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The differences between chinese and western taboo language

Cultural Influence on Language Choice By: Man-Ping Chu ABSTRACT Taboos are established in a society to avoid harmful consequences to their people either because the non-verbal or verbal behavior violates a code based on supernatural beliefs or it violates the moral code of the society. According to Adler 1989taboos are subject to the environment and they are language-specific.

This research was held in the United States to examine whether the Chinese and Korean immigrants in a western society share any taboos in 1 non-verbal phonologically-linked taboos, related to death or separation and 2 verbal animal-linked taboos to describe people. Introduction In an intercultural setting, good communication requires not only the linguistic and sociolinguistic knowledge of the host language for interaction but also knowledge of the culture and cultural rules which contribute greatly to the content and the process of meaningful communicative interaction Saville-Troike, 1989.

August 2002

Most people are motivated to adjust their conversation in expressing attitudes and intentions toward others. Though individual variation may exist, people will basically choose appropriate language as a means of reducing the cultural differences between them.

Knowledge of prominent language features of a culture like non-verbal and verbal taboos, seldom discussed in language textbooks or in classrooms as part of cultural instruction, is probably essential to successful communicative interaction Shen, 1993.

Taboos are subject to the environment. They are language-specific; therefore, they are not universal or timeless Adler, 1978. In many cases, foreign people realize the existence of the rules associated with taboos only after they have violated them. Do Chinese and Koreans share these taboos because similar sounds occur so often in their languages?

Do Chinese and Koreans share more zodiac-animal-linked taboos than either shares with Americans because of the same customs? Data were collected in two ways: What is a Taboo? Today the word evokes either attitudes that are outdated and irrational or topics that were deemed unmentionable in the past but are now being openly discussed Thody, 1997.

A taboo is also an expression of disapproved behaviors in a society. Taboos are established because people believe that such inappropriateness will bring harmful consequences to them either because this non-verbal or verbal behavior violates a code based on supernatural beliefs or it violates the moral code of the society Wardhaugh, 1992. Once taboos are formed in a country, references to them become taboo, too Shen, 1993. We may find that taboos occur in all kinds of environments, from ancient to modern society, and at all levels of civilization.

For example, Westerners wear black for a funeral and white for a wedding.

But in the ancient Chinese weddings, the differences between chinese and western taboo language white dress was not allowed to be worn because white was for a funeral. Therefore, all individuals involved had to wear black formal costumes. Later, the color changed to red. Now under Western influence, white is the customary formal color for brides and sometimes for bridegrooms, too Shen, 1993.

Non-Verbal and Verbal Taboos Non-Verbal Taboos Some non-verbal taboos may seem funny, but severe punishment might have come to those who failed to observe the rules in an earlier time and today as well. Accidents may also result from taboo non-verbal cues e.

The reason was that among Southeast Asians, showing or directing the sole of the shoe to another person is considered a grievous insult Axtell, 1991.

An incident also took place in Hong Kong a few years ago because of a hand signal miscommunication. When his photo appeared in the newspapers, the station received dozens of calls from Westerners living in Hong Kong complaining about the indecent gesture.

To them, when the middle finger is used, there is only one interpretation — indecency. When Chan applied this gesture, he meant to suggest that his friend had grown horns on her head for fun. Chan refused to apologize because his gesture was not intended to be an insult as the gesture is not considered indecent in Chinese Society Several times, when my Korean informant talked about classic words or terms used in Korean, I could figure out the exact Chinese counterparts merely from her pronunciation.

This is not surprising because the cultural influences of China upon Korea over the centuries have left an indelible mark upon both the written and spoken Korean language.

It is possible to trace many aspects of Korean language and culture back to ancient China. But not long ago, when my Korean informant gave me a fan as a gift, I was a little shocked.

Therefore, it has become a phonologically linked taboo to give friends a fan in Chinese society. One question is if Korean people also have similar phonologically-linked taboos as the Chinese do.

The first part of the questionnaire elicits data to see if there are any similarities between Chinese and Korean people on this point because of the similar sounds. Two verbal taboos are probably universal.

The first of these are words that deal with excretion and sex. Second, in both Western and Asian cultures the fear of death carries over into fear of the words having to do with death. However, because of different cultural backgrounds, an expression in one country can cause a quite different effect in another. In the study in this paper, Chinese animal-linked taboos are compared with those of Korea because both countries have the same twelve animals i.

At the same time, these verbal animal-linked taboos are also compared with animal expressions in America to see if there are any significant differences. Hypotheses To this day many Chinese people are superstitious to the extent that they will avoid doing anything that they believe can bring bad luck.

