A Cognitive Linguistic Study of Conceptual Mappings and Integrations in Chinese Ceramic Texts


Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis

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Awarding Institution
Award date7 Jan 2022


This thesis aims to explore the cognitive linguistic devices in describing Chinese ceramic arts. It investigates the metaphorical and metonymic mappings, as well as conceptual integrations in the verbal descriptions of Chinese ceramic artworks (hereafter “ceramic texts”), based on a self-compiled corpus. Ceramic texts systematically present the basic characteristics of a ceramic artwork. In particular, there are abundant rhetorical devices with metaphors and metonymies to further illustrate the details of the features. With their profound artistic forms, ceramic texts are considered important metaphorical carriers that symbolize and expound artistic conceptualization. However, few studies have analyzed the linguistic characteristics of this artistic genre, and little work has been undertaken to tease out the underlying conceptual mappings and integrations in ceramic texts.

The analysis in this thesis is primarily based on the frameworks of Conceptual Metaphor Theory (CMT) and Conceptual Blending Theory (CBT). These theories consider metaphor to be a cognitive mechanism that is deeply rooted in human thinking patterns, involving a systematic projection of inferential structures (see Lakoff and Johnson 1980/2003; Fauconnier 1997, Fauconnier and Turner 2002). As Coulson (1996) suggests, CMT and CBT do not contradict one another; rather, they are “mutually reinforcing and often deeply intertwined” (Fauconnier and Lakoff 2009: 393). A number of supplementary notions in cognitive linguistics are also referenced in the data analysis to enhance the comprehension of conceptual mappings and integrations in ceramic texts.

A corpus of ceramic texts was compiled, containing descriptive texts of 924 ceramic collections from the Palace Museum in Beijing. The Chinese ceramic corpus for this study was built by #Lancsbox v.4.x (Brezina, Timperley, and McEnery 2018), a corpus construction tool developed by Lancaster University. The corpus contains descriptions of ceramic artworks that date from the Western Jin Dynasty to the late Qing Dynasty (that is, from 226 AD to 1912 AD), incorporating a total of 102,686 Chinese characters. Conceptual mappings were identified by means of the Metaphor Identification Procedure Vrjie Universiteit (MIPVU, Steen et al. 2010), which has proven reliable in identifying metaphors in Chinese texts. Additionally, three ceramic glossaries were selected as references to identify ceramic jargon and the lexical units of ceramic texts.

This thesis comprises three studies of ceramic texts, investigating descriptions of ceramic shape, color, and surface pattern. The first study, on shape descriptions, demonstrates the basic recurrent conceptual mappings in ceramic texts, in which visible and familiar natural entities are used to describe artistic features of ceramics. Eight types of source domains were discovered, of which humans, animals, and plants are the three most common source domains in metaphors examined. The second study, on color descriptions, reaches a similar conclusion that conceptual transfers in ceramic texts are not from concreteness to abstractness, but rather, from a more familiar concrete entity to a less familiar concrete entity. The second study extends the sub-categories of source domains to conceptualize the glazing color. It includes seven types of conceptual mappings, the use of synesthesia, and manner-incorporated color terms. The third study, which focuses on image-mediated homophonic conceptual mappings in surface pattern, shows that instead of a unidirectional path of conceptual transfer, the visual and linguistic elements work together in a multimodal blending that maps form, sound, and meaning interactively. Cases are presented with several simplex and three complex representative image-mediated homophonic conceptual mappings, which is based on the compiled corpus of Chinese ceramic texts.

The significance of this thesis is threefold. First, it is the first attempt to explore conceptual mappings and integrations in Chinese ceramic texts. As a pioneering study, this research provides a cognitive linguistic approach to analyze such artistic discourse in the future. Second, this thesis augments the applicability of the frameworks of cognitive linguistics. This research innovatively combines multiple cognitive linguistic theories, including Conceptual Metaphor Theory and Conceptual Blending Theory, to analyze ceramic texts. The findings, in return, indicate that a cognitive linguistic view of linguistic analysis, when compared with traditional approaches, may reveal additional underlying features of language. Third, this work sheds new light on the conceptual mechanisms in ceramic descriptions, which form a distinct textual genre in the research area on Chinese for Specific Purposes (CSP), thereby laying a foundation for further linguistic studies on ceramic art and Chinese traditional culture.