Animate ‘It’ and Genderless ‘Comrade’: Third Person Pronoun ta and Degrees of Belonging in Chinese LGBTQ Discourses

  • Author / Creator
    Sluchinski, Kerry
  • By examining the language use of online Chinese “Anti” and “Pro” LGBTQ communities, this study primarily investigates the role that ‘ta’ plays in the construction of gender identities. Standard Chinese currently has three separate written forms for the third person: 他 (‘he’), 她 (‘she’), and 它 (‘it’) all with the same pronunciation: tʰā. In the last decade, another form of third person pronoun, non-standard genderless ‘ta’ in roman alphabet, has emerged in Chinese social media. The usage of ‘ta’ instead of Chinese characters obscures the intended referent’s gender. That is, ‘ta’ is the result of de-gendering the third person pronouns developed to convey specific gender. This is important to empirically examine because 1) it is an understudied language phenomenon, 2) doing so fills the gap in literature pertaining to addressee-text interaction from a discursive perspective, overcoming the hegemonic focus on first-and- second-person pronouns in discursive analyses, and 3) the specific function and referent of ‘ta’ is defined through language users’ unique interpretations and the discourse community of use, resulting in a ‘chameleon-like’ pragmatically loaded pronoun.
    Co-constructed in interactions, ‘gender identities’ tend to be formed based on outsiders’ stereotypical perceptions via a ‘Conforming’-‘Non-Conforming’ paradigm. For those whose identities conform (i.e. cisgender heterosexuals), belonging and recognition is a priori; a man is a ‘he’ and a woman is a ‘she.’ However, how do language users, who are projected as ‘Other’ by the ‘Conforming’, negotiate their identity and the space to which they belong? That is, how does one become recognized the way one wants to be and belong in a space that one creates, rather than in the ways and spaces that outsiders create for them? The answer may lie in the linguistic creation of an in-between category, as reflected in the use of pronouns. Pronouns are a prominent linguistic resource that participates in identity construction, as reflected in the growing ways that users of various languages have begun to create and/or adopt gender-neutral third person pronouns such as ‘they’ and ‘ze’ in English and ‘hen’ in Swedish.
    Adopting a discursive pragmatic approach, the study employs a Textual Linguistics framework, with particular attention to deictic reference chains, in conjunction with the Attitude aspect of Martin and White’s (2005) Appraisal and Evaluation framework. The data originates from the Anti and Pro Chinese LGBTQ Discourses Baidu Tieba Corpus. Baidu Tieba is the rough equivalent of Reddit in China. The corpus was compiled in 2019 and consists of texts from two Pro-LGBT communities and one Anti-LGBT community. The study exemplifies how ‘ta’ can be used as a pragmatic device to navigate perspectives of (non-)belonging based on speaker stance towards issues of gender and sexuality. Neutral stance use of ‘ta’, which is most common, occurs when neither the gender nor sexual orientation of the ‘ta’ referent is known and/or relevant to the communicative task, thus establishing simple non-sexual, non-political references of convenience. Conversely, both negative (i.e. exclusive language practices) and positive (i.e. inclusive language practices) stance use of ‘ta’ solicit complex sexual, political references of communicative intent with implications for (non-)belonging of those who identify and/or are labelled as ‘Non-Conforming’.
    The qualitative analysis reveals 11 pragmatic functions of ‘ta’: four present a negative stance of Political Non-Belonging (i.e. Othering A: Refusing to recognize an LGBTQ individual’s self-ascribed identity, Othering B: Dehumanizing an LGBTQ member, Othering C: Downgrading social integrity, and Othering D: Co-constructing ‘Other’ identity); one presents a slightly vague negative stance of Political Non-Belonging (i.e. Indicating Vague Gender/Sexual Orientation/implicit Othering); two present a neutral/positive vs. negative stance of (A-)Political Belonging (i.e. Comprehensive Group Inclusion and LGBT Pronoun); two present a neutral/positive stance of Apolitical Belonging (i.e. as a General 3PP and in Unknown Circumstances); and two present a positive stance of Political Belonging (i.e. Identity Construction in Relation to ‘You’ and Identity Construction of the ‘Self’ and the ‘Third Person’). Results show that ‘ta’ is a metaphorical chameleon– ‘ta’ is fluid in terms of deictic properties and pragmatics and it is this fluidity which allows for precise, highly context-dependent, and purposeful micro and macro usages. The chameleon like property of ‘ta’ to ‘blend in’ to any discourse shows promise for its continued language change and grammaticalization as a new third person pronoun.

  • Subjects / Keywords
  • Graduation date
    Fall 2021
  • Type of Item
  • Degree
    Doctor of Philosophy
  • DOI
  • License
    This thesis is made available by the University of Alberta Libraries with permission of the copyright owner solely for non-commercial purposes. This thesis, or any portion thereof, may not otherwise be copied or reproduced without the written consent of the copyright owner, except to the extent permitted by Canadian copyright law.