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Chapter Six  Cultural Differences on Lexical Level

(2007-12-22 21:40:46)
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分类: 课程:跨文化交际
 

Chapter Six  Cultural Differences on Lexical Level

              

              Types of Lexical Meaning

 

  Words are the basic units of meaning. Understanding the meanings of words is, therefore, critical to the sharing of meanings conveyed in verbal communication. Lexical meaning can largely be grouped into two types: denotation and connotation. Denotation is the conceptual meaning of the word that designates or describes things, events or processes, etc. It is the primary, explicit meaning given in the definition of a word in a dictionary. The connotation refers to the emotional or stylistic associations that a word or phrase suggests in one’s mind. It is the implicit, supplementary value which is added to the purely denotative meaning of a word or phrase. Thus the denotative meaning of the word “mother” is “the female parent”., and its connotative meaning is the associations we usually have with the word—maternal love”, “care”, “tenderness”, and etc. so we can have the sentence “the young teacher is like mother to the kids.”

  The meaning of words is personal as well as cultural. Each individual has his own sphere of experience, And his connotations of certain words may well be based on his unique experience with the referent. The word “mountainous” may suggest very different emotional and perceptual meanings to someone who has lived in the mountains all his life and to one that has only seen mountains in films and pictures.

  Meanings are also culture specific.

 

                   Cultural Differences in Denotative meaning

Absence of referent in the speaker or listener’s language

Each culture creates certain vocabulary to describe its unique physical and social environments as well as the activities its people engage in those contexts. So the absence of certain objects, events, concepts or states in one culture will naturally result in the absence of the necessary vocabulary to refer to them.

 

Overlapping of denotative meaning

In addition to total equivalence of words and absence of equivalents in denoting certain referents, cultures also overlap in the denotation of certain vocabulary.

 

              Cultural Differences in Connotative Meanings

Words with same denotation but different connotations

A typical example of this kind of distinction is the color language. The Chinese and English both have words denoting the basic colors, but the meanings associated with these color words are quite different. Take “yellow” for example.

Animal words may also have different connotations in different languages. The owl is associated with wisdom in English, as in the saying “as wise as an owl” But in Chinese, the owl is a symbol of bad luck. The proverb “夜猫子进宅,好事不来”means if the owl comes at night, misfortune will follow. The dragon is the totem of the Chinese people. The word “dragon” is in every sense a positive term in Chinese. Its common associations are “good luck and fortune”, “wisdom”. “royal and noble”, etc. There are many phrases to show Chinese love for this legendary animal: “龙风呈祥”, “藏龙卧虎”, “龙马精神”, “龙头企业”, “龙子龙孙”, etc. the four most developed countries in Asia are called  (Four Dragons) in Chinese, but “Four Tigers” in English since English speakers attribute the powerful character to the tigers rather than the dragons. In English, the word “dragon” refers to a dreadful creature like a crocodile or snake, and it is associated with fierceness and derogatory sense when used to describe a person. In another dictionary there is a sentence “if you call a woman a dragon, you mean that she is fierce and unpleasant.”

 

Words with connotations in one language but none in the other.

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