JSS  Vol.9 No.10 , October 2021
A Corpus-Based Study of Conceptual Metaphor—On Chinese English Learners’ Use of “Wind”
Abstract: This article is intended to analyze Chinese English learners’ use of “wind” and compare it with the use of “wind” by English speakers. Similarities and differences of conceptual metaphor of the two “winds” are analyzed. The main research method is to use corpus: COCA (Corpus of Contemporary American English) and CLEC (Chinese learners in the Chinese Learner English Corpus). Besides, qualitative method is involved in the analysis and discussion. The research found that there are both similarities and differences in conceptual metaphor of “wind” by English speakers and “wind” by Chinese English learners, due to both positive and negative transfer from “feng” in Chinese to “wind” In English. This research is aimed at giving a better understanding of conceptual metaphor of vocabulary and suggesting some effective strategies in foreign language vocabulary teaching.

1. Introduction

Does our language reflect our cognition, or how we see this world? This question has attracted many linguists, philosophers, anthropologists and psychologists, who have tried to find the answer. Many scholars have conducted deep research on this subject and created different theory systems, one of which is linguistic relativity. The most representative and influential scholars on linguistic relativity are Edward Sapir and Benjamin Lee Whorf, whose thought are called Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis. However, the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis was criticized at that time, especially after the middle of the 20th century, when Chomsky’s universalism became the mainstream in linguistics study field until 1990s (Zhang, 2013).

Over the last three decades, with the rising of cognitive linguistics, scholars have become interested in linguistic relativity again. Among the representatives of the cognitive linguists are Lakoff, Langacker, Talmy and so on. They are trying to understand the construction of language as conceptual content organization, from the perspective of human’s cognition mechanism. Among all the theories, conceptual metaphor is one of the hottest topics in studying how we understand the relations between language and mind (Steen, 2011).

According to Lakoff & Johnson (1980) in their publication “Metaphors we live by”, “Metaphor is pervasive in everyday life, not just in language but in thought and action. Our ordinary conceptual system, in terms of which we both think and act, is fundamentally metaphorical in nature. The concepts that govern our thought are not just matters of the intellect. They also govern our everyday functioning, down to the most mundane details. Our concepts structure what we perceive, how we get around in the world, and how we relate to other people. Our conceptual system thus plays a central role in defining our everyday realities.”

Human’s body is the first entity realized and known by the human beings. Therefore, humans reflect the world through our body (Lakoff & Johnson, 1999). For example, in English there is “at foot of the mountain”, which is equivalent to shan (mountain) jiao (foot) in Chinese. Therefore, human’s thought and cognition are reflected in our language. Though human’s language is a relatively independent system, it’s influenced and restrained by our brain, eyes and other organs. Therefore, the world is personalized and nature is the stigma of human body (Wang, 2006).

The center of language is vocabulary. There have been a lot of researches on conceptual metaphor of vocabulary, such as human body, time and space, color and so on. However, there are few studies on natural phenomena, among which wind is the most familiar to almost all humans.

“Wind” is experienced by both Western and Eastern people; studies on how wind is cognized by people with different languages help us understand relations between language and mind. Discussions on “wind” and “feng” started early, but mainly from the cultural perspectives (Deignan, 2003; Zolnowska, 2011; Xia, 2014). And the contrastive studies have been mainly conducted qualitatively. In this article, both quantitative and qualitative methods are used. In particular, this article made a comparison between “wind” from COCA and “wind” from CLEA, from which we could see the similarities and differences, as well as how Chinese English learners transfer concept of “feng” to concept of “wind”. Finally, the article is expected to give some implications for vocabulary learning and teaching.

2. Research Design

In this article, two corpora are used: COCA (Corpus of Contemporary American English) and CLEC (Chinese learners in the Chinese Learner English Corpus). We made a contrastive analysis about the similarities and differences between “wind” used by Chinese English learners and “wind” by English speakers.

2.1. Research Questions

Question 1: Are there any similarities or differences of conceptual metaphor between “wind” from CLEC and “wind” from COCA? If any, what are the reasons?

Question 2: What are the similarities and differences of conceptual metaphor between “wind” in English and “feng” in Chinese?

Question 3: Do Chinese learners transfer conceptual metaphor of “feng” to “wind”, ignoring the differences? If so, how to minimize negative transfer in vocabulary learning or translation?

2.2. Research Method

1) Comparative study. Comparing is a basic method of studying and understanding objects, and also a basic method in linguistics study. In this research, we made a comparison between “wind” used by Chinese English learners and “wind” used by English local speakers.

2) Quantitative study and qualitative study. Though qualitative analysis can describe and explain the inner law of language, and can explain some linguistics phenomena, it’s hardly convincing without quantitative study. In this article, corpus is used and analyzed. Besides, we searched in 8 dictionaries to improve research credibility.

3. Data Collection and Analysis

3.1. Analysis on Conceptual Metaphor of “Wind” Used by Chinese English Learners

We searched “wind” in CLEC and found 90 results. In these examples, 72 items are used in its literal meaning (e.g. sky is blue and no wind); 1 example is a proper noun, the name of a painting; 17 items are usage of metaphor:

More details of metaphor of wind are listed as follows in Table 1.

Table 1. Frequencies of Wind’s Conceptual Metaphor in CLEC.

3.2 Analysis on Conceptual Metaphor of “wind” in English Corpus

We searched “wind” in COCA and randomly selected 93 items. In these 93 examples, 64 items are used in its literal meaning; 29 items are usage of metaphor:

More details of metaphor of wind are listed as follows in Table 2.

Table 2. Frequencies of wind’s conceptual metaphor from COCA.

As we can see from Table 1 and Table 2, there are both similarities and differences between “wind” used by Chinese English learners and “wind” by English local speakers:

1) Similarities. From the charts above, we can see that “winds” both mean gone, speed, danger, and popular. It’s worth mentioning that in CLEA, all the items of “wind” with the meaning of nothing are “gone with the wind”. It’s noted that “Gone with the wind” is both a famous literal works mentioned in the chapter of American history China’s history textbooks and a recommended film by English teachers. It’s reasonably speculated that the usage is influenced by the learning context of Chinese English learners.

2) Differences. In CLEA, “wind” also means “cause” and “style”; while in COCA, “wind” also means “trend”, “news”, “difficulty”, “instrument” and “stomach” in addition.

3.3. Analysis on Meanings in Dictionaries

We searched “wind” and “feng” in 4 dictionaries respectively:

Table 3. “Wind” in eight dictionaries.

From Table 3, we can see that there are following similarities and differences between “feng” in Chinese and “wind” in English.

1) Similarities.

Humans have the same organs, facing the similar realities, with similar cognition means. Therefore, different peoples have plenty of similar expressions in the languages. Wind is the natural phenomenon that exists objectively in the earth, and people living in two different environments share the experience and cognition towards wind, thus resulting in similar conceptual metaphor of wind (Xia, 2014).

a) Wind is reflected based on its invisibility. Therefore, people use wind to describe invisible objects. Wind means news, unverified words or spreading of news. Wind is a natural phenomenon caused by air flowing. Wind is invisible, untouchable and untraceable. However, people can experience and feel wind using our sensory organs. The invisibility of wind and its fast speed is similar with news, especially the news without precise source. Therefore, both in English and Chinese, wind and feng refer to secret news. For example:

I don’t want the public, and especially not the press, to get wind of it at this stage.

如果有什么消息出来,你一定要先给我通风报信。(If any news comes out, you must inform me first.)

b) Wind is caused by air currents. Therefore, flowing is the biggest property of wind. The flow of wind makes it exert speed. Therefore, in daily life, people use wind to express the speed of objects’ movement or development. Therefore, in both English and Chinese, wind/feng means speed, change or trends. For example:

He walked away as fast as a gust of wind.

