Xin vs. Heart: When East meets West
Lily I-wen Su (Institute of Linguistics, National Taiwan University)
The notion of Chinese xin underlies a complex cultural network. As a linguistic symbol, we discover that xin is motivated by, and in turn reflects, our bodily experience, which supports well the idea that language is tied to our thinking (Huang 1982, 1995, Ye 2002, Yu 2002, 2003). Through analyzing the conceptual structure of the lexeme xin as it occurs in Chinese discourse, we support the idea that metaphors identified via authentic language use can reveal conceptualization patterns of the language and serve the meta-function of typologically categorizing a language.
To carry out the present study, we use ‘xin’ as the keyword to search against Chinese corpora of different kinds: the so-called balanced type where both spoken and written discourse as well as ancient and contemporary texts are included. Based on the data retrieved, two senses of xin have been identified: the sense of the muscular organ and that of the mental faculty. The former refers to the physiological heart that acts as a force pump maintaining the blood circulation in the body, and the latter, more complicated in nature, refers to the mental capacity in general. This latter sense, which entails several meanings enabled by contextual cues, is made possible by the combination of conceptual metaphors (e.g., XIN IS A PERSON; XIN IS A HOUSE; XIN IS A PLANT) that are built upon conduit metaphors (e.g., XIN IS A CONTAINER; XIN IS AN OBJECT). The way these conduit metaphors are applied to the various domains is constrained and follows the principle that it is paired systematically with a certain profiled aspect of the mind.
Something extremely interesting about the Chinese xin is that it is conceptualized both as the container and the contained, the content inside the container. It is at the same time both the source and the instantiation, a unique feature absent in the commonly held equivalent of heart in English. This finding reveals a holistic cultural view where embodiment-based properties originating from the physical, psychological, and spiritual spheres, as well as the seemingly contrasting attributes of human mental capacity, are united as one concept due to the long-standing historical tradition. Because of this, an English equivalent of xin should be appropriately and correctly stipulated as a dual composite of “heart-mind,” rather than just as “heart” or “mind” alone.