Internet Violence and the Class Conflict in Chinese Society

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Internet Violence and the Class Conflict in Chinese Society

Internet is one of the aspects that are developing at an incredible speed in China. According to Chen and Ang, there were only 600,000 Internet users in China in 1997; yet 12 years later in 2009, the number of Internet users in China hits 384 million, even greater than the population of United States (Herold&Marolt, 2011). With the development of Internet in China, Internet policies, regulations and laws came up with the rise of Internet crimes. Similar to most other countries, Chinese Internet police have devoted in fighting against Internet crimes such as hacking, distributing resources without copyrights (piracy), as well as harmful materials such as pornography or anti-government propaganda (i.e. Falungong related materials), etc.

Recently, many people in China shifted their concern from Internet crime to another aspect on the Internet – Internet violence. Nevertheless, this Internet violence in China is essentially different from the one we usually see in western society, where some teenagers are bullied by their peers over cyber space. The phenomenon of Internet violence in China is like this – some incidents are reported by unofficial individuals on the Internet, usually with proofs such as photos or videos poster, then the person or group on the wrong side will face over-harsh criticism from people all over the Internet. Moreover, most of these people will be found by something called flesh search engine – their information such as their cellphone number, ID number, address and so on, are searched by all means with people on the Internet and they are posted online, which eventually brings them many inconvenience in their lives. This “Internet violence with Chinese characteristic” has not only caught wide concern from the society in recent years, but it has also brought out the conflicts between people in different social classes in China as well.

First, the Internet violence with Chinese characteristic is very rampant because of the existence of flesh search engine. Herold gives flesh search engine a definition as to “track down offline individuals by employing as many computer users as possible in the search” (Herold&Marolt, 2011). On the biggest flesh-searching website in China – mop.com, hundreds of flesh-searching requests are posted daily. In many cases, in their offline lives, these Internet users spot some incidents that reflect social injustice. They take pictures and post them online, along with a request of a search about the person who is on the wrong side (in most people’s beliefs). However, concerns have been raised that the consequences the person being searched need to carry are mostly too severe. For example, many people who are found out having an affair are fired after being exposed online due to the report done by many anonymous Internet users to the companies. Although it is immoral having an affair, these people exposed online are fired without violating any laws or company policies. Therefore, the “immoral” people (in most people’s beliefs) are suffering violence from the Internet.

There are many reasons that cause the furious flesh search engine, and one of the most significant reasons is the conflict between people in different social classes in China. While being as a practically one-party country, China was ruled by the China Communist Party since 1949. According to Zhao, news organizations in China are supposed to filter “unwanted” and “harmful” information (Zhao, 2008). Because Chinese people have been suffering such censorship for a long time, the discontentedness among them has been accumulating. With the rise of Internet and participatory culture, more and more incidents that reflect social injustice related to powerful groups, such as government officials and the riches, are reported by individuals or alternative media. Many people with power or wealth are uncovered that they tried to cover their dirty facts, such as abusing their power or corruption, by bribing the mainstream media so that they will not be reported. As a result, the animosity for the rich or the people with power among the civilians in China is fairly great. For example, the famous actor Wen Zhang was caught having an affair with another famous actress Yao Di by paparazzi in May, 2014. He and his company tried to pay five million to the newspaper requesting not to report it in order to maintain his image, but the newspaper refused to do so and claimed that the audience has the right to know everything. After the incident was reported, there was a wide criticism towards Wen and his concubine Yao; as a result, Wen was forced to make an apology and Yao was fired by hers crews of TV drama and they both faced a critical career crisis.

The reason of the hostile towards the rich or the power is obvious. First of all, there are many flaws in the current laws, policies and regulations in China that many people, especially the rich and the power, choose to exploit an advantage that may seem immoral or even harming other people’s interests. They can find ways in getting out of punishment from laws even they are caught. Therefore, by uncovering scandals through the Internet and track them down with flesh search engine, the civilians hope to punish the rich and the power by depriving their privacy. Also, civilians hope that by uncovering scandals on the Internet can urge the development and completion of the judicial system in China. For example, in May, 2014, an innocent woman was bludgeoned to death by six people in a MacDonald restaurant in Shandong Pr3904613810_928fac1eda_oovince. The incident was uncovered on Weibo, the Chinese Twitter, and it aroused a savage discussion online. The backgrounds of the six murderers were posted online in a very short period of time with the help of flesh search engine. As a result, different sectors in the society, such as senior government officials, the local police department and the MacDonald Company in China, express their concerns about the incident; also, the six murderers were caught by the local police the very next day, and the trial was expected to begin much earlier than normal procedure does. Therefore, the flesh search engine, as well as the “Internet violence with Chinese characteristic”, have pushed up the efficiency of governmental agencies, and have alerted the government with issues such as public safety. In a sense, the flesh search engine has urged the progress of the society.

In conclusion, the flesh search engine and the “Internet violence with Chinese characteristic” is a double-edged sword. The bad said of the flesh search engine is that many people uncovered by flesh search engine suffer from social punishment that they do not deserved. For example, people who fail to give seats to the elders in a bus receive countless harassment on their cellphone from strangers after their cellphone numbers are posted online, and people who are caught having an affair are fired because they have “moral issues”. This is why people are paying more attention to this phenomenon because it produces a more severe violence when dealing with a much less major social injustice. However, on the other hand, the flesh search engine and the “Internet violence with Chinese characteristic” is a social-progressing force that should not be ignored. It reveals many scandals and dirty facts of the rich and the power, and alerts the other rich and the power to respect justice and abide by the laws; also, it urges the efficiency of government agencies and it forms a justice and moral atmosphere among the society. Eventually, when the judicial system in China is more developed and people with power and wealth are more self-disciplined, the role of flesh search engine and the “Internet with Chinese characteristic” will disappear, along with the bad effect of it.

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Immigrants and belonging: Negotiating a sense of home

Note: Co-written with Bernadette Redila and Julie Vanleeuwen

 

ABSTRACT

This study assess how new immigrants to the Greater Vancouver area seek means of belonging, how they are able to negotiate a sense of home, and what factors may hinder this process. Focus groups and surveys are used to understand the complexities of negotiating a sense of home in the Greater Vancouver area for immigrants. Our research suggests that language and familial ties are influential in shaping conceptions of home for immigrants. This paper seeks to apply its findings to strengthen the already existing community programs directed at immigrants and create opportunities for new long-term resources to help create these feelings of home. In this respect, this paper acts as a vital and practical tool in raising awareness about the importance of creating a welcoming and hospitable community for all residents of the Greater Vancouver area, especially for the large immigrant population.

Key terms: Home, Immigrant, Greater Vancouver Regional District

 

INTRODUCTION

“I hate holidays…for holidays I have nothing to do, I have no relatives here and I miss my parents and I miss my friends in China.” – Sarah[1]

 

One of our focus group participant, Sarah, best describes the strong feelings of longing that home, as understood as a connection to family and friends, evokes. A common theme throughout this paper is the negotiation of home through relationships between family and friends, and the role that language plays in making this process easier or more difficult.

Magat (1999) acknowledges the vastly broad definitions that exist of the term home, but conceptually defines home as one with inherent symbolic meanings of identity and belonging. Arredondo (1984) defines  a sense of belonging as feeling positive about oneself, to feeling trust and positive regard from and for others, as well as to making a commitment to stay in the country of destination (Chow, 2007). For the purpose of our study, the term “home” is not defined as a physical entity or building, but rather a symbolic term that is defined by the feelings of belonging, familiarity, identity and sense of permanent residence. The need to belong is considered a fundamental human motivation. Regardless of their motivations for migration, immigrants may feel out of place initially. Whether or not immigrants will proclaim that they feel they belong is intricately linked to their lived experiences in the host country. This dimension of belonging may be more aptly measured by immigrants’ interests in the affairs of the Canadian society, frequency of participation in various institutions, and degree of identification with Canada (Chow, 2007).

