Exploring Personhood Constructs through Language: Contrastive Semantic of “Heart” in Japanese and Thai

By Chavalin Svetanant.

Published by The International Journal of Interdisciplinary Studies in Communication

Format Price
Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

This paper aims to explore personhood constructs of the Thai community in comparison to those of the Japanese community through heart-related terms. It attempts to take a linguistic inquiry into the historical perspective of the lexicon, as well as to compare the conceptualization of “heart” in Thai and Japanese in order to clarify the cognitive and conceptual similarities and differences in the underlying semantic structures. The framework for semantic analysis employed in this paper is the Natural Semantic Metalanguage (NSM), a culture-free approach which provides a finite set of culture-neutral terms and grammatical patterns to avoid ethnocentrism and cultural bias within a study on foreign values. Literary samples are collected from a wide range of ancient and modern literature including lexicalized items in dictionaries, conventional phrases and idioms, as well as slang and new words in fiction and newspapers. A large number of heart/mind-related lexicons in Thai and Japanese show the similarities that are shared across the two communities, as well as the subtle cognitive and conceptual differences; for example, chai (Thai) and ki (Japanese) are relatively more dynamic and sensitive to mental / psychological changes when compared to kokoro (Japanese). They, linguistically, keep moving around, changing shape, size, color, and temperature. However, while the entities of chai and kokoro are cognitively more substantial as emotional containers of human beings, ki is treated more like the intangible energy wrapping around kokoro, and contains no intellectual element. The evidence from this study suggests that, a semantic explication of the personhood lexicalization is a practical approach to clarify the obscure entities and contribute to the understanding of the conceptuality of personhood constructs across language and culture.

Keywords: Personhood, Heart, Japanese, Thai, Semantic Explication, Cross-cultural Studies

The International Journal of Interdisciplinary Studies in Communication, Volume 7, Issue 3, pp.23-32. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 364.098KB).

Dr. Chavalin Svetanant

Lecturer, Department of International Studies, Faculty of Arts, Macquarie University, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Dr. Chavalin Svetanant is a full-time lecturer at the Department of International Studies, Faculty of Arts, Macquarie University. She was awarded PhD in Cultural and Regional Studies (Japanese Linguistics) from Kyoto University in 2003. Her research concerns “Language,” “Thought” and “Culture” in comparative semantic system and cultural contexts. Her major publications include “A Comparative Study of Heart and Mind–related Words in Thai and Japanese” (2001), “Yasashi: An Adjective with Emotive Connotation” (2002), “Word History of ‘kreng’” (2003), “Ancient Japanese Literature in Thailand and Introduction of Ancient Thai Literature”(2005), “Good or Evil?: Perspectives from Japanese Proverbs and Expression.” (2006),“Cultural Conception of “Ki” and “Kokoro”: Linguistic Perspectives on Japanese and Thai Mentality” (2007), A Half-Century in Thai Studies, Book Translation from Michi wa Hirakeru: Tai Kenkyu no Goju Nen written by Yoneo Ishii (2007), “The State of Japanese Studies in Thailand” (2007), “Tertiary Education of Japanese Language Study: Case Study of Australia and Thailand” (2008), and “Revealing Linguistic Power: Discourse Practice toward ‘Youth’ in Japanese and Thai Newspapers”(2009).