disappear for a long time after making appearance
浮上 (fau4 seung5)
Literal meaning: to rise up to water surface
Actual meaning: to reappear after a long time of disappearance

洗版 (sai2 baan2)
Literal meaning: to wash the board
Actual meaning: to post meaningless and off-topic replies to flood the discussion board
Variant: Mainland China > 刷屏 (shua1 ping2)

Function jargons
These jargons contain little or no contents in themselves but are used to reply to a post in order to achieve a certain aim.

Literal meaning: to push
Actual meaning: to reply to an old post so that it will reach the first page of the forum
Variants: Push

Literal meaning: plus one
Actual meaning: to agree to the message posted in the previous thread
Variants: x 1 (times one)

Literal meaning: homophone of ‘see see’
Actual meaning: to see the hidden post which requires a reply message containing at least one character
Variants: CCCCCCCCCCCCCC (hidden post which requires more than one character to see)

Martian language

Chinese character combining 多(do1) and 謝(dze6), meaning 'Thank you'
Martian language, as opposed to 'Earth language', is the Internet language that is created in the cyberspace based on Chinese characters. It could be difficult to understand to first-time users. Due to the Internet censorship, some vulgar or sensitive words are written in Martian language to avoid the banning of posts by the forum administrators.
Mandarin-accented Cantonese

靚 (leng3) > 令(ling6)
meaning: beautiful, fancy-looking

好(hou2) > 巧(haau2)
meaning: very

Form-altering Chinese characters
肥(fei4) > 月巴 (yuet6baa1)
meaning: fat

賤(dzin6) > 貝戈戈(bui3gwo1gwo1)
meaning: nasty, despicable

Half- and Full- sized characters and symbols

Cantonese Romanization
> nei dzo meh ng da din wa bei ngo?
meaning: Why didn't you call me?

Meaningless symbols
★,,** ;;; ...++   "miki豬bb >﹏<」╳×*  (豬 = literally pig, here means dear)
 ▄▉▋▎▊暗戀=痛苦?[▎____* (暗戀, 痛苦 = unrequited love, pain )



Forums in Hong Kong

In Hong Kong, there are three major online forums, namely Hong Kong Discuss Forum, Uwants forum and Hong Kong Golden Forum. Among the three popular forums, Hong Kong Golden forum are generally considered to be the one to form itself as an online community with a unique cyber culture. Some of their posts are often so controversial that they are made headlines in newspapers and magazines.

Culture of HK Golden Forum

Clown God - Ideological representation of HK Golden Forum
 “Hard-plastic” is considered as an intrinsic culture in HK Golden forum. “Hard-plastic culture” (translated as “nonsense culture”) is represented by the clown symbol of the forum. This tradition encourages the members to churn out meaningless posts. The attention they receive is seen as a form of recognition. To compete for the honor of “the Hard-plastic Star of the Month” or “the Hard-plastic Star of the Year”, others will follow suit and join the discussion to gain popularity.

With increasing media attention, some terms coined solely in Hong Kong Golden Forum are being increasingly used by the general public as the new slang expressions.
巴打 (baa1daa2)
Literal meaning: transliteration of ‘brother’ in English
Actual meaning: a form of address to other members so as to create a sense of brotherhood in the forum
Derivative jargon: 絲打 (si1 daa2) > transliteration of ‘sister’

是咁的 (si6 gam2 dik1)
Actual usage: to mark the beginning of an account of long story, roughly similar to English ‘this is how it happened…’
Special features: the expression combine spoken Cantonese (‘’) with written Cantonese (‘’ and ‘’), in which the latter is seldom used in oral conversation

Unique forms of communication

It is worth noting that the HK Golden forum doesn’t rest itself on the verbal form of communication, the culture of parody also takes shape in terms of editing pictures and adapting songs.

