[Lingtyp] Languages with connotations for 'left' and 'right'
liudanq at yahoo.com
Fri Mar 1 02:12:27 UTC 2019
Dear Horia and all:
In varieties of Chinese, there is obviously an asymmetry between 'left' and 'right'. The word for 'left ' often has negative connotations while the word for 'right' doesn't have any positive connotations.
According to the Grand Dictionary of Contemporary Chinese Dialects, which is based on 40 dialects, the word for left (zuo, Tone 3, Chinese characters 左） has negative meanings in 6 dialects, and compound words with this word have negative meanings in other several dialects, but none of the dialects has the word for right (you, Tone 4, Chinese characters 右）and its compounds with positive meanings.
The word for left denotes:
(Yangzhou in Jiangsu) extreme, radical (not in political sense);(Wuhan in Hubei) incorrect, wrong;(Chengdu in Sichuan) out of tune(Guiyang in Guizhou) incorrect, wrong(Changsha in Hunan) mistaking, wrong(Fuzhou in FUjian) improper, dishonest
In addition, in some Wu dialects near Shanghai and Suzhou, the word for left, 'tsi', is of the meaning 'against the main trend or inclination'.
On Friday, March 1, 2019, 2:11:38 AM GMT+8, Horia Calugareanu <horia.calugareanu at gmail.com> wrote:
Thanks so much for all your responses.I am sorry for not explaining more of the context of the research topic. I am looking precisely at which means of explanation is more suitable for the left-right connotation phenomenon.
The effect seems to be indeed statistically more present at the linguistic level in areas of influence of the Abrahamic religions, as Jürgen Bohnemeyer suggested. However, superstitions and traditional religions in most cultures also have some sort of bias against the left hand, with right-handers forming an overwhelming majority in all recorded cultures, and amounting to 90% around the world, as Alec Coupe pointed out. As suggested by most of our colleagues, the distinction is present in many places with no historical links to Christianity or Islam (Northern Australia, the Amazon, Africa, South-East Asia), so I tend to believe the historical/regional explanation must be ruled out in favour of the cognitive and anthropological ones.
In studies on handedness across cultures, Hertz (1909) and McManus (2002) have suggested that the right-left binary has also often correlated to other binaries such as life-death, sacred-profane, male-female, healthy-ill, heavens-earth etc.
Hertz, Robert, La preeminence de la main droite. 1909; English translation: Needham, Rodney and Claudia. Death and the Right Hand. 1960.
McManus, Chris, Right Hand, Left Hand: The Origins of Asymmetry in Brains, Bodies, Atoms and Cultures. 2002
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