Dong Jie – Abstract

The sociolinguistics of voice in globalizing China

This paper develops the notion of voice in an investigation of China’s rapidly reshuffling society. Despite its importance and usefulness, voice has been under-theorized in recent decades. In sociolinguistics, two major trends of theorization can be identified. One is Bakhtin’s “heteroglossia”, or multi-voicedness, and the other is Hymes’s functional notion of voice. For Bakhtin, voice was the sociocultural features,“the speaking consciousness”, that entered into discourse. Hymes, however, used voice more generally to point to the conditions and effects of communication. This paper argues for an inclusive notion of voice and deploys this notion to study the stratification and restratification of contemporary China in globalization. In the Chinese society, new social groups are emerging while “old” ones are being transformed in multiple and sometimes unexpected ways. Some voices are vanishing, some sound strange, while new voices are appearing and can become “loud”. Social groups need to be redefined, and people look for new norms not only within national borders but also globally. This is where voice comes in. Voice serves as a sociolinguistic tool that helps us identify new social formations that otherwise can be invisible. This paper uses three examples, rural as well as urban, internal as well as international, online as well as offline, to demonstrate complex voice making processes in restratifying China. Based on the analyses of these examples, I conclude that voice is key to understanding society; the more diversified a society is, the more acute issues of voice become, as the structures of voice always run behind the dynamic processes of social change.