On Semantic and Functional Transformation of Chinese Word “si” (Death) from the Perspective of Prototype-Based Categorization Path

“Si” (Death) in Chinese Semantic Transformation Prototype Category


  • Lanlan Shi
    Faculty of English Language and Culture, Guangdong University of Foreign Studies, Guangzhou, China
July 1, 2022


Semantic and functional transformation of words is a common feature of all languages and has been one of the hot topics in language research. Being a common word in modern Chinese, “si” (death) has gone through the process of semantic transformation many times and has had multiple meanings. Previous researches mainly focus on the classification of various meanings of “death”, the differences and characteristics of the meaning of “si” (death) in different syntactic positions, and the intuitive research on the causes and paths of semantic transformation, but the latter is not systematical. In order to solve the problem, cognitive linguistics has put forward prototype category theory to find out the general rules of semantic and functional transformation. Prototype category theory emphasizes the motivation of the semantic transformation of words when guiding us to study the semantic transformation of words. Our study finds that the relationship between the new meanings derived from semantic transformation and the original meaning of “si” (death) can be reasonably explained by the prototype category theory in cognitive linguistics. This discovery proves from the reverse side that the prototype category is the main way of semantic and functional transformation of Chinese words, which fully demonstrates that the semantic and functional transformation of Chinese words conforms to the cognitive law of human beings, having strong motivation.