As members within the Greater Vancouver[2]  community, we look for ways in which we can we use our cultural differences as a pillar of strength for the broader community. How can we make the most of our cultural richness and diversity in the Greater Vancouver area? Addressing the unique demographic landscape of the Greater Vancouver region, this paper focuses on: what processes exist that may enable or hinder the ability for immigrants to feel a sense of home in the Greater Vancouver area? In investigating the existing barriers and opportunities to create a sense of home for both new and current immigrants, we hope to apply our research findings to strengthen current inclusionary efforts in our communities targeted towards immigrants[3].

We aim to understand existing processes that may hinder or enable immigrants to feel at home, and want to define the different areas that comprise the feeling of home for immigrants in their host country. Furthermore, we sought to define the cultural and symbolic understanding of feeling home and how that would be applicable in the integration processes targeted towards new immigrants in the Greater Vancouver area. To do so we conducted focus groups with a sample of our target population. Our focus groups sought to uncover in-depth ways individuals seek to integrate, and if it resulted in feelings of belonging and a sense of home. In addition,  the focus groups prompted participants to explore obstacles and hindrances that they have faced since moving to the Greater Vancouver area, and how those have affected their sense of belonging.  Once the focus groups were completed we analyzed the results obtained to form our survey questionnaire. These surveys were handed out to students at SFU, and to immigrants living in the Greater Vancouver area.

 

LITERATURE REVIEW

Raffaeta & Duff (2013) as well as Chaitlin, Linstroth & Hiller (2009) study the processes which hinder the ability of immigrants to negotiate a sense of home in specific cities and communities. Both studies focused on the economic reasons and possibilities for both leaving their country of origin and staying in the new country. Chaitlin et. al (2009) outline the notion of “partial homes” which appears dominant in Raffaeta et al’s (2013) study as well. The idea of a “partial home” acts as a hindering process to creating a sense of home for these immigrants.  Similarly, Ben-Yoseph (2005) concludes that the relationship an individual has with their country of origin effects that individuals ability to make a new sense of home in another country. The notion of transnationalism, where migrants maintain homes in their origin country and a host country, has also been studied as a process which can hinder the cultural and social integration of immigrants.

Aside from symbolic or physical ties to one’s country of origin, current research also ties economic well-being to the ability to create a sense of home for immigrants. Stewart et al (2009) compares the experiences of social isolation and perceptions of belonging between lower-income and higher-income people. The results indicated that the level of income was a reliable indicator of measures of social isolation and sense of belonging in a community. Nawyn et al’s (2012) study states that linguistic resources are a key component of immigrant integration, because speaking the dominant language provides not only economic opportunities but also gives the immigrant social power.

A significant body of research has been conducted on developing an understanding of what factors assist in creating a sense of belonging. Chow’s (2007) survey results showed that a presence of father in Canada, higher self-rated socio economic status, immigration to Canada being politically and culturally motivated, positive experiences making friends with Canadians, immigration to Canada at a later stage in life, and no prior experience in Canada before immigration were associated with a stronger sense of belonging to Canada. Furthermore, Chow’s (2007) study indicated that if immigrants had a positive academic experience, had absence of discrimination, and immigration to Canada being non-economically motivated then they had a higher level of life satisfaction.

Similar to Chow’s (2007) work, rather than focusing on singular processes that hinder or enable the feelings of home, our research aims to tease out a multitude of factors that exist. While it is beneficial to gather general conclusions from existing academic research, it’s important to note the varying degrees of cultural, social and economic differences that exist from city to city and country to country. A large body of current literature focuses on specific countries and cities, and the ability of immigrants to negotiate a sense of home and integrate in those places. It would be presumptuous to say that findings from Raffaeta et. al (2013) study in the Italian Alpine area could be presumed true in the Greater Vancouver area as well.

As one of the most demographically diverse urban populations in Canada, the Greater Vancouver area has surprisingly not been a focus for migratory and ethnic research. The void our research seeks to fill is specifically focused on immigrants negotiating a sense of home and belonging in the Greater Vancouver area. Moreover, this research acts as a practical tool for inclusionary efforts in the area. In order to contribute valuable and practical information to inclusionary processes in our communities, we need to take into account the specific context of the Greater Vancouver area.

 

METHODS

Two focus groups were conducted with recent and established immigrants living in the Greater Vancouver area. The first focus group contained eight participants aged 18-30, and the second focus group had twelve individuals 30 and older.  We chose this demographic in attempt to uncover a greater variety of factors that attribute to the feeling of home at various life stages of young adults. In order to generalize our results towards our target population, which is all immigrants living in the greater Vancouver area,  it was necessary to not constrict the age range, or the duration of their time spent in Vancouver. The focus groups investigations concentrated on four main questions: how would you describe the feeling of home, what were the reasons behind why you moved to Vancouver, what processes enable you to feel at home, and what factors hinder the ability for you to feel at home. Our sub questions were largely driven from the responses given by our participants to get more clarity on their views, opinions and experiences.

Stemming from our focus group findings, we designed survey questions based on the areas of concern mentioned in the previous focus groups. A twenty-question survey was disseminated to participants all over the Greater Vancouver area through social media platforms. Here, our target survey participants were people who identified as immigrants, aged 18 and older, who live in the Greater Vancouver area. We received a total of 102 responses and conducted further analysis on the data we received.

 

FINDINGS AND RESULTS

Upon analyzing the responses from the focus groups, we identified four dominant themes. These include: Family and friends, economic stability and educational opportunities, different cultural norms and expectations, and language. We will examine each theme sequentially.

 

Focus Group Findings

Theme 1: Family and friends create a sense of home for immigrants

 

Although the participants in our study migrated from different areas, and had varying lengths of duration living in Vancouver, they all agreed on a few essential factors that generated a feeling of home. For instance, when the participants migrated with family members they felt substantially more comfortable than those who migrated on their own, or who left family members in their country of origin. One member in our focus group, Sarah, explained it in terms of an idiom they use in China that roughly translates to, “where ever your parents are is where your home is.” For those who had family members in their country of origin they expressed a feeling of loneliness; however, for those who came with at least their immediate family felt more inclined to say Vancouver was their home.

The participants that moved here on their own, particularly the members within the first focus group, said that they frequently talked to their family members who remained in their country of origin. The ability to be able to call them, or talk to them over the Internet, was seen as a beneficial feature contributing to developing a sense of comfortability in Vancouver. Carol explained that, “for me I would think home as something that means that you need to have the support from your family, regardless of their geographical location. My parents are still in China. So I would say support and communication. And then the love, you can feel from them.” Other participants reiterated this point by saying that they talk to their family members frequently, even those who have been here for a longer duration. Interestingly, it was not the technological aspect that made it difficult to communicate with their family and friends in their countries of origin but the new cultural barrier. For example, Carol said, “I had a hard time communicating with my mother for a short period of time, but then I think I overcame that barrier because I tried to explain the differences between what it is like in Canada and what it is like in China. And then they tried to understand the differences and they appreciated the differences as well.” The ability for our participants to be able to easily communicate with their families residing in their countries of origin assisted them in feeling more comfortable in Vancouver.

Another key aspect for an immigrant to feel a sense of belonging is whether or not they have a strong support group of friends in their host city. Many of the participants in our focus groups agreed that it was fairly difficult to make friends when they first arrived. Although they said Canadians were friendly, they mentioned that it was difficult to tell which people were simply being superficial. One participant shared her experience of living in an apartment building when she first arrived and said it was easier to connect with neighbours that way. However, when she moved into a house she felt a higher degree of disconnection and isolation. Another participant, Emma, compared how welcoming her community is in her country of origin, and explained to us that if we were to migrate there everyone in the neighbourhood would invite us to dinner and show us around.  Conversely, Emma said here “in Canada there’s too much distance for me. Like if you want to go ask [your neighbour] it feels like you’re wasting their time, they have other things to do.” This conception creates a sense of uncertainty and isolation among immigrants. Furthermore, the participants in the focus group illustrated how important it is for them to feel connected within their new community, because if they feel accepted by their neighbours than they can use them as source of information. For example, one participant, Emma shared that her friend received a fishing ticket and they were unsure how to pay it. Emma said, “for simple things like that we don’t know who to ask, and you have to Google [instead of asking your neighbour].” The importance of having friends and family members present in Vancouver was reiterated in various ways but appeared to be the most collectively agreed upon factor for feeling at home.

