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The ta Phenomenon in Chinese Social Media Open Access


Other title
Chinese social media
Rhetorical move analysis
third person
computer mediated communication
Non-standard spelling of third person pronoun
Sina Weibo
Type of item
Degree grantor
University of Alberta
Author or creator
Sluchinski, Kerry
Supervisor and department
Li, Xiaoting (East Asian Studies)
Examining committee member and department
Le, Elisabeth (Modern Languages and Cultural Studies)
Ono, Tsuyoshi (East Asian Studies)
Li, Xiaoting (East Asian Studies)
Department of East Asian Studies

Date accepted
Graduation date
2017-06:Spring 2017
Master of Arts
Degree level
Pronouns serve a variety of functions in everyday language use. They not only function as reference, but also reflect the values of language users. This research focuses on the uses of a non-standard form of third-person pronoun in Chinese social media. There are three third person singular pronouns in Mandarin Chinese: 他 (ta ‘he’), 她 (ta ‘she’), and 它 (ta ‘it’). Although they have different written forms, their pronunciations are identical (ta). The romanized form ta is considered a non-standard spelling of the third person singular pronouns in Chinese social media. There are three variants of the non-standard spelling ta: TA, ta, and Ta. This research adopts qualitative and quantitative methods in analyzing the texts from Chinese social media platform Sina Weibo (the equivalent of Twitter in China). Through examining 1,273 Sina Weibo texts, this study explores (i) the interactional usage of ta, and (ii) the textual structures in which ta is found. There are six types of accounts from Sina Weibo as categorized by the study: personal-commoner, personal-public figure, institutional, related essays, undefined, and converted. This study specifically focuses on the institutional data set. This study has found that ta is used by institutions as a personalization device to achieve engagement in a variety of interactional settings. The intended gender referent of ta is largely correlated with the sentence type in which it is embedded. When used in a declarative sentence, ta often corresponds to neuter gender, i.e. the standard character它for ‘it’. Likewise, when ta is used in interrogatives or imperatives it corresponds to either male or female gender (他or她) depending on a reader’s interpretation. The texts where ta appears (ta–texts) have four main environments and two main purposes. The ta-texts are used by institutions to (i) promote tangible products to consumers for profit purposes, and (ii) promote engagement with intangible objects such as ideologies, public services, brand images, and their services. This research contributes to our understanding of the use of the non-standard form of third-person pronoun ta in Chinese social media. It also sheds light on how language is shaped by socio-interactional needs in Chinese social media.
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