Abstract: This is a comparative study of the concept of tian (天, heaven), as recorded in ancient and modern Chinese, from a cognitive linguistic perspective. In comparing the semantic networks of tian in ancient and modern Chinese, we hope to investigate what the similarities and differences between the two reveal about the developments in Chinese people’s perceptions of the world, via the concept of tian. The study has found an overall similarity between tian in ancient and modern Chinese, in that the same three semantic extension chains can be observed in both, namely: ‘top of the head—(those that exist) high up—sky (and its visual features) and celestial bodies—weather/climate—(a point in or period of) time’; ‘sky—nature—(what is) innate’; and ‘(those that exist) high up—(those) of a high status—(humans/objects) that are of good quality’. The main differences between tian in ancient and modern Chinese lie in the distributions of the various senses. In ancient Chinese, tian primarily refers to those that are of a high social status, while in modern Chinese, it is overridingly used as a temporal unit. The commonalities and discrepancies of tian in ancient and modern Chinese shed light on the developments that modern China has gone through in its political system, family and social structure and science and technology.
Keywords: tian; conceptual metaphor; conceptual metonymy; Chinese
LAn Chun is professor of linguistics at Beijing Foreign Studies University, where she teaches courses in linguistics and the English language. Her main research interests are in cognitive linguistics, pragmatics, rhetoric and English language teaching. Her books include A Cognitive Approach to Spatial Metaphors in English and Chinese (2003), Cognitive Linguistics and Metaphorical Studies (2004), A Pragmatic Approach to A Dream of the Red Chamber (2007), Towards an Understanding of Language and Linguistics (2009) and Rhetoric: Theories and Practice (2010).
JIA Dongmei is associate professor of linguistics at Capital University of Economics and Business, where she teaches courses in linguistics and the English language. Her main research interests are in cognitive linguistics and English language teaching. She published her PhD dissertation, ‘An Interpretation of Tian “Heaven” in Chinese Traditional Philosophy from the Perspective of Cognitive Linguistics’ (2015) and many journal articles. Her papers include ‘Conceptual Metonymies and Metaphors Behind SHUI “Water” in the Five Elements’ (2012), ‘Conceptual Metonymies and Metaphors Behind HUO “Fire” in the Five Elements’ (2013), ‘Conceptual Metonymies and Metaphors Behind TU “Earth” in the Five Elements’ (2013), ‘Conceptual Metaphors and Metonymies Behind JIN “Gold” in the Five Elements’ (2013) and ‘Conceptual Metonymies and Metaphors Behind MU “Wood” in the Five Elements’ (2015).
Cite this article
LAN Chun and JIA Dongmei
A cognitive approach to tian (heaven) in ancient and modern Chinese
Journal of China in Comparative Perspective
Vol.2 Issue 1. 2016, p54-78