 

 

Theme 2: Economic stability, educational opportunities, political stability and environmental factors are influential in enabling a sense of home for immigrants.

 

A common response from our participants was that one spouse, or parent, would remain in the country of origin to work while the other spouse and children lived in Vancouver. Similar to Raffaeta et al’s (2013) idea of a “partial home,” this separation acts as a hindering process to creating a sense of home for these immigrants. For many of the participants, they found it difficult to secure jobs in Vancouver. For many of these families, a spouse would live in another country to work and support the family because of the difficulties of gaining economic stability in a new country. In our second focus group, many of the participants acknowledged that in their country of origin, they were all employed, some as doctors and some as business professionals. However, they mentioned that they don’t work in Vancouver because of the difficulties that exist for immigrants in the job search process. Therefore, in order to sustain themselves and their families financial needs, they must make decisions like having one parent work in another country and the other parent raising their children in another.

Many of the focus group participants divulged that they originally moved here for a ‘better’ education, whether it was for themselves or for their children. However,  most of our parent participants said that they would prefer their child to go to a university back in their original country. One respondent, Carol, said that, “ I think we immigrants have fewer social connections. If we need to look for a job we just need to do what we can do, but for local people they may have more family and friends that can help them in looking for jobs.” A few mentioned that because their social net is larger in their original country they would be able to assist in finding their children careers, as opposed to their smaller connections here. However, the alumni and university students mentioned that once they received their degrees they felt more connected here and wanted to remain in Vancouver to find a job. One participant, Sally, said that because her Vancouver friends, many that were also immigrants, found jobs here which made her want to stay as well.  Another said that after she got her degree and secured a job she started to find that she felt a stronger sense of belonging, and was getting use to Canadian norms and customs.

Political and environmental issues also arose as contributing factors for migrating to Vancouver. One participant, Sam, mentioned that he and his family relocated to Vancouver because of the political turmoil in China in 1997. Sam believed that, “we didn’t have enough freedom of speech. [The government was] trimming down the freedom of speech in the media.” It was constricting policy’s such as this that motivated Sam and his family to move to Vancouver. Similarly, Remy, disclosed that her family moved to Vancouver to evade the one-child policy in China, because they wanted a bigger family. Another participant, Jessica, explained her situation in Japan. She said that the “Japanese government hides everything”, and that no one in Japan can oppose the system. So, she believed that Vancouver was a better place for her children to grow up because it would allow them to have more political freedom. Another respondent, Carol, reinforced this notion of political stability in Vancouver by saying, “the [Canadian] government they don’t hide too much from you, from the public, and I think the process is more transparent and the tax dollars is used more fairly towards the taxpayers. In China there’s so much corruption going on.”

Furthermore, the participants expressed their admiration for Vancouver’s natural environment. Participants explained that the air pollution in their countries of origin were becoming increasingly hazardous. Jessica explained how her friend’s children in Japan are developing asthma as a result of the air pollution. She also mentioned how her son had a rash and a serious cough while in Japan but since moving to Vancouver it has disappeared. Most of the other participants in the focus groups agreed that political stability and environmental factors were reasons towards why they chose, and remained, in Vancouver.

 

Theme 3: Different cultural norms and expectations created feelings of being outsiders, but also allowed for feelings of belonging.

 

An obstacle expressed by the participants in our study was the misunderstanding of Canadian cultural norms and expectations. Many of the immigrants that moved here with younger children experienced discomfort because they were unsure of the materials their children were being taught in school. One participant, Maia,  said, “We have different culture, I’m from China so it’s a little different. There’s a culture gap. My children live here so they think differently than me.” Another factor expressed by immigrants with young children was that they were unsure of acceptable behaviour to teach to their children. For example, Emma illustrated this point:

“My kid is in grade six he’s have been bullied for a while, but I teach him that always smile because you can forget and try to walk away and he did exactly like that. But to the teacher that’s rude, if the teacher corrects, or asks him to go outside of classroom for 5 minutes he is still smiling, and the teacher thinks it’s rude. He’s trying to put down his feeling and embarrassment but that is something that I’ve learned. So that sort of thing when my kid comes to me I will say that your teacher is weird, I will say something like that. It’s all kinds of strange things, maybe there’s a website for immigrants of daily life taboos and maybe it’s good for me.”

 

This disconnect between immigrant parents and their children causes discomfort and a desire to return back to their country of origin where they understand the cultural norms.

Another obstacle expressed from the cultural gap was the uncertainty of knowing certain cultural norms, such as humor. A few student participants mentioned that in lectures when the professor told a ‘joke’ all the Canadian born students would laugh but the immigrants did not. This cultural division made them feel like an outsider.

In addition, a cultural difference that was highlighted was the slower tempo of life in Vancouver compared to some of the respondents country of origin. For example, Melissa from Korea explained how her friend went to the hospital here “but she just waiting, waiting, waiting…why do they need a very long time to give just one prescription. Those times make me very uneasy and make me go back to Korea.” Melissa, and other immigrants in our study, expressed a dislike for the ‘slow’ pace in Vancouver.

Another cultural expectation that made immigrants feel hesitant and isolated was Canadian medical care system. Respondents expressed a feeling of reluctance towards using Canadian healthcare because they were uncertain of when it was acceptable to go to the hospital, and what was covered. One respondent, Melissa, outlined an experience when her son developed a bad flu, but she was hesitant to visit the doctor. She thought, “ -it is not serious so I just cure with my natural medication what I know in Korea.” The participants said they were unsure of when it was appropriate to go to the hospital, so this left them feeling vulnerable.

Ultimately, the respondents agreed that to have a sense of belonging in Vancouver it was necessary to understand some cultural difference and have access to information. One respondent, Emma, captured this point saying,  “I have to feel that I know a lot of things, I know the school system, and I know where I can get help, and I know where I can work, and I know the organizations that can help me. I have to have connections with the society.” These connections can help reduce the degree of uncertainty and discomfort, because with access to information and organizations they can learn cultural norms and expectations.

Conversely, certain cultural differences have made Vancouver immigrants feel more at home. Many participants agreed that locals in in Vancouver are very friendly and polite. One respondent, Stephanie, explained her experience on the buses in Vancouver:

“I usually take the bus here and I saw every people’s behaviours are very good. Everyone will say thank you and the bus driver will say you’re welcome. And when I hear these things every day I feel it’s different than in my country and when I go on the street on the snow or rainy day at the bus stop people will say you first ,oh no you first. Small things for me I feel very warm, very tiny small things I feel so good.”

 

Others agreed that these were strange cultural customs compared to their country of origin, but that it was small things, such as this, that made them feel more welcomed. Another cultural expectation that made our respondents admire Vancouver was “that people respect life here as a high quality”. For example, Julia mentioned how “whenever there is a firetruck on the road everyone will move aside for it, and let the road clear for the saving of the life. All these tiny things. It’s very different.”

 

Theme 4:  Language acts as a barrier to opportunities and to creating a sense of home

 

The language barrier for those who speak English as an additional language, is viewed as the utmost obstacle immigrants face while they are attempting to develop a sense of belonging in Vancouver. Among immigrants, English is often an additional language, which leaves them feeling a lack of confidence when interacting with locals. Most of our participants said this barrier made them feel isolated, and often they would not participate in community activities, or develop relationships with locals. One participant, Lena,  shared that while she was in grade nine “the people around [her] were so rude. They treated [her] like, you don’t know our language. It’s like, it’s our language, it’s not yours.” Other respondents indicated that due to their lack of confidence when speaking English it was difficult to obtain a job. One respondent, Carol,  said that the interview process was very complicated because “English is our second language and it’s difficult for us to express our thoughts and opinions and feel confident representing yourself.” Another participant expressed her lack of confidence due to the language barrier because in China she was a businesswoman and was always busy but here she has not been unable to obtain a job. Language played the biggest role in determining whether or not the immigrants in our study felt accepted and that they belonged in Vancouver. However, once their English skills strengthened they felt exceptionally more confident and were able to develop better connections that helped them receive vital information, such as medical care, or community organizations.