Fourth Chief Executive of Hong Kong Leung Chun-Ying portrayed by Golden forum members as former Communist leader Mao Zedong

a song in response to the June-Fourth Incident comment by Ma Lik, adapted from 'Just Because You Are Here', had been previously used to celebrate the 10th year of 1997 handover



SMS language in different languages

What is SMS language?

With the assistance of new media and technologies, people nowadays can communicate with each other more easily as they have numerous choices to get in touch with their friends and family. Unlike speaking, to enhance the efficiency of communication and to save time, space and cost constraints, people would shorten their sentences while typing. Thus, a new language variety has been generated – SMS language. Please note that this kind of abbreviation is not only used in SMS (Short Message Service), but also in other Internet-based communication such as forums, emails, instant messagers, Facebook and etc.  

Due to the limitation of mobile phone keyboard and the default setting of the mobile phone in the past, people were only enabled to type in English. This is one of the reasons why SMS language is English-based or alphabets-based.

Well, the SMS language is all about word reduction! How to use the fewest number of letters (or characters) to express the ultra-concise meaning and sentiment is the crucial thing. Therefore, it does not always obey and follow the grammar rules of standard language. 

Besides, various linguists, such as David Crystal, have suggested the classification of SMS language. So, I am going to list out some of the linguistic properties and style of SMS code proposed by them:

1.      Initialization

e.g. LOL - laugh out loud, lmao - laugh my ass off, OMG – Oh my God! ASAP – As soon as possible

2.      Reductions and shortenings

e.g. SEC – second, THX – thanks

3.      Logograms and pictograms

e.g. u – you, I <3 u – I love you, c u – see you.

4.      No capitalization

5.      Variation in spelling

There are no standard spellings for this code. Users can adapt their own styles as long as the other communicators understand their meaning.

6.      Replacing

- Single letter replaces word: b- be, r- are, u –you, y- why.
- Single digit replaces word: 1- won, 2- to, 4- for, 8 – ate
- Single letter or digit replaces a syllable or phoneme: 4get- forget, b4 –before, w8-wait

SMS language in different languages
Other than English, There are also examples of SMS language in different tongues.

EXAMPLES in different languages:


lol or mdr for “mort de rire” : to be doubled up with laughter
slt for salut: hi
bjr for bonjour: hello
cc for coucou: informal hi
cv? for ça va?: how are you?
b1 for bien: fine
a+ for à plus tard: see you later

Can you guess what it means?


a2 for adios: goodbye
aki for aquí: here
asias for gracias: thanks
c for sé, se: I know; (reflexive pronoun)
d for de: from, of
ers for eres tú: you are, are you
fsta for fiesta: party
hl for hasta luego: see you later
hla for hola: hello
k for que, qué: that, what
kls for clase: class
pf for por favor: please
pq for porque, porqué: because, why
q tal? for qué tal: What's happening?
xo for pero: but


Emoticons :D

  What are Emoticons?

 Emoticons, or ASCII Emoticons, are pictorial representation of a facial expression composed by punctuation marks and letters, usually written to express a person's mood. They are commonly used in chat rooms, forums, instant messagers, emails, cell phones SMS text messages and online games. Recently, the ideographic emoticons have been invented and are used to describe various ideas. See more in the EXAMPLES.

The word emoticon is a portmanteau word (combination word) of the English words – emotion and icon. It is sometimes called emoji, a romanlized Japanese name combining meaning of e “picture” and moji “letter”.

Who invented emoticons?

There are various claims about the inventors of emoticons/ smiley faces, but Scott Fahlman should be known as the most reputable one in the inventors list. It was the first recorded use of Western Smileys on the usenet.

By the early 80s, Fahlman and the users of the online bullets boards at Carnegie Mellon thought some “joke markers” should be made for the online text-based communication. Since there were numerous posts which were humorous, but if someone made a sarcastic remark, other readers might fail to get the jokes. For this reason, Fahlman thought of the character sequence :-) and :-( . With the impact of the computer networking technology, a huge amount of emoticons were generated. Moreover, as mentioned by Fahlman himself, it is possible that some other people had thought about the idea of creating emoticons at that time or even earlier – it is simple and obvious idea, after all.

