How Pictorial is Chinese? And Does it Matter?

Christian Helmut Wenzel

Abstract



It has often been said that the Chinese script is pictorial or ideographic, and that
this is one of the reasons why Chinese tend to think more analogically than
logically, and why in the past the natural sciences developed to a lesser degree in
China than in the West. These are strong claims. They have often been oversimplified
and exaggerated, but I think there is something to be said for them. Here I will
focus on the first question. I will argue that Chinese characters still have semantic
features that create image-like qualities in a wider sense: not mere resemblances
between sign and object, but family resemblances in semantic fields. The fact that
Chinese is an isolating and mono-syllabic language is essential in this.

Keywords


philosophy; 20th century philosophy; Wittgenstein Ludwig; Chinese; language; meaning; aesthetics; mind; culture; Sapir-Whorf hypothesis; family resemblance

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