China: Dictionary in dispute over gay omission

Stephen Gray July 17, 2012
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Dictionary writers in China have been criticised for leaving a word popular among the gay community out of a new edition.

Authors of the sixth edition of the Contemporary Chinese Dictionary omitted “tongzhi,” which means as “comrade”, a word used by gay Chinese people to refer to each other, Xinhua Online reports.

Jiang Lansheng, leading the revisions, said in a television interview: “We know homosexuals call each other ‘tongzhi.’ But a normative dictionary won’t include that meaning, no matter how the term has been informally used. That is to say, we don’t want to advocate or bring attention to such things.”

Gay HIV/Aids campaigner Nan Feng said: “It’s unacceptable that the ‘gay’ meaning of ‘tongzhi’ was excluded from the dictionary, a reference book written for all, simply because of the compilers’ own preferences and values.”

Yu Haitao, an associate professor of linguistics at Beijing Language and Culture University said it was “wrong” of the compilers to “cite personal feelings as the reason for their choices”.

However, he said it was not unreasonable to leave the gay use of the word ‘tongzhi’ out of the dictionary, saying a new meaning for a word should be part of the “masses’ linguistic system” for five years before an entry is made.

Xinhua Online points out at that the 2005 fifth edition of the Contemporary Chinese Dictionary described homosexuality as a psychosexual disorder, despite having been declassified as such years earlier.

Jiang Lansheng insisted her revisions “honestly represent” modern China.

More: Asia, China, China, Gay, language, words

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