Beside the western style, users from Japan also invented a series of emoticons without tilting one’s head. An anonymous nuclear scientist was suggested to innovate in the breakthrough of emoticons in Japan by creating (~_~) in May 1985.  


Some  EXAMPLES  of emoticon/ smiley faces:

1. Western styles:

Western emoticons are typically written from left to right. Here are few of the most popular ones.

1. Smile
: – )   or   :-]   or   :3   or   :> stands for happiness.
2. Grin
: – D   expresses great happiness or a victory.
3. Frown
: – (   or   :-c represents sadness or disappointment. The latter can also mean great sadness.
4. Wink
; – )   or   ,-)   or   *-) indicates a joke or double entendre in what was said.
5. Tongue
: – P   or   : – p     or   :-b is an emoticon to tease, often used as a joke.
6. Open mouth
:-O   or   : – () stands for surprise or shock.
7. Distorted mouth
: – / means skepticism, being annoyed or uneasy.

2. Japanese styles:

(;.;) – crying
(-.-) – sleeping, shocked
(_ _) – apologising, lowering one’s head
; – sweat mark, eg (^.^;)
* – red-faced, eg *^.^*
(^O^) – Master Koala smiling
(-O-) – Master Koala sleeping
(*O*) – Master Koala shocked
(@O@) – Master Koala looking sideways
(=O=) – Master Koala squinting through narrowed eyes
(>O<) - Master Koala surprised
(dOb) - Master Koala neutral

More funny emoticons can be found here –

3. Ideographic style:

In Chinese computering community, several “network oracle bone scripts” have been originated. They actually exist in the Oracle Bone script. However, with the imagination of network users, they provide the new meaning for those words. The most representative among all are  囧 (Mandarin:jiǒng)  and (Mandarin: mei).

 Formerly, it means “bright”. Now it means a frowning face. 
- King of
– Queen of
- with hat
– Japanese cartoon Bomberman

Hong Kong actress Myolie Wu Hang-yee was named  "Wu Jiong Jiong" after her exaggerated performance in a TV drama with her Jiong-like facial expression.

Another example of this style is the Chinese character . It was an ancient Chinese character originated in Shannxi dialect meaning plum blossom. However, with the components of combining two (dull), the Internet users have give a different definition to this word – extremely dull.

More newly coined words in cyber world can be found here:

Mainland Netspeak: how to get around censorship


You may have learnt from newspaper that how Internet censorship is conducted in Mainland China. In recent years, the idea of building a "harmonious society" have been advocated by the Communist Party. Many messages which were considered to jeopardize the principle were filtered by the Internet Police or Green Dam Youth Escort, a content-control software. Many sensitive keywords were banned as well.

To express their discontent, Mainland netizens have been using the word River crab (Chinese河蟹pinyinhéxiè), which sounds similar to "Harmonious/Harmonize/Harmonization" (Chinese: 和諧) in Mandarian, to refer to Internet censorship.

Doctored image by netizens :"Indecent material will be river-crabbed" 

How do the netizens cope with Internet censorship?

Before we start talking about this, let's have a look at a satiric song about how llamas(Chinese:草泥馬) beats the River crabs(Chinese:河蟹).

他们为了卧草不被吃掉 打败了河蟹

1. Euphony

People use euphony to dodge censorship as this is less likely to be filtered. For example, the words in red are actually all euphony of foul language. When people wants to talk about dissident Ai Wei Wei(Chinese: 艾未未), they refer him as Ai Wei Lei(Chinese: 愛未來) instead.

2. Breaking up the character

Some words which may be related to indecent content are also banned in some forums. For instant, 脫(English:take off clothes) and  (which may be linked with  姦, in English, rape). The netizens break the characters into two. As a result, 脫 becomes 月兌 and 强 becomes 弓虽.

3. Pinyin acronyms
You may refer to this article.

Futher readings: