Volume 21, Issue 1
  • ISSN 1569-2159
  • E-ISSN: 1569-9862
Buy:$35.00 + Taxes



This paper explores the metalinguistic tactics used by Hong Kong protesters in 2014 and 2019 and how they reflected and exploited a range of dominant ideologies about language in the city. These tactics are considered both in terms of their rhetorical utility in the “message war” between protesters and authorities, and their significance in the broader sociolinguistic context of Hong Kong. The analysis reveals how such tactics entailed both opportunities and risks, allowing protesters to create shareable discursive artifacts that spread quickly over social media and to promote in-group solidarity and distrust of their political opponents, but also limiting their ability to broaden the appeal of their messages to certain segments of the population and implicating them in upholding language ideologies that promote exclusion and marginalization.


Article metrics loading...

Loading full text...

Full text loading...


  1. Aboelezz, Mariam
    2014 “The Geosemiotics of Tahrir Square: A Study of the Relationship between Discourse and Space.” Journal of Language and Politics13 (4): 599–622. 10.1075/jlp.13.1.02abo
    https://doi.org/10.1075/jlp.13.1.02abo [Google Scholar]
  2. Agha, Asif
    2003 “The Social Life of Cultural Value.” Language and Communication23: 231–273. 10.1016/S0271‑5309(03)00012‑0
    https://doi.org/10.1016/S0271-5309(03)00012-0 [Google Scholar]
  3. Anthonissen, Christine
    2003 “Challenging Media Censoring: Writing Between the Lines in the Face of Stringent Restrictions.” InDiscourse Approaches to Politics, Society and Culture (Vol.8), ed. byJames R. Martin, and Ruth Wodak, 91–112. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
    [Google Scholar]
  4. Aslan, Erhan, and Camilla Vásquez
    2018 “‘Cash Me Ousside’: A Citizen Sociolinguistic Analysis of Online Metalinguistic Commentary.” Journal of Sociolinguistics22 (4): 406–431. 10.1111/josl.12303
    https://doi.org/10.1111/josl.12303 [Google Scholar]
  5. Blackledge, Adrian
    2012 “Multilingualism and Ideology.” InThe Encyclopedia of Applied Linguistics, ed. byCarol Chapelle. Hoboken, New Jersey: Wiley-Blackwell. 10.1002/9781405198431.wbeal0798
    https://doi.org/10.1002/9781405198431.wbeal0798 [Google Scholar]
  6. Blommaert, Jan
    2015 “Meaning as a Nonlinear Effect: The Birth of Cool.” AILA Review28: 7–27. doi:  10.1075/aila.28.01blo
    https://doi.org/10.1075/aila.28.01blo [Google Scholar]
  7. Bolton, Kingsley, and Helen Kwok
    1990 “The Dynamics of the Hong Kong Accent: Social Identity and Sociolinguistic Description.” Journal of Asian Pacific Communication1 (1): 147–172.
    [Google Scholar]
  8. Chen, Yun-Chung, and Mirana M. Szeto
    2017 “Reclaiming Public Space Movement in Hong Kong: From Occupy Queen’s Pier to the Umbrella Movement.” InCity Unsilenced: Urban Resistance and Public Space in the Age of Shrinking Democracy, ed. byJeffrey Hou, and Sabine Knierbein, 69–82. New York, NY: Routledge. 10.4324/9781315647241‑6
    https://doi.org/10.4324/9781315647241-6 [Google Scholar]
  9. Cheng, Edmund W., and Wai-Yin Chan
    2017 “Explaining Spontaneous Occupation: Antecedents, Contingencies and Spaces in the Umbrella Movement.” Social Movement Studies16 (2): 222–239. 10.1080/14742837.2016.1252667
    https://doi.org/10.1080/14742837.2016.1252667 [Google Scholar]
  10. Choy, Howard Y. F.
    2018 “Laughable Leaders: A Study of Political Jokes in Mainland China.” InNot Just a Laughing Matter: Interdisciplinary Approaches to Political Humor in China. ed. byKing-fai Tam, and Sharon R. Wesoky, 97–115. Singapore: Springer. 10.1007/978‑981‑10‑4960‑6_6
    https://doi.org/10.1007/978-981-10-4960-6_6 [Google Scholar]
  11. de Certeau, Michel
    1984The Practice of Everyday Life. Translated bySteven Rendall. Berkeley and Los Angeles: The University of California Press.
    [Google Scholar]
  12. Culpeper, Jonathan
    1996 “Towards an Anatomy of Impoliteness”. Journal of Pragmatics25(3): 349–367. 10.1016/0378‑2166(95)00014‑3
    https://doi.org/10.1016/0378-2166(95)00014-3 [Google Scholar]
  13. Dementyev, Vadim V.
    2009 “Russian Anekdots of the 1970s: On the Material of the Soviet Humorous Journal ‘Krokodil’.” Russian Journal of Communication2 (3–4): 185–198. 10.1080/19409419.2009.10756750
    https://doi.org/10.1080/19409419.2009.10756750 [Google Scholar]
  14. Dentith, M. R. X.
    2018 “Expertise and Conspiracy Theories.” Social Epistemology32 (3):196–208. doi:  10.1080/02691728.2018.1440021
    https://doi.org/10.1080/02691728.2018.1440021 [Google Scholar]
  15. Dorleijn, Margreet, and Jacomine Nortier
    2019 “Introduction.” Applied Linguistics Review10 (3): 281–291. doi:  10.1515/applirev‑2017‑0048
    https://doi.org/10.1515/applirev-2017-0048 [Google Scholar]
  16. Evans, Stephen, and Christopher Green
    2007 “Why EAP Is Necessary: A Survey of Hong Kong Tertiary Students.” Journal of English for Academic Purposes6: 3–17. 10.1016/j.jeap.2006.11.005
    https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jeap.2006.11.005 [Google Scholar]
  17. Flores, Nelson
    2014 ‘Let’s Not Forget That Translanguaging Is a Political Act’. The Educational Linguist. https://educationallinguist.wordpress.com/2014/07/19/lets-not-forget-that-translanguaging-is-a-political-act/ (April 8, 2021).
    [Google Scholar]
  18. Gal, Susan, and Kathryn A. Woolard
    1995 “Constructing Languages and Publics: Authority and Representation.” Pragmatics5 (2): 129–38. 10.1075/prag.5.2.01gal
    https://doi.org/10.1075/prag.5.2.01gal [Google Scholar]
  19. Gao, Xuesong
    2012 “‘Cantonese is not a Dialect’: Chinese Netizens’ Defence of Cantonese as a Regional Lingua Franca.” Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development33 (5): 449–464. doi:  10.1080/01434632.2012.680461
    https://doi.org/10.1080/01434632.2012.680461 [Google Scholar]
  20. Gebauer, Fabian, Marius H. Raab, and Claus-Christian Carbon
    2016 “Conspiracy Formation Is in the Detail: On the Interaction of Conspiratorial Predispositions and Semantic Cues: Conspiratorial Predispositions.” Applied Cognitive Psychology30 (6): 917–924. doi:  10.1002/acp.3279
    https://doi.org/10.1002/acp.3279 [Google Scholar]
  21. Gies, Lieve, and Maria Bortoluzzi
    2014 “Purity and Contamination in Online Popular Forensics: Amateur-Expert Readings of the Meredith Kercher Murder Case.” Continuum28 (4): 532–544. doi:  10.1080/10304312.2014.907871
    https://doi.org/10.1080/10304312.2014.907871 [Google Scholar]
  22. Gu, Mingyue M.
    2011 “‘I Am not Qualified to Be a Hongkongese Because of My Accented Cantonese’: Mainland Chinese Immigrant Students in Hong Kong.” Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development32 (6): 515–529. 10.1080/01434632.2011.614350
    https://doi.org/10.1080/01434632.2011.614350 [Google Scholar]
  23. Halliday, Michael A. K.
    1976 “Anti-Languages.” American Anthropologist78 (3): 570–584. 10.1525/aa.1976.78.3.02a00050
    https://doi.org/10.1525/aa.1976.78.3.02a00050 [Google Scholar]
  24. Hansen-Edwards, Jette G.
    2016 “The Politics of Language and Identity: Attitudes towards Hong Kong English Pre and Post the Umbrella Movement.” Asian Englishes18 (2): 157–164. 10.1080/13488678.2016.1139937
    https://doi.org/10.1080/13488678.2016.1139937 [Google Scholar]
  25. 2017 “Language, Identity, and Politics in Hong Kong.” Georgetown Journal of International Affairs, April 4, 2017. https://www.georgetownjournalofinternationalaffairs.org/online-edition/language-identity-and-politics-in-hong-kong
    [Google Scholar]
  26. 2019aThe Politics of English in Hong Kong: Attitudes, Identity, and Use. Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge.
    [Google Scholar]
  27. 2019b “‘I Have to Save this Language, It’s on the Edge Like an Endangered Animal’: Perceptions of Language Threat and Linguistic Mainlandisation in Hong Kong.” Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development1–20. 10.1080/01434632.2019.1691565
    https://doi.org/10.1080/01434632.2019.1691565 [Google Scholar]
  28. Herzfeld, Michael
    2001 “Irony and Power: Toward a Politics of Mockery in Greece.” InIrony in Action: Anthropology, Practice, and the Moral Imagination, ed. byJames Fernandez, and Mary Taylor Huber, 63–82. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
    [Google Scholar]
  29. Hill, Jane H.
    2008The Everyday Language of White Racism. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell. 10.1002/9781444304732
    https://doi.org/10.1002/9781444304732 [Google Scholar]
  30. Hung, Tony
    2012 “Hong Kong English.” InEnglish in Southeast Asia: Features, Policy and Language in Use, ed. byEe-Ling Low, and Azirah Hashim, 113–133. Amsterdam: John Benjamins. 10.1075/veaw.g42.11hun
    https://doi.org/10.1075/veaw.g42.11hun [Google Scholar]
  31. Irvine, Judith and Susan Gal
    2000 “Language Ideology and Linguistic Differentiation.” InRegimes of Language: Ideologies, Polities and Identities, ed. byPaul V. Kroskrity, 35–83. Santa Fe, NM: School of American Press.
    [Google Scholar]
  32. Jakobson, Roman
    1960 “Linguistics and Poetics.” InStyle in Language, ed. byThomas E. Sebeok, 350–377. Cambridge, MA: M.I.T. Press.
    [Google Scholar]
  33. Jaworski, Adam, Nikolas Coupland, and Dariusz Galasinski
    2012Metalanguage: Social and Ideological Perspectives. De Gruyter Mouton.
    [Google Scholar]
  34. Jenks, Christopher, and Jerry Won Lee
    2016 “Heteroglossic Ideologies in World Englishes: An Examination of the Hong Kong Context.” International Journal of Applied Linguistics26 (3): 384–402. 10.1111/ijal.12135
    https://doi.org/10.1111/ijal.12135 [Google Scholar]
  35. Jones, Rodney H., and Neville Li
    2016 “Evidentiary Video and ‘Professional Vision’ in the Hong Kong Umbrella Movement.” Journal of Language and Politics15 (5): 567–588. 10.1075/jlp.15.5.04jon
    https://doi.org/10.1075/jlp.15.5.04jon [Google Scholar]
  36. Karyolemou, Marilena
    1994 “Linguistic Attitudes and Metalinguistic Discourse: An Investigation in the Cypriot Press.” InThemes in Greek Linguistics, ed. byIrene Philippaki-Warburton, Katerina Nicolaidis, and Maria Sifianou, 253–260. Amsterdam: John Benjamins. 10.1075/cilt.117.37kar
    https://doi.org/10.1075/cilt.117.37kar [Google Scholar]
  37. Lai, Mee-Ling
    2005 “Language Attitudes of the First Postcolonial Generation in Hong Kong Secondary Schools.” Language in Society34 (3):363–388. 10.1017/S004740450505013X
    https://doi.org/10.1017/S004740450505013X [Google Scholar]
  38. 2011 “Cultural Identity and Language Attitudes – Into the Second Decade of Postcolonial Hong Kong.” Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development32 (3): 249–264. 10.1080/01434632.2010.539692
    https://doi.org/10.1080/01434632.2010.539692 [Google Scholar]
  39. Lee, Carmen
    2007a “Text-making Practices Beyond the Classroom Context: Private Instant Messaging in Hong Kong.” Computers and Composition24 (3): 285–301. 10.1016/j.compcom.2007.05.004
    https://doi.org/10.1016/j.compcom.2007.05.004 [Google Scholar]
  40. 2007b “Linguistic Features of Email and ICQ Instant Messaging in Hong Kong.” InThe Multilingual Internet: Language, Culture and Communication Online, ed. byBrenda Danet, and Susan Herring, 185–208. New York: Oxford University Press. 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195304794.003.0008
    https://doi.org/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195304794.003.0008 [Google Scholar]
  41. 2013 “‘My English is So Poor…so I Take Photos’. Meta-linguistic Discourse of English Online.” InDiscourse 2.0: Language and New Media, ed. byDeborah Tannen, and Anna Marie Trester, 72–84. Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press.
    [Google Scholar]
  42. Lee, Carmen, and Dennis Chau
    2018 “Language as Pride, Love, and Hate: Archiving Emotions through Multilingual Instagram Hashtags.” Discourse, Context & Media22: 21–29. 10.1016/j.dcm.2017.06.002
    https://doi.org/10.1016/j.dcm.2017.06.002 [Google Scholar]
  43. Lee, Paul S. N., Clement Y. K. So, and Louis Leung
    2015 “Social Media and Umbrella Movement: Insurgent Public Sphere in Formation.” Chinese Journal of Communication8 (4): 356–375. 10.1080/17544750.2015.1088874
    https://doi.org/10.1080/17544750.2015.1088874 [Google Scholar]
  44. Leung, Jasmine
    2020 “Blank Protests and ‘Number Songs’: How Hong Kongers are Trying to Get Around the New Security Law.” The Telegraph, July 11, 2020. https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2020/07/11/blank-protests-number-songs-hong-kongers-trying-get-around-new/
    [Google Scholar]
  45. Li, Wei
    2011 “Moment Analysis and Translanguaging Space: Discursive Construction of Identities by Multilingual Chinese Youth in Britain.” Journal of Pragmatics43 (5): 1222–1235. 10.1016/j.pragma.2010.07.035
    https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pragma.2010.07.035 [Google Scholar]
  46. 2016 “New Chinglish and the Post-Multilingualism Challenge: Translanguaging ELF in China”. Journal of English as a Lingua Franca5(1): 1–25. 10.1515/jelf‑2016‑0001
    https://doi.org/10.1515/jelf-2016-0001 [Google Scholar]
  47. Li, Wei, Alfred Tsang, Nick Wong, and Pedro Lok
    2020 “Kongish Daily: Researching Translanguaging Creativity and Subversiveness.” International Journal of Multilingualism17 (3): 309–335. doi:  10.1080/14790718.2020.1766465
    https://doi.org/10.1080/14790718.2020.1766465 [Google Scholar]
  48. Li, Wei, and Hua Zhu
    2019 “Tranßcripting: Playful Subversion with Chinese Characters.” International Journal of Multilingualism16 (2):145–161. doi:  10.1080/14790718.2019.1575834
    https://doi.org/10.1080/14790718.2019.1575834 [Google Scholar]
  49. Lin, Angel
    1996 “Bilingualism or Linguistic Segregation? Symbolic Domination, Resistance and Code-switching in Hong Kong Schools.” Linguistics and Education8: 49–84. 10.1016/S0898‑5898(96)90006‑6
    https://doi.org/10.1016/S0898-5898(96)90006-6 [Google Scholar]
  50. 1997 “Analyzing the ‘Language Problem’ Discourses in Hong Kong: How Official, Academic, and Media Discourses Construct and Perpetuate Dominant Models of Language, Learning, and Education”. Journal of Pragmatics28 (4): 427–440. 10.1016/S0378‑2166(97)00031‑3
    https://doi.org/10.1016/S0378-2166(97)00031-3 [Google Scholar]
  51. 2000 “Lively Children Trapped in an Island of Disadvantage: Verbal Play of Cantonese Working-Class Schoolboys in Hong Kong.” International Journal of the Sociology of Language143 (1): 63.
    [Google Scholar]
  52. Lippi-Green, Rosina
    1997English with an Accent. London: Routledge.
    [Google Scholar]
  53. Little, Laura E.
    2017 “Laughing at Censorship.” Yale Journal of Law & the Humanities28 (2): Article 1.
    [Google Scholar]
  54. Lou, Jackie, and Adam Jaworski
    2016 “Itineraries of Protest Signage: Semiotic Landscape and the Mythologizing of the Hong Kong Umbrella Movement.” Journal of Language and Politics15 (5): 612–645. 10.1075/jlp.15.5.06lou
    https://doi.org/10.1075/jlp.15.5.06lou [Google Scholar]
  55. Martín Rojo, Luisa
    2014 “Taking over the Square.” Journal of Language and Politics13 (4): 623–652. 10.1075/jlp.13.4.03mar
    https://doi.org/10.1075/jlp.13.4.03mar [Google Scholar]
  56. Mathews, Gordon
    1997 “Hèunggóngyàhn: On the Past, Present, and Future of Hong Kong Identity.” Bulletin of Concerned Asian Scholars29 (3): 3–13. doi:  10.1080/14672715.1997.10413089
    https://doi.org/10.1080/14672715.1997.10413089 [Google Scholar]
  57. Meng, Bingchun
    2011 “From Steamed Bun to Grass Mud Horse: E Gao as Alternative Political Discourse on the Chinese Internet.” Global Media and Communication7 (1): 33–51. 10.1177/1742766510397938
    https://doi.org/10.1177/1742766510397938 [Google Scholar]
  58. Moser, David
    2018 “Keeping the Ci in Fengci: A Brief History of the Chinese Verbal Art of Xiangsheng”. InNot Just a Laughing Matter: Interdisciplinary Approaches to Political Humor in China. ed. byKing-fai Tam, and Sharon R. Wesoky, 77–95. Singapore: Springer. 10.1007/978‑981‑10‑4960‑6_5
    https://doi.org/10.1007/978-981-10-4960-6_5 [Google Scholar]
  59. Niedzielski, Nancy A., and Dennis R. Preston
    2003Folk Linguistics. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.
    [Google Scholar]
  60. Palfreyman, David
    2005 “Othering in an English Language Program.” TESOL Quarterly39 (2): 211–233. doi:  10.2307/3588309
    https://doi.org/10.2307/3588309 [Google Scholar]
  61. Panovic, Ivan
    2017 “Arabic in a Time of Revolution: Sociolinguistic Notes from Egypt”. InMedia in the Middle East: Activism, Politics, and Culture, ed. byNele Lenze, Charlotte Schriwer, and Zubaidah Abdul Jalil, 223–256. Cham, Switzerland: Springer. 10.1007/978‑3‑319‑65771‑4_10
    https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-65771-4_10 [Google Scholar]
  62. Pennington, Martha C. and Francis Yue
    1994 “English and Chinese in Hong Kong: Pre–1997 Language Attitudes.” World Englishes13 (1):1–20. 10.1111/j.1467‑971X.1994.tb00279.x
    https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-971X.1994.tb00279.x [Google Scholar]
  63. Preston, Dennis R.
    1996 “Whaddayaknow?: The Modes of Folk Linguistic Awareness.” Language Awareness5 (1): 40–74. 10.1080/09658416.1996.9959890
    https://doi.org/10.1080/09658416.1996.9959890 [Google Scholar]
  64. 2012 “Folk Metalanguage.” InMetalanguage: Social and Ideological Perspectives, ed. byAdam Jaworski, Nikolas Coupland, and Dariusz Galasinski, 75–101. Berlin: De Gruyter Mouton.
