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The reappropriation of tongzhi

  • Andrew D. Wong (a1)

A general address term in Communist China, the Chinese word tongzhi ‘comrade’ was appropriated by gay rights activists in Hong Kong to refer to members of sexual minorities. It has positive connotations of respect, equality, and resistance. This article focuses on the reappropriation of this word by a mainstream newspaper in Hong Kong. The parodic use of tongzhi allows journalists to ridicule gay rights activists so as to increase the entertainment value of news stories. At the same time, it mocks activists' demand for equality and may lead to the pejoration of the term. This study provides synchronic evidence for sociolinguistic accounts that explain how lexical items may undergo pejoration because of the context of their use. It shows that because the meaning potential of a word is not bounded by the intentions of its users, words that marginalized groups have appropriated can be resignified yet again in hateful contexts.An earlier version of this article was presented at the First IGALA (International Gender and Language Association) Conference at Stanford in May 2000 and was published in the proceedings of that conference. I would like to thank Penny Eckert, Jane Hill, Miyako Inoue, Don Kulick, Sally McConnell-Ginet, John Rickford, and two anonymous reviewers for their comments and suggestions.

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Language in Society
  • ISSN: 0047-4045
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