Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

Degree Granting Department

World Languages

Major Professor

Camilla Vásquez, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Wei Zhu, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Amanda Huensch, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Brandon Tullock, Ph.D.


authenticity, commodification, multimodal analysis, online identity construction, self-branding, social semiotic approach


As the online education market continues to expand globally, teaching and advertising have converged in digital spaces in unprecedented ways. Driven by the attention economy, independent online educators must compete to cultivate a consumer base. To attract followers, they must engage not only in online teaching activities but also in self-branding practices. This dissertation explores how microcelebrities who teach English on Douyin utilize linguistic and other semiotic resources for both instructional and self-branding purposes.

To address this topic, I collected 84 informal English language instruction videos created by 14 different Douyin microcelebrities. Taking a social semiotic approach to multimodal discourse (Jewitt, 2009, 2016; Kress, 2010), this study conceptualizes short videos as multimodal ensembles in which different modes (e.g., speech, text, image, sound, layout, color, gesture) of communication interact to generate meaning as an entire unit. The social semiotic approach emphasizes the agency of content creators, who take on the role of “designers,” selecting from available modal resources with a keen awareness of the interactional requirements of the digital environment in which their artifacts are situated.

My analysis shows that the Douyin microcelebrities self-promote through constructing a multifaceted, hybrid identity that is consistently represented in their videos and profile pages. By strategically exploiting multimodal resources available to them, these content creators craft popular and appealing English instruction videos, while at the same time, promoting themselves and attracting more followers on Douyin. The study identifies strategies for creating engaging online learning/advertising content for different audiences with media technologies. It also adds to a growing body of research on digital genres and authenticity in digital self-branding. Furthermore, the project sheds light on the broader media landscape and user-generated participatory culture in China.

Included in

Linguistics Commons