Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2019

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

First Advisor

Kira Hall

Second Advisor

Rebecca Scarborough

Third Advisor

Jeremy Calder


This thesis explores features of the rhotacized Beijing “Smooth Operator” variable and its use in the popular 2015 Chinese web series “Counterattack!” (逆襲之愛上情敵). In her work on sociolinguistic variation among Chinese professionals in Beijing, Qing Zhang (2005, 2008) identifies Beijing rhotacization (a phonological process involving the r-coloring of syllable codas) as indexing a local male persona that has historically been linked to fluidity of conversation. In “Counterattack!,” however, notable for its success in Mainland China despite its inclusion of overt homosexuality, rhotacization is used somewhat differently. This thesis analyzes when characters use this rhotic variable in the web series, examining the discursive contexts that motivate their linguistic choices and style. My analysis suggests that these motivations are strongly driven by sociocultural practices related to gender and performance. Specifically, I connect the “Smooth Operator” variable’s attributes of savoir-faire and urban versatility to what I view as a new use in this series, by which these imbued meanings are stylistically incorporated into other practices to form a new social persona (Agha 2003, Eckert 2008): the “Sexual Modern.” I argue that the use of this variable directly correlates to a character’s expression of sexual knowledge. Characters in the series use the Beijing “Smooth Operator” variable to evaluate the sexual knowledge (Hall forthcoming) and behaviors of other characters as well as their own. The thesis suggests that this variable—previously discussed as indexing a local urban male persona—has now also become indexical of sexual modernity.