Kěài ‘cute’ in mandarin: Its meanings, uses, and changes in internet communication

Yu Chieh Chen, Jen I. Li*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The word kěài in Mandarin is semantically rich. However, little research has been devoted to examining its meanings and uses, let alone possible innovative usage following the popularity of social media platforms. Hence, this study aims to examine in detail (a) the descriptive range, meanings and functions of kěài, and (b) possible changes of its usage in Internet communication. To achieve these goals, a total of 800 tokens of kěài were collected and analyzed-400 from the Sinica Corpus and 400 from two widely used social media platforms, representing the data before and after social media platforms became popular. Our major findings are: First, although human beings and non-human objects are what kěài mostly describes, its descriptive range is shifting to more abstract entities for much higher percentages of Abstract Entity and Event are found on the social media platforms. Second, the influence of age and gender factors has weakened. Third, although most of the non-human cases are described as kěài due to their external features, most of the human cases in the Sinica Corpus are called kěài for their external features while on the social media platforms, for their non-external features. Fourth, kěài conveys positive meanings most of the time, and the three most frequently found meanings of kěài in the Sinica Corpus are different from those on the social media platforms. Fifth, kěài is found to serve as hedges in both sets of data, but it is also used to show surprise on the social media platforms.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-33
Number of pages33
JournalConcentric: Studies in Linguistics
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2021 Apr 19


  • Descriptive range
  • Function
  • Kěài ‘cute’
  • Language change
  • Meaning
  • Social media platform

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language


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