风驰电掣(as fast as wind and lightening)

c) In both English and Chinese, wind could mean both positive and negative power. Wind also means negative energy such as danger or difficult. For example:

野火烧不尽,春风吹又生。(No prairie fire can burn the grass utterly. The spring wind blows it back to life again.)

When the wind is in the West, Then it’s at its very best.


Sail close to the wind

2) Differences

a) Chinese medicine. The most obvious difference is that in Chinese, feng is closely related with diseases.

b) Character or spirit. In Chinese, feng also means a style of a person’s behavior. For example: 作风(style of work)

c) Direction. In English, wind means swirling or moving.

d) Difference of categorization. There is another difference. As to the force of wind, the categorization is different. In Chinese, the force of feng is indicated by a character added before feng. While in English, “wind” with different force would be totally different words as seen in Table 4.

Table 4. A Comparison between scale of “feng” and “wind”.

4. Discussion

From the tables and analysis above, we can see that conceptual metaphor of “wind” used by Chinese English learners is more closed to “feng” in Chinese than “wind” in COCA.

“Cause” and “style” are from the conceptual metaphor of “feng” in Chinese; besides, conceptual metaphor of “wind” by Chinese English learners, “speed”, “danger” and “popular”, are the same with conceptual metaphor of “feng”. However, it’s obvious that “feng” also means “news” in Chinese but wind is not used as news in CLEA.

On one hand, Chinese learners make positive transfer of “feng” in Chinese to “wind” in English consciously or unconsciously; on the other hand, Chinese learners neglect the similarities and differences of conceptual metaphor of “wind” and “feng”. For example, wind is not taught so as news in English classes that Chinese learners didn’t relate “wind” to “news” in their mind or language.

5. Conclusion

This article made a comparison between “wind” used by Chinese English learners and “wind” used by English speakers. Additionally, a comparison between “feng” in Chinese and “wind” in English was conducted. From the two comparisons, it can be seen that Chinese English learners not only make positive but also negative transfer when learning L2 vocabulary.

The contrastive study of wind/feng could have influences in the following aspects: Firstly, the study is meaningful to dictionary editing. Dictionaries are one of the most important learning tools. In this article, the research result of 8 dictionaries indicates that the metaphor meanings are incomplete; in the bilingual dictionaries, the meanings do not correspond to each other. Secondly, the research is of significance to cross-cultural communication. Speakers should have a knowledge of social and cultural background. Thirdly, it is important to translation and interpretation studies. Last but not least, the study is enlightening to vocabulary teaching and learning. From the analysis, we can see that “feng” and “wind” are not completely equivalent in the cognitive level. English-English explanation is necessary to minimize or avoid negative transfer. In both foreign language teaching and teaching Chinese as a foreign language, metaphor ability should be taught to students.

However, there is still plenty of research to do in order to get a more convincing conclusion. For example, as regards to the word “wind” and “feng”, the verb phrases are to be discussed, as well as other synonyms such as breeze, gale, storm, hurricane. Besides, psychological experiments could be designed and conducted to verify the conceptual metaphor transfer of vocabulary.

Cite this paper: Ding, P. (2021) A Corpus-Based Study of Conceptual Metaphor—On Chinese English Learners’ Use of “Wind”. Open Journal of Social Sciences, 9, 448-455. doi: 10.4236/jss.2021.910031.

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[3]   Lakoff, G., & Johnson, M. (1999). The Philosophy in the Flesh. Basic Books.

[4]   Steen, G. (2011). The Contemporary Theory of Metaphor: Now New and Improved. Review of Cognitive Linguistics, 9, 43.

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[6]   Xia, L. (2014). A Contrastive Study of Conceptual Metaphor of “Wind” in English and “Feng” in Chinese. Central China Normal University.

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[8]   Zolnowska, I. (2011). Weather as the Source Domain for Metaphorical Expressions. Avant: Journal of Philosophical-Interdisciplinary Vanguard.