Publication details [#5929]

Hiraga, Masako K. 2002. The way we began to think: Generation of abstract concepts in Chinese characters. Alea: Estudos Neolatinos 23 : 45. 45 pp.
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This paper claims that Chinese characters present an ideal case for understanding how the ancient Chinese mind conceptualized abstract meanings by blending. By analyzing the etymology of compound ideograms as a database, the study demonstrates that meaning generation in compound ideograms is manifested as a conceptual integration through creative blends, as opposed to compositional explanation (cf., Hiraga, 2000). Compound ideograms consist of two or more radicals, which are pictograms or ideograms. The meanings of the radicals constitute input spaces for the blend by means of iconicity and metonymy. For example, the meaning of the character 'brightness' comes from the blend of the pictograms of window and moon. The moon then functions as a metonym for moonlight. The blend mixes the meaning of window and moonlight, and produces moonlight through the window. The blend further elaborates a more abstract meaning of brightness, based on the cause-effect metonymy. The blending process of some prototypical compound ideograms is analyzed in terms of iconicity, metonymy, metaphor, inference, and background knowledge. Compound ideograms are a fossil of conceptualization, through which we can see how the human mind began to conceive and record abstract concepts by the blend of concrete entities more than 3,000 years ago. (LLBA 2003, vol. 37, n. 4)