 

SURVEY RESULTS

We designed the survey based on the results we obtained from our two focus groups. The survey was comprised of twenty questions, including three yes-or-no questions, and 17 multiple choice questions. The survey was conducted with the aim to uncover the relationship between factors of home described in our focus groups, such as language barriers, the amount of time living in Vancouver, friendship and neighborhood, jobs and career opportunity, as well as media consumption patterns, and the extent of immigrant’s feeling of belonging in Vancouver. 102 participants took part in the survey. 56.9% of all survey respondents felt very strongly that Vancouver was their home. 28.4% of respondents felt that Vancouver is somewhat their home and 7.8% of all respondents felt as if Vancouver was not really their home, or not their home at all. The data provided from the respondents demonstrated a relationship between ties immigrants have with family and friends, language, job opportunities, media consumption and feelings of belonging.

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Of the respondents that felt as if Vancouver was very much their home, 79.3% of those respondents had lived in Vancouver for 10 or more years. The respondents who felt strongly that Vancouver was home for them, 83.9% migrated with friends or family members and 57.9% of them cited family or friends as their reasons for migration. These numbers demonstrate how relationships with family and/or friends has an impact on negotiating a sense of home for immigrants in the Greater Vancouver area. For those who feel Vancouver is their home, friends and family are a large influence of feelings of belonging. Similar to the theme uncovered in our focus groups, the location of family and friends and the relationships ties between family/friends and immigrants deeply affects the negotiation of home in a new city.

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Similarly, another factor that influenced the respondents degree of belonging in Vancouver was their ability to make friends with both locals and other immigrants currently living in the Greater Vancouver area. 42.1% of respondents who felt strongly that Vancouver was their home, found it somewhat easy to make friends with people already living in Vancouver. 26.3% of these respondents felt that it was very easy in making friends in Vancouver. The ability to have and make friends in a new city or country is critical for immigrants to create feelings of belonging and negotiate a sense of home for themselves. It is also beneficial to have a friend or a relative when first arriving in Vancouver. Among the respondents who felt “very much” and “somewhat” that Vancouver as their home, over 40% of them had a relative or friend already residing in Vancouver at the time of their migration.

In terms of analyzing the influence of language amongst the respondents that felt strongly that Vancouver was home for them, it’s interesting to see the relationship between language and feelings of belong and home. 69% of these respondents evaluated their English speaking abilities as fluent; however, 42.1% of these respondents admitted to always speaking their mother language. There is a visible link between language and creating a feeling of home. Overall, a large portion of  respondents felt as if language was a barrier to creating a feeling of home in the Greater Vancouver area. Amongst the respondents that noted English as an additional language, more than 47.5% of them agreed that language was a major barrier in creating a sense of home. At the same time, although living in an English speaking city, 67.3% of the respondent still practice their mother language quite often.

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It is noteworthy that people who attributed education as a reason for migration were more likely to feel as if Vancouver was not their home. Among the respondents who chose Vancouver is “not at all” their home and “not really” their home, 75% of them came chose education as at least one of the reason they came to Vancouver. For these respondents, Vancouver was not a permanent home, but rather a temporary place of residence. Individuals who migrated for education and who felt as if Vancouver was not their home, also felt that it was difficult to build a network in Vancouver. These immigrants reported that they had a stronger connection with friends and family in their countries of origin. Among these respondents, 75% often communicate with people living in their country of origin. These participants demonstrated strong ties to their country of origin, and a lack of relationship ties to people in Vancouver. This reinforces the idea that the relationships between family and friends largely influences the feelings of home for immigrants.

Overall Findings

After recording the focus groups and survey results, it was evident that despite a largely multicultural demographic, there are still many immigrants who have difficulties integrating and creating feelings of home in the Greater Vancouver area. In the second focus group that contained twelve participants aged 30 and older we found that they were all members of a community centre program that aims to assist immigrants by helping them make a sense of home in Vancouver. Some of the participants are long-term volunteers in these community centres, yet the majority of program participants had been in Vancouver for a comparatively short time and had recently joined the program itself. Therefore, these community centres are mainly aiming to help new immigrants, but the assistance is short-term only. Although many participants stated that the community centres they were attending, as well as other integration programs, had been very helpful to them, it is more important to have some long-term integration programs that can help immigrants for numerous years post-migration.

At the same time, the strengths of current and existing inclusionary programs is also of particular concern. Among the participants in the two focus groups, we noticed that younger immigrants in the first focus group did not seek help when they faced difficulties in acculturating or creating a new sense of a home in Vancouver. Conversely, the immigrants in the second focus group joined the community centre activity almost immediately upon arrival mostly because of their children, as the community centre is located next to an elementary school and does a lot of outreach to the community through the elementary school. The strength of promoting available programs for immigrants is inadequate, as well as the strength of helping the immigrants.

Many of the participants in our focus groups mentioned that it was difficult to make friends with Canadian locals because of a degree of superficiality, where they feel as if their community and neighbours were somewhat welcoming. This can hinder their ability to call Vancouver their home. Our survey results supported this notion showing that more than 50% of the total respondents feel that their neighbours and communities are “somewhat” welcoming whereas 24.8% of respondents felt neighbors and their community were “very welcoming” and 10.9% felt that they were “not really” welcoming. The idea is that immigrants did not feel entirely welcomed by their neighbors and broader community.

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CONCLUSION

            From our research we can conclude that language, and the relationships between family and friends act as both enablers and hindrances to creating feelings of home within the Greater Vancouver area for immigrants. For many immigrants with English as an additional language, the inability to communicate their feelings or opinions thoroughly and precisely created numerous obstacles for them to feel at home in Vancouver. The difficulties of communicating often resulted in numerous social and economic costs and setbacks for immigrants.On the other hand, participants acknowledge that the relationship ties to family members and friends can either enable or create obstacles to feeling at home. A large number of focus group and survey participants migrated to the Greater Vancouver area with family members, or already had family members or friends living here. There was a significant relationship between having friends and family in Vancouver and feeling that Vancouver was the participant’s home. These exploratory findings open up the door to more specific research in the Greater Vancouver area. For example, through our focus groups, we discovered an area of concern for immigrant parents where they feel a sense of disconnect with their children who have and continue to grow up in a culture and society very different from their country of origin. Therefore, these parents not only feel a sense of disconnect with their place in Vancouver, but also a cultural gap between themselves and their children.

Our study is both important and relevant to the current demographics of the Greater Vancouver area. The understanding and acknowledgement of obstacles and enablers that exist to creating a sense of home for the large immigrant population can benefit the economic, social and cultural situation of the Vancouver area. For many immigrants, a reason for migration is the educational opportunities that exist here. However, many immigrants express the desire to gain an education in the Greater Vancouver area, but eventually find further economic resources in other cities or countries. The Greater Vancouver area can reap substantial benefits from updating and implementing stronger short-term inclusionary programs, as well as initiating and providing long-term programs. The feedback we received from our focus groups highlighted the strengths of the existing programs directed at immigrants in the Vancouver area, such as, the North Shore Neighbourhood House’s Welcoming Neighbours Programs, the Multicultural Society, and the World in Burnaby. These programs focus on providing arenas for new immigrants to meet other immigrants, aid with language and communication barriers, and information regarding volunteering with their communities. However, the information that is not readily available through these programs are more in-depth ESL classes to help with job searches and interviews, information regarding jobs and educational opportunities, and opportunities to create more long-term friendships and relationships. Furthermore, we discovered from our participants aged 18-30 that they did not reach out to community programs when they felt isolated or vulnerable. Currently, there are programs directed towards youth, such as, Safe Teen International, the Vars/ty Initiative, and Neonology, but minimal programs directed to young adults. As one focus group member, Eric, mentioned he stayed at home for the first two years after arriving. We need to develop more inclusionary programs to fill this void and make all new immigrants feel welcome in the Greater Vancouver area.

A Place to Call Home

In the tight knit hockey following in Vancouver, it’s easy to get caught up in the Canuck fever, and most locals understand what it takes to be a true Canuck. People become family, and this family put their faith in their home team, even those who did not always consider Vancouver their home.

