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Chapitre D'ouvrage Année : 2023

Pluralities of old age – A study based on surveys in China and France


When we talk about old age, what are we talking about? Biological age? Intellectual capacity? If the passage from child to adult is marked by rites and/or rights (to vote, to drive...), nothing marks the entrance to old age(de Beauvoir 2020). The difficulty of defining old age has already been underlined in previous studies (Benoit-Lapierre 1983), as it is indeed an evolving social construction (Hareven 2000)(Byk 2021). In most societies today, old age is often associated with frailty and vulnerability (Amyot 2019), often viewed in a negative way. Few studies consider the old age in its pluralities (Dirlewanger 2018). Moreover, exiting studies usually limited to a single linguistic/cultural area (Vickers 2007; Luo and Chui 2016; Featherstone and Wernick 1995). That is why we conducted in 2022 a multilingual online survey as part of the joint project "Old Age and Aging: discourses dans representations” by CEL (Centre d’Etudes Linguistique) and CeRLA (Centre de Recherches en Langues Appliquées) which aims to identify the definition of old age among average citizens (the word of any non-specialist speaker): objective criterion (age), perception (signs, activities, places, differences with young people), influence of designations. Multiculturalism is the ideal entry point for tackle this issue and helping to break down “normative account of a collective identity” (Chaney 1995). This paper makes a comparative analysis of the responses obtained in Chinese and French, two countries with different cultures but which, a few decades apart, are following the same demographic evolution (National Bureau of Statistics, INSEE). The analyses of the responses obtained show that there is no consensus age of old. It varies according to the age and culture of the respondent. On the other hand, the first signs of aging converge in both cultures: they are both physical and psychological. In China, where old age is more valued, the elderly enjoy greater inclusion in society, whereas in France, where old age more often evokes a negative image (Guo and Guinamard, in press), the elderly seem to occupy less of the public space shared with other ages. These first results lead us to refine our study by qualitative surveys in order to propose situated linguistic analyses as well as tracks to fight against the discriminating representations and attitudes towards the elderly.


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Dates et versions

hal-04062773 , version 1 (07-04-2023)


  • HAL Id : hal-04062773 , version 1


Weiwei Guo. Pluralities of old age – A study based on surveys in China and France. Lihe Huang; Boyd Davis. Language, Aging and Society: What can Linguistics Do for the Aging World?, Palgrave Book, In press. ⟨hal-04062773⟩
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