an anecdote of left-right asymmetries

bingfu bingfu at SCF-FS.USC.EDU
Wed Mar 11 18:01:07 UTC 1998

Here is an anecdote about left-right asymmetries.

Recently, in the net list of Chinese linguistic/teaching discussion
chinese at, there have been a discussion about the relation
between 'left' and 'sinister', and 'right' and 'correct'.  It reminds me
of something. Many years ago, I read a book by an anthropologist, telling
that in a certain language the verb infection largely depends on whether
the action is carried out by the left or right hands.  Did anybody in this
net list read the same story?

Then, how about when the speaker is not sure about which hand performs the
action? He has to use some marked, umbersome substitute forms, like 'I was
hit (by a unknown hand)' or 'I suffered/received a hit'. It is not totally
surprising, since in many languages the verb inflection relates to the
gender, or social status of the actor.

Speakers of some languages like Chinese may feel lucky in this respect,
since they don't need to care
about the sex, status etc. of the actor (which are irrelevant to the
communicational purpose in most of cases) whenever we use a finite verb.

						Bingfu Lu

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