The rise of catchword “被 bei-XX”
Grammaticalization and reanalysis
Recent studies on Chinese language use show that the rapid development of Internet communication in China has created a new linguistic variety, Chinese Internet language (CIL). Marked with innovations and catch words, CIL is officially branded as 平民化 pingminhua (‘grassroots,’ ‘ordinary’), 低门槛 dimenkan (‘low-standard,’ ‘vulgar’) (Language Situation in China 2012: 205). Nevertheless, the new usages in CIL have attracted tremendous attention; prominent among them is the usage of 被 bei- XX. In Modern Chinese grammar, bei is a preposition followed by an agent (bei + agent + verb) in passive sentences. However, since the news broke out that Prisoner Li Guofu died in a prison hospital and was announced as “a suicide” by the administration in 2008, the usage of 被自杀 bei zisha (to be presumably murdered) started to appear in the Internet and was soon analogized; consequently, numerous new usages of bei-XX swept through the media like wildfire. Taking the grammaticalization approach (Hopper and Traugott 2003), this study intends to explore the semantic changes, linguistic features, and grammatical role of bei in the bei-XX construction. It examines the historical development of bei in the grammaticalization process and evaluates previous and recent analyses associated with it. Drawing on data from China’s national annual reports entitled 《中国语言生活状况报告》 Language Situation in China (2005 to 2013) and online CIL publications, the study proposes an alternative analysis of bei in the bei-XX construction and predicts that this new bei will become an established prefix in the Chinese language and, further, create large word families with bei-XX as the blueprint.