A Case Study of Respect: Contrastive Aspects in English and Chinese

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2003

15 Pages, Grade: 1,3 (A)



1. Introduction

2. Metaphors of respect in English

3. Metaphors of respect in Chinese

4. Conclusion



1. Introduction

One major assumption in the study of emotions is the idea that our understanding of emotions metaphor is, to a large extent, based on bodily experience. Although most evidence for this claim has been found in analyses of the English language, Yu (1998) has pointed out that in Chinese emotions are to a large degree conceptualised in the same way as in English. Yu investigated two emotions displaying the most typical patterns of this category: ANGER and HAPPINESS. He comes to the conclusion that English and Chinese only vary in minor aspects, due to cultural differences. But how about the more peripheral type of emotions? Do these show the same metaphorical preferances? Or are they even more culture-specific than those examined by Yu?

In this paper I will show the different metaphorical realization of RESPECT in English and Chinese and offer some suggestions as to why these differences occur. For this analysis I have considered a set of about 140 sentences and idioms in English and Chinese. The English examples are mostly taken from Kövecses (1990: 110-122), the Chinese examples are taken from different Chinese dictionaries. After considering these sample sentences, it will become evident that Yu has some hard evidence with his claim that these two languages follow the same major metaphorical principles. English and Chinese share important concepts such as GOOD IS UP or THE OBJECT OF RESPECT IS A VALUABLE COMMODITY. And this shows in the metaphorized expressions of respect. It seems, though, that Chinese is far more restricted in the use and meaning of these respect metaphors. But I will further discuss this subject later. First, I will reflect on the observations made by Lakoff and Johnson (1980: 14-21), Kövecses (1990: 109-127), Lakoff (1987: 380-409), Wierzbicka (1995), Kövecses (1995) and Frijda (1995) in regard to English conceptualisations of respect and then compare these with the results Yu (1998: 49-82) came up for Chinese.

2. Metaphors of respect in English

When speakers of English want to express their respect for somebody, they use a variety of different gestures and phrases common to our western folk model of respect. For example, people may show respect towards the respecter by physical actions, e.g. bow down, lower the head, or even go down on our knees. According to Kövecses (1990), this is due to our belief that a person we respect is in some way superior to us – no matter if morally or in physical strength. Thus, we might say that by making us physically shorter, we metaphorically lift the person of respect above us. This gives rise to a metaphor Kövecses (1990) calls THE OBJECT OF RESPECT IS UP/HIGH. Examples of this metaphor would be:

(1) a. I always looked up to him.
b. He puts his wife on a pedestal.
c. Kenzaburo Oe is a highly regarded author.

But why do we in general conceptualise a person of respect as being UP/HIGH and express this in our behavioural patterns? Lakoff and Johnson (1980) suggest that the UP orientation is an indicator for well-being, goodness, health, virtue and control, as in: She is on top of her mental abilities. Therefore, there is good reason to believe that we apply this positive upward orientation also on people we respect. Considering the way we refer to highly respected people in our western culture, there is clear evidence that the GOOD IS UP metaphor correlates here with the BETTER IS UP metaphor mentioned by Kövecses (1990):

(2) a. She’ll become a star one day.
b. Ali was the greatest.
c. His accomplishments tower over those of lesser men.

In addition to the GOOD IS UP metaphor, Kövecses furthermore proposes that physical size is another motivating factor in the conceptualisation of a respected person – the victor of a physical fight is naturally on top of the defeated and therefore superior. Note that this idea especially shows the third example, where the phrase towering over sb. can also infer something big, heavy, unconquerable, maybe even threatening in the eyes of the one inferior to this power. And this leads to the POWER/CONTROL IS UP, THE PERSON WITH POWER IS UP metaphor, as suggested by Kövecses (1990: 111):

(3) a. She has the upper hand.
b. He fell from power.
c. I have control over her.

According to Lakoff and Johnson (1980), spatial metaphors are systematically coherent with each other. And as exemplified in (3)b, the opposite of POWER IS UP, i.e. NO CONTROL IS DOWN, is likewise true for English. When we speak of authorities gaining or losing control, or power, we might metaphorically imagine somebody falling or getting off a platform, stage or seat. This picture comes just naturally to us, since we really do see authorities positioned above us in everyday life, as when George Bush gives a speech or just recently at the Academy Awards when Catherine Zeta-Jones received her Oscar on stage. A normal person without any special (social) position, or a profession making it necessary to be UP, on a stage would therefore seem misplaced to us and simply without reason. What would be the sense of putting somebody on a throne who has no power to do anything? Thus, we automatically connect an upper level with social rank and power.

However, the probably most extreme form of respect is conceptualising somebody as being godlike. When we feel that somebody deserves our utmost degree of respect, we often metaphorize this person as a deity:

(4) a. She deifies money.
b. She doesn’t want to see the truth, she idolizes him.
c. Finally somebody pushed him off his pedestal.

It is obvious that (4)a is an instance of worship: money as the ultimate sense of life – religionlike. In (4)b and (4)c we can clearly see that this extreme form of admiration, namely THE OBJECT OF RESPECT IS A DEITY, is often viewed as carrying a negative connotation (cf. Kövecses 1990: 111). All three examples would in our culture express a form of disapproval. Yet, there are also situations imaginable in which an utterance like: “He’s my idol”, would be viewed positively, as when a young daughter says this about her father. We would probably consider this form of admiration as naturally given, unless the relationship between father and daughter would grow into something “supernatural”, and therefore not be normal anymore – and then we would expect a sentence like (4)b.

So far we have seen that a person of respect is conceptualised in the following ways: THE OBJECT OF RESPECT IS UP, THE SUPERIOR IS UP, THE PERSON IN POWER IS UP and THE OBJECT OF RESPECT IS A DEITY. Considering these four different kinds of metaphors, it becomes evident that each kind is awarded a different degree of respect. On a scale of little to much respect, the DEITY notion would obviously be found at the upper end, since nothing is more powerful and superior in any way than a deity. And in order to assign different degrees of respect to different people, we have to evaluate them by some means.


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A Case Study of Respect: Contrastive Aspects in English and Chinese
University of Hamburg  (IAA)
1,3 (A)
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Case, Study, Respect, Contrastive, Aspects, English, Chinese
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Anja Schmidt (Author), 2003, A Case Study of Respect: Contrastive Aspects in English and Chinese, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/17322


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