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The American Journal of Semiotics

Volume 23, Issue 1/4, 2007

Semiotics in the Chinese Umwelt

Ming-Yu Tseng
Pages 221-241

Space Metaphor as a Signifying Force in Chan Poems

This paper analyzes how space is metaphorized in some Chan poems, and it investigates how space metaphor contributes to Chan culture. It concentrates on orientational metaphors, metaphor associated with an upward or/and a downward orientation. Orientational metaphors tend to be grounded in dichotomized thought, e.g., “GOOD IS UP” vs. “BAD IS DOWN”, “DIVINE IS UP” vs. “MORTAL IS DOWN”, etc. This paper will demonstrate that in some Chan poems, orientational metaphors do not function this way. Instead, what is foregrounded is the kind of spatial relationship created by opposite orientations, namely, the broad, ever-extending space. To demonstrate how this metaphorical understanding of space is achieved, this paper addresses three particular space-related issues: (1) how certain entities representing dimensional space serve to function as a cognitive metaphor that is common in Chan poetry as a genre; (2) how up-down orientations can interact and form a metaphorical pattern in a text; and (3) how spatial image schemas (e.g., VERTICALITY, NEAR-FAR, PATH, CENTER-PERIPHERY, CONTAINER, etc.) can be identified, interact with one another, and underpin the pattern of metaphor communicating the idea of that broad, ever-extending, imaginal space. All in all, this study aims to demonstrate how space metaphor, as a signifying force, functions in Chan poems and how such metaphor represents Chinese Chan culture.

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