Directionality of Atmospheric Water in Chinese: A Lexical Semantic Study Based on Linguistic Ontology

Sicong Dong, Yike Yang, Ren He, Chu-ren Huang

Research output: Journal article publicationJournal articleAcademic researchpeer-review


Why are fog, dew, and frost said to “fall” in some languages when they don’t in the physical world? We explore this seeming infelicity to study the nature of linguistic conceptualization. We focus on variations and changes of the morphosemantic behaviors of weather words in Mandarin and other Sinitic languages with an interdisciplinary approach to establish links between linguistic expressions and scientific facts. We propose that this use of directionality is the result of conventionalization of Chinese people’s inference from shared daily experience, and is well motivated in terms of a linguistic ontology that reflects a scientific account of natural phenomena. We further demonstrate that the semantically relevant orthography shared by Chinese speakers can be directly mapped to Hantology, a formal linguistic ontology based on Suggested Upper Merged Ontology (SUMO). In this mapping, the radical 雨 yǔ “rain,” derived from the ideograph of “rain” to represent atmospheric water, provides crucial clues to the use of directional verbs and the parts of speech of weather words. Our findings also lend support to language-based reconstruction of traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) and lay foundation for TEK research in the Sinosphere.
Original languageEnglish
JournalSAGE Open
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 10 Feb 2021


  • weather and language
  • Sinitic languages
  • SUMO ontology
  • parts of speech
  • traditional ecological knowledge


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