What does our face mean to us?

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This study is a semantic analysis of metonymic and metaphoric expressions involving body-part terms for the face in Chinese. These expressions are discussed regarding four perceived roles of face, namely, as highlight of appearance and look, as indicator of emotion and character, as focus of interaction and relationship, and as locus of dignity and prestige. It is argued that the figurative extensions are based on some biological facts about our face: it is the most distinctive part on the interactive side of our body capable of revealing our inner states. Referring to English the study shows that the terms for the face in both languages have developed figurative meanings along similar routes with similar stops. It also shows that the concepts of “face and facework”, admittedly ubiquitous in all cultures, are manifested more richly in Chinese than in English – a reflection of cultural differences in values attached to those concepts. Finally, a hypothetical “Triangle Model” is proposed to account for the relationship between language, culture, body, and cognition.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-36
Number of pages36
JournalPragmatics and Cognition
Issue number1
StatePublished - Oct 1 2001

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Computer Science
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Behavioral Neuroscience
  • History and Philosophy of Science


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