    [Google Scholar]
  65. Rose, Margaret A.
    1978Reading the Young Marx and Engels: Poetry, Parody and the Censor. London: Croom Helm.
    [Google Scholar]
  66. Sapountzis, Antonis, and Susan Condor
    2013 “Conspiracy Accounts as Intergroup Theories: Challenging Dominant Understandings of Social Power and Political Legitimacy.” Political Psychology34 (5): 731–52. 10.1111/pops.12015
    https://doi.org/10.1111/pops.12015 [Google Scholar]
  67. Sataline, Suzanne
    2014 “Occupy Central Encounters a Class Problem.” The New Yorker, October 4, 2014. https://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/occupy-centrals-class-problem
    [Google Scholar]
  68. Shiri, Sonia
    2015 “Co-Constructing Dissent in the Transient Linguistic Landscape: Multilingual Protest Signs of the Tunisian Revolution”. InConflict, Exclusion and Dissent in the Linguistic Landscape, ed. byRani Rubdy and Selim Ben Said, 239–259. London: Palgrave Macmillan. 10.1057/9781137426284_12
    https://doi.org/10.1057/9781137426284_12 [Google Scholar]
  69. Thomas, George
    1991Linguistic Purism. London/New York: Longman.
    [Google Scholar]
  70. Tilly, Charles
    2006Regimes and Repertoires. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press. 10.7208/chicago/9780226803531.001.0001
    https://doi.org/10.7208/chicago/9780226803531.001.0001 [Google Scholar]
  71. Tufekci, Zeynep
    2018Twitter and Tear Gas: The Power and Fragility of Networked Protest. New Haven: Yale University Press.
    [Google Scholar]
  72. Varis, Piia
    2019 “Conspiracy Theorising Online: Memes as a Conspiracy Theory Genre.” Tilburg Papers in Culture Studiesno.238.
    [Google Scholar]
  73. Varis, Piia, and Jan Blommaert
    2015 “Conviviality and Collectives on Social Media: Virality, Memes, and New Social Structures.” Multilingual Margins2 (1): 31–45.
    [Google Scholar]
  74. Vladimirou, Dimitra, and Juliane House
    2018 “Ludic Impoliteness and Globalisation on Twitter: “I Speak England Very Best” #agglika_Tsipra, #Tsipras #Clinton”. Journal of Pragmatics134: 149–62. 10.1016/j.pragma.2018.05.005
    https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pragma.2018.05.005 [Google Scholar]
  75. Vrij, Aldert
    2008 “Beliefs about Nonverbal and Verbal Cues to Deception. InDetecting Lies and Deceit, ed. byAldert Vrij, 115–140. Chirchester: Wiley.
    [Google Scholar]
  76. Wang, T. Y.
    2019 “Generations, Political Attitudes and Voting Behavior in Taiwan and Hong Kong.” Electoral Studies58: 80–83. doi:  10.1016/j.electstud.2018.12.007
    https://doi.org/10.1016/j.electstud.2018.12.007 [Google Scholar]
  77. Woolard, Kathryn A., and Bambi B. Schieffelin
    1994 “Language Ideology.” Annual Review of Anthropology23 (1): 55–82. 10.1146/annurev.an.23.100194.000415
    https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev.an.23.100194.000415 [Google Scholar]
  78. Wozniak, Audrey M.
    2015 “River-crabbed Shitizens and Missing Knives: A Sociolinguistic Analysis of Trends in Chinese Language Use Online as a Result of Censorship.” Applied Linguistics Review6 (1): 97–120. 10.1515/applirev‑2015‑0005
    https://doi.org/10.1515/applirev-2015-0005 [Google Scholar]

Data & Media loading...

  • Article Type: Research Article
Keyword(s): anti-languages; folk-linguistics; language ideologies; language mocking; metalanguage
This is a required field
Please enter a valid email address
Approval was successful
Invalid data
An Error Occurred
Approval was partially successful, following selected items could not be processed due to error