Chinese non-verbal phonologically linked taboos are products of ancient days. They were generated from an identical sound or group of sounds which represents evil objects, disasters, and other negative occurrences. Since a large portion of Korean vocabulary comes from Chinese culture, especially Confucian classics, my first hypothesis is that Korean people will the differences between chinese and western taboo language most of the phonologically linked taboos that China does.

A special zodiac cycle, consisting of the twelve animals mentioned above, has been shared by Chinese and Korean people for hundreds of years. One animal represents one year, and twelve years is a complete cycle. In ancient Chinese culture, most of these animals were good symbols. They were quite welcomed and respected. Koreans, being so historically and geographically related to the Chinese, probably at some time in the past associated the same meanings to the twelve animals as Chinese people did.

Furthermore, it seems likely that meanings would have evolved over the years as they have for the Chinese, but not necessarily in the same direction. The second part of the questionnaire is designed to examine if Chinese and Korean people still come to a consensus on which animal-linked vocabulary words are forbidden and which are acceptable to use in reference to a friend.

Regarding verbal taboos, my second hypothesis is that Chinese and Koreans will share more animal-linked taboos than either the differences between chinese and western taboo language with Americans.

Methods The sample for this study consists of thirty respondents from three countries. Ethnicity was determined through questionnaires in which respondents provided their own label for their background. Among the ten Chinese people, aged from 25 — 38, are two males and eight females.

Among the ten Koreans, aged from 28 - 40, are six males and four females. Data collection Data were collected in two ways: The questionnaire was culturally determined.

To focus on the characteristics of Chinese taboos, questions fell into two categories: In the questionnaire, Questions one through six are non-verbal phonologically linked taboos that Chinese people have been aware of for hundreds of years. In Questions 7 through 19 are designed to elicit what the differences between chinese and western taboo language vocabulary words would be verbal taboos among the Chinese, Korean, and American peoples.

The phonological parts of taboos mentioned in the first six questions in the Questionnaire are examples of evil-related things: Therefore, the Chinese and Koreans did not share this taboo.

It is appropriate to give a female friend a fan as a gift. It is appropriate to give a friend an umbrella as a gift. Therefore, 50 or less had no objection to such a gift. The reason was that a beautifully painted fan can decorate the wall and an umbrella is very useful in our daily life.

It is also interesting to note that, in ancient China, a fan could be given as a parting present in the hope that the traveler could use it to keep himself cool. But 90 of the Chinese respondents disagreed or disagreed strongly with giving a friend a clock as a gift. The ones who agreed said they would only give it to a person their age. One hundred percent of Koreans and Americans all agreed or agreed strongly with giving a clock to a friend. To Korean people, a clock is a traditional and popular gift for a friend when he or she starts a business.

To Americans, clocks or watches make lovely gifts and they are long lasting. Certain brands and styles would be more acceptable. One American responded that the fancier, the more appropriate. If eating fish on a boat, it is appropriate to turn the fish over after one finishes eating the meat on the top side. Fifty percent of the Chinese respondents disagreed or disagreed strongly with doing it.

They associate the disastrous outcome of a ship being overturned in the ocean with the action word for the concept. If fearing what one says might bring the unwanted consequence into reality, the taboo situation is established. To these families, it is also a taboo behavior to turn a fish topside down after one finishes the meat on that side. They envision the fish as the ship that carries their loved ones, so turning the fish over on the dish would symbolize that the ship has capsized in the ocean.

Ninety percent of the Koreans agreed with the action because they thought it would be a way to finish a fish neatly or to see if there is more to eat. Eighty percent of the Americans agreed because they thought it makes sense and would probably be easier that way, especially if the fish has a lot of bones in the middle.

Mind your language! Swearing around the world

The rest who disagreed 20 of the Chinese and 90 of the respondents agreed. It is appropriate to cut a pear in two halves and share it with a friend. In one Chinese opera, a fruit merchant claims that his pears will make a marriage happy. For the same reasons, relatives or friends will avoid dividing pears among themselves. Therefore, at the end of twentieth century, 50 of the Koreans agreed or agreed strongly.

They and the American respondents thought there was no problem with this action and that it would be seen as a gesture of friendship and generosity.

Sharing is considered a good thing as it shows that one cares for another. Cutting a pear is the same as cutting any other fruit. Verbal animal-linked taboos As mentioned above, Chinese and Koreans have the same twelve animals i.

They are used to convey positive values in both cultures. Since Asian people have become more and more westernized in the last twenty years, some animal-linked vocabulary words in modern Chinese society have different connotations from what they did in old Chinese culture.