A foreign affair takes place for these people, and not the type most would imagine…

Stephen Lee was born and raised in China, and came to Canada in 2004. Having previously followed mainly soccer, table tennis and badminton, his arrival to Vancouver presented some new social norms. Stephen notes that his interest in hockey was minimal prior to the 2010 Stanley Cup finals.

“People were so into it they actually put down their work and just hid in the lunchroom to watch the game,” he recalls while working at Future Shop. “There were no customers, because when there was a hockey game on, everyone just went [elsewhere] to watch the game”. To anyone used to such a sports dominated culture, this may seem like completely normal behaviour; gathering to watch hockey with complete strangers is a common pastime here. This culture shock is testament to the lifestyle change that develops from moving to a new continent. The more people dropped everything to see the Canucks perform, the more Stephen became exposed to the atmosphere that hockey created, which he found “pretty intense and exciting”.

Even if he hadn’t fully taken in what was happening during the game, Stephen vividly remembers a semi-final, series-winning goal by the heroic Henrik Sedin, and jumping up with the crowd in a glorious uproar.

For the last round of the 2010 finals, Stephen had travelled back to China and found himself feeling restless. Concerned about how the Canucks were doing, he checked his cellphone periodically from the airport to see if there had been another victory. Once back in his hometown, Stephen was glad to find a small local television that played hockey, where he was able to watch the last two games of the series, during which the Canucks suffered a heart wrenching loss. The loss was devastating for Canuck supporters (who had literally been waiting forever for the Canucks to land a Stanley Cup), but what ensued after was un-sportsman like of these so-called “devoted fans”. The infamous riot that took place after the Stanley Cup loss struck an unexpected chord with Stephen. He remembers thinking that his “home had been attacked”. It was then that Stephen realized he had become part of the Canuck family.

Vancouver wasn’t just a destination, but his new home.

Stephen found he felt “a sense of belonging” in this new community. Not only was he a part of a city, but something much more. He belonged to the Vancouver family – something that only locals used to be familiar with – something to which people of all walks of life were welcome.

This sense of belonging is eminent in how Stephen feels about his new home, too.

For Stephen, being a Canuck’s fan allowed him to call Vancouver his home.  Most fans follow because they want something to believe in, whether that is to win a Stanley Cup for the first time, or something as simple as belonging in your community. Vancouverites consider hockey a part of their home, and if new Canadians can join in on this beautiful feeling by dawning a blue white and green jersey, why would they need to reside anywhere else?

Mitzuki Kono is also a student from overseas living in Vancouver. Coming originally from Japan at the age of 16, Kono primarily watched soccer in his homeland. After an initial visit, he found that he had fallen for with Vancouver’s weather, and decided to come here permanently to study English.

Kono hadn’t been exposed to hockey prior to his Canadian P.E. classes, but once he played it for himself,  his interest in the sport deepened. Mitzuki saw the passion his host family had for the Canucks, and when they took him to a game for the first time, he “just loved it”.

“It’s hard to explain,” says Kono. “The atmosphere is really good there.”

Considering himself to be “a big fan” today, Kono follows the Canuck journey and is genuinely interested in the players, and their success. To him, being a true Canuck is about more than supporting the team- it means truly “caring about [the team’s] game, and how they play”, and “getting crazy” with the other fans, and cheering on their team. As Vancouver becomes what he calls his true home, Kono finds hockey of greater importance in his life, and even plays recreational hockey himself today.

Yes, hockey may be just a sport. Yet to Stephen, Mitzuki, and countless others hockey is the gateway to belonging in a place of diversity.

Hockey is home.

The Chinese Family

Introduction

Ever since camera was invented in the 16th century, photography has been and is still one of the main methods in recording everyday life in contemporary society (Gernsheim, 1965). In particular, family gathering is one of the scenes people like to take photographs the most. As Hirsch mentions, “family photographs show us both the outer and inner space of family experience”, family photos is one of the best way to observe and analyze not only the family itself, but the entire society as a whole as well (Hirsch, 1981, pp.48).

The purpose of this paper is to analyze the ways family members takes in portraying the photographs, including positions, locations, technology, and scene, etc., through which the stereotypes, social norms, and ideologies of the specific society and culture can be analyzed.

In the study, I will choose three family photos of mine, and I am in all of the photographs. The first one was taken in the zoo with my parents when I was a baby; the second one was me taking a photo in an amusement park with my father when I went to an activity organized by my father’s university when I was 12 years old; the last one was a group photo with my parents and my grandmother (my father’s mother) in my mother’s birthday taken in a restaurant taken two years ago.

To analyze the three photographs, I will break the analysis into three parts. First, I will analyze the people in the photographs – what is the relationship between each of them, is there any power relationship in existence, and what it is. Secondly, I will analyze the locations where the photographs were taken – why were they taken in such place, on what occasion were they taken, and if there were any items or background that were noteworthy. Last but not least, I will analyze the deeper meaning of the photographs – what kind of ideology, social norms, and culture, are the photographs reflecting, and why.

The Photographs

The first photograph was taken almost 30 years ago when I was still a baby (Appendix 1). It was taken in the Guangzhou Zoo. The photograph was originally stuck on the family album, but it was taken off and put in my wallet for several years. The surface of the photo is abraded on the majority on my mother’s face as well as part of my face since it was placed in the wallet photo purse, yet the emotion can still be seen. We are standing in front of a bush of gladiolus. My father was crouching on the grass wearing a light yellow t-shirt and a pair of pants while my mother was sitting on the grass wearing a pink dress and black skirt; I, the baby in the photograph, was wearing a white hat, white tank top and a pair of light blue pants. Because I was too young to stand by myself, I was held by my father with his two hands. One of my arms was resting on my father’s knee, while the other was held in my mother’s hand. On the back of the photo, there is some hand written words indicating the time and the location this photograph was taken (Appendix 2). Although some of the words are blocked by the remain of the aged album while some others are out of range, you can tell that this photograph was taken in the Guangzhou Zoo in Guangzhou, the city I was born in, at the time I was couple months (and a half) old.

As I was told by my mother, back to the time when she had just married my father, she was an office lady in a state-owned enterprise and she was making a decent income, while my father was a newly graduated university instructor, who was making an income barely enough to support himself. My mother often gave my father some financial support in order to relieve his pressure, as well as making him look better in front of his parents-in-laws. As shown in the photograph, my father was only wearing a t-shirt printed in English. Because China was still quite a closed country back in the 1980s and t-shirts with English printed on it is barely seen, it can be predicted that this t-shirt was brought by my mother from her mother who was a clothing factory worker in Shenzhen which made clothes exporting to Hong Kong; however, the silk clothes my mother was wearing embodied the wealthy family she was from. I was held in the centre of the group, meaning I was the focus of the family, and the chubby arms of mine shows that I was well fed by my family. One important detail is that my mother put her figure under my crotch and tried to imply my male genital organ. It was very common in China that parents prefer sons rather than daughters because sons have the responsibility to carry on the family line. Therefore I was even better treated by my parents.

The second photograph was taken with my father in an amusement park in China when I was 12 years old (Appendix 3). We were standing in front of a recreation facility with a fence surrounding it; there were couple trees and a recycle bin in the background too. In this photograph, my father and I had a lot in common: we were both wearing white shirt tucked into our pants, we were both wearing the same belt, and we were both wearing a tag saying “honored guest” on our shirt. There are still some differences between us – my father was wearing a black pair of suit pants while I was wearing a brown pair of corduroy pants; my father had his shirt buttoned all the way up and I left the top one unbuttoned; my father was holding his suit in his arm while his other hand was on my shoulder, and I was wearing a grey vest, resting one hand in my pants pocket while the other one was holding some paper files.

