The sociolinguistic meanings of syllable contraction in Chinese
A study using perceptual maps
Syllable contraction has been observed in many modern Chinese varieties, including Mandarin. Public opinion of syllable contraction, especially some stereotyped contracted words, tends to associate it with a southern (especially Taiwanese) accent. Gendered social meanings are often attached to it as well. This paper investigates Mandarin syllable contraction using Prestonian perceptual mapping techniques, graphical aggregation, and quantitative comparisons. The results of the mapping tasks suggest that participants’ beliefs about the location and gender of contraction users are generally in line with the public opinions observed in qualitative analyses of media discourses. However, an analysis of map responses in terms of respondents’ region of origin and gender uncovers nuanced contrasts along gendered and regional lines. Northern respondents (judges) had a negative attitude toward southern contraction but a positive opinion toward northern contraction, while southern judges viewed syllable contraction positively regardless of region. Female judges viewed female contraction users positively and male users negatively, but male judges had a strongly negative opinion of only the male users. Region and gender intertwine with each other and constitute the sociolinguistic meanings of Chinese syllable contraction that involve both the user and perceiver. In this way, the study uncovers new perceptual perspectives on the sociolinguistic meaning of a less commonly studied variable in a less commonly studied language.
Keywords: syllable contraction, Chinese, perceptual mapping, region, gender, stereotype
Published online: 19 January 2018
[ p. 196 ]References
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