Speech organs and linguistic activity/function in Chinese

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This chapter investigates the Chinese cultural understanding of speech and language based on the metonymic chain from speech organ to language as proposed by Radden (2004): speech organ → speaking → speech → language. The focus is on three metonymies, speech organ for speaking, speech organ for speech, and speech organ for language. It is found that the first two are abundant in conventionalized expressions, but speech organ for language, widely attested across languages (Radden 2004), is not realized lexically in Chinese. While speech organ for language is not manifested in the Chinese lexicon, it is nevertheless realized in its logographic writing system as components of the characters. Chinese characters representing ‘language’ and ‘speech’ contain within them the ‘mouth’ radical as a semantic component. This finding provides an interesting and telling example of how the general cognitive principle of embodiment can be realized in and embraced by a culture-specific environment.


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