My family is a typical family in the 1990s’ China. My mother was a high school graduate and never received any post-secondary education; she was making decent salary which was more than enough to spend on her own expense. My father, however, was graduated from one of the biggest conservatories of music in China. He was the breadwinner of the family, and had won my respect for teaching me a lot of knowledge as well as life lessons. In the second photograph, it can be told that I respect my father a lot as I was wearing a very similar set of clothes to my father’s. I was at the age of 12 in the photograph, and it was the time I would like to be treated as a “little grown-up” because I thought I have learned enough to know everything, so I was not smiling that much in the photograph as my father was because I was trying to put on a “grown man’s face”. My father knew me so well and treated me the way I wanted. He put his hand on my shoulder like he was my elder brother instead of my father, and we were having some “brother’s time” together. In fact, there were many times when my father’s acquaintance met us and thought I was his younger brother.

The last photograph was taken two years ago in a restaurant celebrating my mother’s birthday (Appendix 4). There are me, my parents and my grandmother (my father’s mother) in the photograph. Behind us was a golden silky curtain, and there was a birthday cake in front of us, with some other dishes beside it. We all had a glass filled with apple vinegar on the table, as well as the tableware such as bowl, spoon and chopsticks. My father was wearing a light blue, short-sleeved shirt tucked in his jeans, he was also wearing a watch on his left wrist; my grandmother was wearing a colorful plaid shirt; my mother was wearing a pink dress shirt with a colorful shawl and a white pair of pants; I am wearing a navy blue Canuck t-shirt and a black pair of pants, I am also wearing a string of Buddha beads on my right wrist. The four of us were all smiling happily, holding the knife as we were going to cut the birthday cake together.

My grandfather (my father’s father) died before I was born, and my grandmother has been my father’s last parent in the last 30 years. Therefore, my father spent extra care on her despite her living in a different city which was more than five hours’ drive from my hometown, Guangzhou. My mother, however, cared about my grandmother even more than my father did. In 2011, I went back to China for a summer vacation and I had a chance to spend my mother’s birthday with her. Instead of celebrating it my hometown Guangzhou, my family decided to go to Maoming, the city my grandmother lived in, in order to let her look at me because I was away for many years. There are many stories hidden behind this photograph. My father was starting to carry more responsibility because my mother had retired and had a much less income than before; my grandmother was diagnosed to have lung cancer more than ten years ago and may go away at any moment; my mother was just recovered from an early-stage colon cancer and worried that her sickness will increase the burden of my father; I had just broken up with a lot of lessons learned, and just decided to go back to school at the age of 27. Despite of all these misfortune, my entire family looked so happy and positive in the photograph because we are all hoping our spirit can affect everyone else.

Assessment of Data

As is mentioned in McAllister’s article, “photography is one of the ‘family’s primary instruments of self-knowledge and representation’” (McAllister, 2006). It means that photographs is a representation of my family’s spirit, as well as the dominant ideology, social norms, culture, and social change during the past 30 years.

The first photograph (Appendix 1) reflects one main factor. The first one is that in China, there was a general preference for sons rather than daughters. As I was too young to tell apart if I was a boy or a girl, my mother’s suggestive figure under my crotch was trying to tell everyone reading the photo that I was a boy. According to scientific fact, the father’s chromosome decides whether the couple is going to have a son or a daughter (Baby2see, 2013). However, the Chinese social norm widely attributes it to the mother. The greater family, especially from the husband’s side, will blame the mother for not having a son; on the contrast, as the Chinese proverb says, the mother is more precious because of having a son (Tran, 2013). As a result, my mother was treated even better than the time she was pregnant because of the fact that I was born as a boy. Both sides of my grandparents, especially my grandmother (my father’s mother), gave my mother extra care.

The second photograph (Appendix 3) reflects a principle that “photographic archives by their very structure maintain a hidden connection between knowledge and power” (Allan, 1999). Being the breadwinner and the most knowledgeable person in the family, I had the most respect to my father. Therefore, despite my father had his hand on my shoulder and treated me like his younger brother instead of his son, I did not dare to do the same thing back to him. The power relationship in this photograph is obvious – my father stood a higher position than me in the family. Moreover, my father was graduated as a college student while everyone else in the greater family was not including my aunts and uncles, so my father was able to give me more aids in my study in the time before I entered college. Because of that, I spent more respect to my father, because he was not only the person who earned more money and responsibility, he was also the one with the most knowledge in the entire family.

There are two reflections in the last photograph (Appendix 4). First of all, the previous two photographs were taken by film cameras and scanned into the computer, while the third one was taken by a digital camera. The first photograph is very dim, and the worn-off part is unable to recover; the second photograph is slightly better than the first one, yet the color is still not as bright as the third one, and there is also some worn-off part on the left bottom corner. Compared with the other two photographs, the third one taken by a digital camera is much brighter and more colorful, and there is no worn-off on the photograph as it is saved as a digital file in the computer at the very beginning. This shows the technological impact on family lives; camera technology, especially digital cameras, was able to save the family memory in a better condition as well as in a better form. The mentality of taking a photo also changed because of this. In the film camera age, people took more caution while taking photos because the cost of retake was very high; nowadays people feel very casual taking photos with digital cameras because there is no cost to do a retake if the first photo is not well-taken. Secondly, for others who have not read this photograph before, it is highly possible for them to believe it was my grandmother’s birthday instead of my mother’s. This is because they ignore one of the most important ideologies in Chinese culture – to respect the seniors. My grandmother was the oldest person in the greater family and she was regarded as the elder of the family. Therefore, although it was my mother’s birthday, my grandmother was standing in the very middle as the focus of the photograph.

Self-reflexive Assessment

As an observer, I mainly conduct my observation as participant observation because I am in all the three photographs, and I know all other people in the photographs well. One main shortcoming of this analysis is that my observation may mix with a lot personal emotion such as the respect to my father. In fact, two years before the time the second photograph (Appendix 3), my father had just experienced a scandal and it was severe enough to lose everything even his marriage; luckily, he successfully managed to solve the problem and continue his life. If I was mature enough at the time I took the second photograph and realized how bad the problem was, I may not take the photograph with such respect to my father.

Also, something is not the same as I expected. I was expecting that the photographs would have been taken in front of some meaningful sight. For example, the first photograph was taken in the Guangzhou Zoo, yet it was not taken in front of an elephant or a tiger but simply in front of a clump of bushes. I would not know it was taken in the zoo if there is no written word on the back (Appendix 2). Also, it was very hard to tell that the second photograph was taken in an amusement park as no recreation facility can be seen in the photograph but fences and a garbage bin.

The best way to redesign the study is to observe someone else’s family photos, as well as interviewing him/her. However, the person should be an acquaintance of the researcher so that observation will not hinder participation, and vice versa (Deacon et al, 1999). The interview questions should include the following: why do you pick these photographs, what is the story behind these photographs, and what is hidden from the photographs.

In conclusion, the analysis of observing family photos is helpful in understanding a particular nation’s social norm and ideologies. We understand that a significant preference to son is a dominant ideology in China. As a turn out, the male to female ratio in China in 2011 is 51.9 to 48.1 (Brooks, 2013); other significant problems such as gendercide widely exist in China as well. Also, we understand that in China, elders are specially respected because of Confucianism (McDevitt, 2007). Therefore, signs in public places about taking care of the elders are everywhere in China. Finally, It is certain that if I analyze more photographs with more time, the result will be much more detailed and complete.

References

Allan, S. (1999). Reading an Archive: Photography between Labour and Capital. In Evans, J. & Hall S. (eds), Visual Culture: The Reader. Londer: Sage. Pp.181-192.

Baby2see. (December 2, 2013). Will the baby be a Girl or Boy?. Baby2see.com. Retrieved from http://www.baby2see.com/gender/

Brooks, R. (March 4, 2013). China’s biggest problem? Too many men. CNN. Retrieved from http://www.cnn.com/2012/11/14/opinion/china-challenges-one-child-brooks/

Deacon, D. et al. (1999). Being an Observer. In Researching Communication. US: Hodder Arnold. Pp.248-277

Gernsheim, H. (1965). A Concise History of Photography. London: Thames and Hudson.

Hirsch, J. (1981). Family Photographs: Content, Meaning and Effort. New York: Oxford University Press. Pp.47-79.

