A Contrastive Study of Death Metaphors in English and Chinese

  •  Cong Tian    


This paper analyzes the metaphorical structure of the domain of death in Chinese within the framework of the conceptual metaphor theory. The Chinese data come from an essay collection and two dictionaries, one general dictionary, the other a dictionary of euphemisms. It aims to account for the way the Chinese conceptualize death metaphorically in terms of a limited system of metaphors, metonymies and image schemas which are grounded in our bodily and social experience, with the goal of identifying cross-linguistic/cross-cultural variation in the types of metaphorical mappings proposed by Lakoff and Turner for English. The analysis fails to reveal a single coherent conceptual organization underlying Chinese death expressions. The data suggest a high degree of similarity between English and Chinese in the types of metaphorical mappings and support the claim that primary metaphors are shared by all human languages. However, cross-linguistic discrepancy is observed in complex mappings. One potential reason for this is that the cultural models of death and afterlife are very much blended with the religious formulations of these concepts, and given the vast differences between the religious formulations of death and afterlife in Chinese and Western religions, it is a likely outcome that the metaphors based on these cultural models will be different. In addition, the Chinese emphasis on the social roles and responsibilities of the individual and the belief that life and death form a continuum rather than a break give rise to various mappings and death expressions that have no counterpart in English.

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