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A Social View on the Chinese Language

Jerome L. Packard

A Social View on the Chinese Language is intended to be a general linguistic introduction to the Chinese language for the general reader and can be used in beginning-level Chinese linguistics courses. It is different from other Chinese linguistics surveys because, in addition to the usual areas of interest (such as the Chinese dialects, the history of the language, the characters and the grammar), it offers a view into linguistic phenomena that are also related to human behavior and society, such as how Chinese children and US college students learn Chinese, how the brain processes Chinese, the genetic origins of Chinese, language disorders and language loss in Chinese, differences in Chinese language use in different social groups, studies of Chinese reading and psycholinguistic aspects of Chinese language use.
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7 Chinese Language and Culture



Chinese Language and Culture

There is, of course, an undeniable relationship between language and culture in general, and this is true nowhere more than in the relation between Chinese language and Chinese culture. We will approach this from a number of different perspectives. First, we will take a look at how word borrowing in Chinese is said to reflect culture, and consider how Chinese names for school grades reflects school divisions in Chinese. We then examine other aspects of Chinese language that may seem related to Chinese culture, for example how in Chinese, general information is ordered before specific information, before briefly mentioning the dubious proposal that Chinese language has a deleterious effect on the ability to think and be scientifically creative. Next we consider how body parts are commonly used in Chinese to reflect a person’s feelings and emotions. Then we survey the interesting world of Chinese sociolinguistics—including language differences in social groups—and consider the effect of China’s recently discontinued one-child policy on Chinese language use. Finally we reflect upon the relationship between Chinese food and some interesting properties of the language that is used to describe it.

Chinese Phonetic Loan Translations and Culture

It is said that when a language translates or ‘borrows’ words from another language, the way the borrowing takes place indicates the extent to which the borrowing culture is receptive to the culture it is borrowing from.1 The general rule is that if a...

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