Discourse, democracy and diplomacy: A pragmatic analysis of the Occupy Central movement in Hong Kong

Jacob L. Mey*, Hans LADEGAARD

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

7 Citations (Scopus)


Wars over words have raged for centuries. In recent times, a pragmatic war about the meaning of words has played out in the debates in the media and other public fora in Hong Kong. Our article analyzes the discourse of democracy in Hong Kong by looking at contentiouswords and how they are being used by the opposing sides; we explain why it is impossible to have a meaningful debate about 'democracy' until both sides have reached consensus about what it is they are talking about. Language not only reflects, but also creates reality; when words mean different things to different people, the words both create and sustain different versions of 'reality'; such competing versions are at the core of the debates about democracy and universal suffrage in Hong Kong. A pragmatics-based, intercultural approach to the discourse of democracy may offer some insights into how and why the opposing sides in the Hong Kong democracy debates keep communicating at cross-purposes. Here. the ideological and socio-cultural differences between Hong Kong and Mainland China, which are the root causes of the conflict, need to be acknowledged and discussed in order for the debate about democracy and political reform to move forward.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)319-334
Number of pages16
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2015

Scopus Subject Areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language

User-Defined Keywords

  • Democracy discourse
  • Democratic centralism
  • Education
  • Hong Kong basic law
  • Intercultural pragmatics
  • Intersubjectivity
  • Language wars
  • Mainland China (PRC)
  • Occupy movement
  • Umbrella revolution


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