Jenny Chan 陳詠欣
Aug 27, 2015

The colloquial language quirks of a new Chinese generation

CHINA - An Ogilvy and Webinsight report focused on the habits of a new and enigmatic consumer segment they call the "post-millennial generation" reveals how the colloquial language these young people use should give marketers a clue to their strong sense of individuality.

Cosplay versions of Cheap (贱贱) and Fried (炸毛), characters from Chinese anime
Cosplay versions of Cheap (贱贱) and Fried (炸毛), characters from Chinese anime "Old Xian" 《Old先》 and "19 Days"《19天》that post-millennials like

Defined as those born in China after 2000, of which the oldest are now just reaching the tender age of 15, the post-millenial generation is already greatly influencing consumer habits, including speech.

In this non-exhaustive list provided by Ogilvy China, we see diverse terms stemming from celebrity nicknames and Japanese culture as well as portmanteaus that pack the meaning of two or more phrases into one amalgamation.

A sample conversation between two Chinese post-millenial girls speaking about a boy with unwanted advances may go like this:

“他那个的黄爆凑表脸 (huáng bào còu biǎo liǎn) 让我实在无脑炸受 (wú nǎo zhà shòu),都开口跪(kāi kǒu gùi)了, 鬼才跟他二硫碘化钾(èr liú diǎn huà jiǎ)呢!

This roughly translates to: “He is full of sexual innuendos and violence and knows no shame. I cannot stand it anymore. I have such an extreme reaction to him that the minute he starts talking, I kneel down in mock worship. And to hell with giving him a kiss!"

(We have translated the terms to deliver the basic meaning of the phrases to mere-mortal adults. A literal translation comes out unintelligible because the original is packed with allusions and homonym-based references: "His yellow, burst, hash table face makes me really have no brains fried, I am doing an opening mouth kneel, only the devil will give him disulfide potassium iodide".)

As the first generation to grow up completely in a social-media environment, this cohort's self-obsession and unique worldview will come together "into a powerful force that gradually rewrites the rules of the business world", according to the report.

The researchers conducted direct interviews with 115 post-millennials, along with 10 teachers and 20 parents. Next, quantitative data was drawn from a CMMS database, in order to compare the habits of 15-year-olds today to those of five and 10 years ago. The team monitored colloquial language use in more than 200,000 Weibo microblog posts and 150,000 Tieba forum posts.

As post-millennials are the first generation to have access to all kinds of tools of self-expression at their fingertips, they express themelves without qualms on social platforms, set up their own benchmarks of social-status success—and expect the world to allow them to do so, the report states.

For them, being number one in class is not the only definition of success. If a post-millennial does not have the highest academic marks, s/he is happy with the fact that s/he is the best cook or has the best singing voice.

The quirky colloquial language, not unlike the early internet slang used by teenagers that befuddled many adults in the West, offers some perspective of the cultural bedrock of this relatively unknown generation.

That will serve as a reference for brand communications. Ogilvy and Webinsight advise marketers to:

  • Pay more attention to the potential for individual participation from a post-millenial for s/he to identify themselves and their personalities, since the current mass-production and mass-marketing environment rarely meets their needs to be treated as individuals.
  • Let the post-millenial consumer, and not the brand, be the centre of attention, because a one-size-fits-all solution will not work. Once a brand has social currency, they will want to associate themselves with it, and use the brand to build relationships with others in their communities.
  • Leverage data analytics to deliver personalised, smart content that help post-millennials make better decisions and look good amongst their peer groups.


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