McAllister, K.E. (2006). A story of escape: family photographs from Japanese Canadian internment camps. In Kuhn, A. & McAllister K.E. (2006), Locating Memory: Photographic Acts. US: Berghahn Books.

McDevitt, R. (2007). CONFUCIANISM – Understanding andApplying TheAnalects of Confucius. Education about Asia. Vol. 12(1). Retrieved from http://www.asian-studies.org/eaa/Confucianism_Handouts.pdf

Tran, K. (2013). Preference for Boys in China. Slideshare. Retrieved from http://www.slideshare.net/KhanhHoaTran/preference-for-boys-in-china

Appendix 1

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Appendix 2

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Appendix 3

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Appendix 4

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Internet Abbreviation and Daily Communication

Introduction

There is a joke on the Internet which is quite popular: A father joined Facebook. His son updated his status: “Dad on FB, WTF!” Then the father saw it and commented, “What is WTF?” His son replied, “Welcome to Facebook.” (Jokideo.com, 2012)

dad-is-on-facebook-wtf

 

There are two abbreviations in this joke: FB and WTF. The first abbreviation, FB, appears in the son’s status which stands for the social network Facebook; the second abbreviation, WTF, is the core of the joke. In most situations, WTF is short for “what the fuck” and it is often used to express extreme emotions such as shock or anger, which was exactly what the son was trying to express in his status initially; yet he lied to his father by saying that WTF means “welcome to Facebook” and successfully hid his initial intention in his status. The joke is funny because it is simple but effective — the son fooled his father by playing with the meaning of the abbreviation WTF. A further punch line of this joke is that the father might start using the abbreviation WTF to communicate with his Facebook friends with the meaning he was taught by his son, which would definitely cause more funny misunderstandings.

The abbreviation WTF from the previous joke was one of the abbreviations created for online communication, AKA (also known as) Internet abbreviations. Other abbreviations that we encounter frequently nowadays such as LMAO (laugh my ass off), NVM (never mind) are also Internet abbreviations. It is difficult to define the term “Internet abbreviation” as the society nowadays changes so fast (Yan, 2006); the term that was suited 20 years ago may not be proper to use in current days. People use Internet abbreviations so often that they even use Internet abbreviations in reality life as well. Internet abbreviations influence language not just on the Internet, but in offline communication as well. The abbreviated language that is a central feature of Internet communication will be part of the major impact on the future development of language that the information age will make.this joke: FB and WTF. The first abbreviation, FB, appears in the son’s status which stands for the social network Facebook; the second abbreviation, WTF, is the core of the joke. In most situations, WTF is short for “what the fuck” and it is often used to express extreme emotions such as shock or anger, which was exactly what the son was trying to express in his status initially; yet he lied to his father by saying that WTF means “welcome to Facebook” and successfully hid his initial intention in his status. The joke is funny because it is simple but effective — the son fooled his father by playing with the meaning of the abbreviation WTF. A further punch line of this joke is that the father might start using the abbreviation WTF to communicate with his Facebook friends with the meaning he was taught by his son, which would definitely cause more funny misunderstandings.

What is Abbreviation?

According to Dictionary.com, an abbreviation is “a shortened or contracted form of a word or phrase, used to represent the whole” (Dictionary.com, 2013). Abbreviations can have many different forms. The most popular form is a capitalized letter combination of the first letter in every word of the phrase; for example, we use SFU to represent Simon Fraser University, and HIV means “human immunodeficiency virus”. Also, in many cases, an abbreviation of a single word is the first couple of letters of the word with the first letter capitalized, following with a period at the end of the abbreviation. This kind of abbreviation is usually used for titles such as Prof., which is short for professor, and Mr., which means mister. Another common form of abbreviation is to take only one or two letters, which are not necessarily from the original word, to stand for the meaning. In this way, unit symbols such as lb (pound) and m (meter) are examples of how this type of abbreviation is created. There are a lot of other particular ways that abbreviations are formed, yet all abbreviations follow one rule: they are created to save people’s time, space and effort in textual or oral communication, and they are used in particular contexts where they are familiar. For example, MU can mean McGill University to a post-secondary student in Canada, it can mean the movie Monster University to cartoon movie lovers, and when you see MU on a sports channel, it usually stands for Manchester United, a well-known soccer club in England.

Abbreviations are used to save space and time in daily communication, both oral and textual. In oral communication, we rarely say “the United States of America”, but 99 times out of 100, we say “the USA”. In fact, the abbreviation USA is so frequently used that it has become another form of representing the country. This “distortion” of dialogue is capable of facilitating communication across cultures, so even people in non-English-speaking cultures know the meaning of the abbreviation (Peters, 1999). For instance, the abbreviation “USA” is recognized not only in the Western world, but also in non-European cultures such as China, where most people do not speak English, but nonetheless recognize the abbreviation (baidu.com, 2008). Textual abbreviations are also widely used. For example, when broadcasting sports events between two opposing teams, the broadcasting agencies usually use abbreviations of both teams’ names on the scoreboard in order to save space on the screen. Also, at conferences where name tags are provided, the titles are usually abbreviated so that the information will not look too dense on the name card.

Abbreviations have been used for many hundreds of years, but have become much more widespread since the invention of the telegraph in the 19th century, and especially since the explosion of the electronic age (Beauchamp, 2001). Abbreviations have evolved from the SOS (save our ship) in the telegraph age to LOL (laugh out loud) in the Internet age. Grammar and spelling were highly valued in the study of English language, and abbreviations were only used to stand for long phrases, organizations and so on. Yet the universalization of Internet has brought an essential change to abbreviation, eventually gave birth to Internet abbreviation.

What is Internet Abbreviation?

Internet abbreviations can be defined as abbreviations created and adopted by Internet users. Despite the Internet technology having been invented as early as the 1960s, it did not start its rapid expansion until the late 1980s (Segal, 1995). In 1996, the earliest IM (Instant Messenger) software was created by a company called Mirabillis, then it was bought by American Online (AOL) in 1998 (Hansell, 1998); this software was called ICQ, which is the euphony of “I seek you”. This software enabled instant textual communication between computers and it started an era in which people could have textual communication on a brand new platform. Before ICQ was invented, instant textual communication was limited to old telegraph system and cell phone text messages, but the latter was still far too expensive for consumers to afford. The invention of ICQ not only delivered a fatal blow to the telegraph system, but also created a couple of new forms of textual communication, including Internet abbreviations.

The majority of Internet abbreviations follow the pattern of a combination of capitalized first letters of each word of a phrase. However, there are some significant differences between traditional abbreviations and Internet abbreviations. Traditional abbreviations, such as UN (United Nations) and NHL (National Hockey League), are mostly nouns, while Internet abbreviations, such as BRB (be right back) and LOL (laugh out loud), are phrases that in most cases describe an action or express an emotion. Such phrases are frequently used in Internet conversation occasions such as Instant Messengers, as well as chat rooms and online forums.

There are many platforms where Internet abbreviations can be created. Instant Messengers such as ICQ, eventually Yahoo! Messenger, Windows Live Messenger, are the very first batch of platforms, as well as the most significant platforms where Internet abbreviations are given birth to. Compared to other popular communication means such as making phone calls and writing letters, textual communication on Instant Messengers are much more high-tech and convenient. Many Internet abbreviations such as GTG (got to go), CU (see you) were invented to facilitate faster textual communication.

Social networks such as Facebook and Twitter are also an important platform for Internet abbreviation. However, it is so much better to say that social networks are platforms to practise Internet abbreviations rather than to create them. Many social media were founded in the mid 2000’s when Internet abbreviation was almost 10 years old. The structure and contents of Internet abbreviation was rather saturated, and there was little space for social networks to create new Internet abbreviations. However, online games are the latest platforms where Internet abbreviations are created due to the special circumstances. Because of its special communication environment, Internet abbreviation in online games are more limited the game itself. For example, AFK is an Internet abbreviation used only in online games, which means “away from keyboard”; HP and MP are also two common abbreviations in many games, meaning “health point” and “magic point”.

These Internet abbreviations that evolved from Instant Messengers, social networking and gaming, became so frequently used that they spread to cell phone text messages, and eventually spread to oral conversations, especially among the young generation that grew up with computers and cellphones. Therefore, the impact of Internet abbreviations on daily language usage has been enormous (Dixon, 2011).

There are so many Internet abbreviations nowadays that they need to be categorized into several groups. Internet abbreviations can be grouped into nine categories, including greetings, relationships, mood or reaction, negative descriptions, affection, closings, disclaimers, timing, and others (Dixon, 2011). Greetings abbreviations are usually used in starting a conversation, such as HUD (How you doing?) and RUOK (Are you ok?); relationship abbreviations are BF (boyfriend), GF (girlfriend) and BFF (best friend forever), etc.; mood or reaction abbreviation includes OMG (Oh my God!), WTF (what the fuck) and so on; negative descriptions abbreviations are BS (bullshit), FOS (full of shit) and affection abbreviations are ILY (I love you) and XOXO (Hugs and kisses); TTUL (Talk to you later), CU (See you) are examples of closings abbreviations, and AFA (as far as) is the most significant disclaimer abbreviation; timing abbreviations include B4 (before). Other than all the categories listed above, there are still so many Internet abbreviations that are hard to be categorized and they can be only marked as “others”.

Internet abbreviations also serve the same purpose as the regular abbreviations: they are created to save time, space and effort; they are also used in particular contexts so they are not easy to misunderstand. For example, LOL can mean “laugh out loud” when chatting with friends, but it can mean “lots of love” when flirting with a lover, and for game lovers, LOL is “League of Legends”, the most popular online game at the moment. The ability to distinguish the different meanings of the same abbreviation is actually the ability to place a word or a term in contexts. Therefore, in the same way as regular language, Internet abbreviations also have a “structure of expectation” (Lakoff, 2000). In making a place for themselves in contemporary language, Internet abbreviations follow the traditional purposes and requirements of regular language.

For this reason, Internet abbreviations, together with Internet slang, can be considered as a language of its own, or at least a dialect or a branch of the English language (Johnston, 2004). Internet language has influenced millions of people online, and its impact has even extended to offline communication.

Internet Abbreviation in Daily Life

In 1992, the first SMS (short message service) message was sent over the Vodafone GSM network in the United Kingdom by an Engineer called Neil Papworth (Ahmed, 2002). Like instant messaging, text messaging was also another form of instant textual communication. Therefore, Internet abbreviations were adopted in texting in no time. People typed Internet abbreviations such as LOL, RUOK on their mobile phones and they just worked fine. This can be seen as the very first step of Internet abbreviation stepping into broader daily life. Nowadays, instant messengers, as well as social networks and online societies, are all accessible through smartphones, and Internet abbreviations are even more widely used over the phones.

Other than smartphones, some Internet abbreviations have been adopted in daily oral conversation. In an episode of The Big Bang Theory, a student in Sheldon’s class uses the abbreviation KMN (kill me now) to express his dissatisfaction with Sheldon’s unpleasant way of lecturing (TheLukasNet, 2011). Although not frequently heard, people sometimes use Internet abbreviations such as OMG and LOL in their speech to emphasize their feelings (Knibbs, 2013).

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Internet abbreviations are more accepted by the younger generation than by the senior generation because they have grown up in the Internet age. The majority of teenagers in the US take part in different kinds of electronic communication, and instant messaging is one of the most popular forms (Varnhagen et al, 2009). As a result, adolescents tend to create a language that includes abbreviations, new words and slang. According to the study done by Varnhagen et al, a teenager uses about 2.9 Internet abbreviations as well as more than 28 short cuts in each conversation with a peer (Varnhagen et al, 2009). The frequent usage of Internet abbreviations is creating a new language, yet destroying some traditional language at the same time by replacing it in popular use.

The frequent use of Internet abbreviations has brought convenience to daily life, but it has also created some issues in society. For example, many teachers and parents are concerned that children are unable to spell words correctly due to a constant use of abbreviated forms (Humphrey, 2003). Children are so used to typing on their cellphones and Instant Messengers that they are unable to spell words fully. For example, instead of writing “through”, many children write “thru”. This situation is not limited to English speaking countries. In China, in order to follow the instructions of the Cultural Department of China, the popular online game Jinwutuan has banned the usage of Internet language, also known in China as “Martian Language”, in order to reinforce mainstream culture and protect correct spelling (ChinaNews, 2008). According to mainstream ideology in China, the rise of Internet language will erode the traditional language forms, especially since Internet language is developing and expanding so quickly.

Trends of Internet Abbreviation

            Internet abbreviations, as well as the entire Internet language, are evolving. The further development of Internet abbreviation can be predicted. First of all, the conformation of Internet abbreviation will evolve into different forms: letters are not the only characters that can be used in abbreviations; numbers and symbols will be added too. Internet abbreviation will then expand onto media platforms other than online ones, such as TV and newspapers. Last but not least, Internet abbreviation, as well as Internet language, will further impact the conventional language, will become accepted, and will initiate a revolution in language education as well.

            The forms of Internet abbreviation are already changing. A combination of letters and numbers has become the new Internet abbreviation fashion. For example, “see you later” is now abbreviated to “c u l8r”, as “ate” sounds the same as “8”. Thus, Internet abbreviations will not be limited to the forms mentioned previously, but will evolve into a more complicated, yet easily understandable system of language.

Regardless whether Internet abbreviations bring convenience or cause linguistic damage to the next generation, the trend of where Internet abbreviation is going is quite clear. After starting only in ICQ, Internet abbreviation has expanded onto almost all Internet media platforms in merely 20 years. It is certain that Internet abbreviation will expand onto still more platforms, including even the traditional media such as newspapers and TV.

Because more and more media will be starting to adopt and use Internet abbreviations, language may become more concise. There will be more and more terms, phrases and daily sentences that can be replaced by abbreviated forms. Eventually, because of the integration of Internet abbreviation into daily communication, grammar and sentence structure may also change in order to accommodate the increasing usage of Internet abbreviations.

Therefore, in order to cope with the changes that Internet use will force upon language, educational institutions will also change their attitude towards Internet abbreviations. Teachers and parents will no longer insist on the use of old-school grammar and spelling only; instead, language education will switch to a reasonable combination of Internet abbreviations and conventional language depending on contexts.

Conclusion

Internet abbreviation is a fast developing sub-language that is going to make a significant impact on conventional language forms. In fact, all languages are evolving all the time, and the young generation is usually the pioneer force that brings changes to the language. So it is not the Internet itself that changes our language, but the young people who use it the most and who find new language forms that work best with the new technology. The Internet is simply a platform on which the language evolution takes place. At the same time, the Internet also creates the conditions that encourage the evolution of language. Therefore, the idea that Internet abbreviation changes daily language is not an idea based on technological determinism, but is based more on cultural determinism.

As discussed earlier, Internet abbreviations are used in particular contexts so that the meanings of the abbreviations will not be misunderstood. Therefore, it is controversial whether Internet abbreviations are open text, implying they will have different meanings for different people or different contexts, or closed text, implying they will have the same meaning for everyone in every context. In fact, most Internet abbreviations, such as WTF, are limited to only one meaning (“what the fuck”), so they can be considered as closed text. Yet some other Internet abbreviations, such as LOL, can have different meanings in different contexts. However, in a particular context, an Internet abbreviation can only have one fixed meaning, which effectively makes the abbreviation a closed text as well.

Finally, there is no doubt that Internet abbreviations are making a significant impact on our use of daily language. However, the debate on whether Internet abbreviations, as well as the entire Internet language, will benefit or damage the existing language structure is ongoing. Yet the fusion of Internet language and daily language is unavoidable, so the meaningless debate should stop and we should address the question of how to mediate the conflicts between Internet language and conventional language. Both languages will benefit and develop a healthy relationship if this problem can be solved sensibly.

References
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Spring in Vancouver

It has been a very busy semester and I really had no time updating my blog.

Here are some pictures I took with my cellphone lately. Enjoy the lovely spring in Vancouver.

 

Nation of colored clouds

This is the photo set of my trip to Yunnan Prov. in China summer 2012.

For whole set please visit my flickr page.