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Tsing Hua Journal of Chinese Studies
ISSN 0577-9170; DOI 10.6503/THJCS


Counterfactuals, Universals and Chinese Thinking

Vol. 19 No. 2   12/1989    


Counterfactuals, Universals and Chinese Thinking


Kuang-ming Wu 









Key words



    Alfred H. Bloom in the Linguistic shaping of Thought: A Study in the Impact of Language on Thinking claims that Chinese language does not have a counterfactual formulation. In denying counterfactuals in Chinese language , Bloom also denies universals in Chinese language. Since language allegedly shapes thinking, the double denial of counter factuality and universals amounts to denying both to Chinese thinking. 

    To prove the Chinese lack of counterfactuals, Bloom produced     (1) a lack of counterfactuals in contemporary Chinese Writings and conversation, and    (2) poor scores on tests on counter factual taken by Chinese people. To prove the Chinese lack of theoretical abstraction Bloom produced    (3) poor scores on tests on abstract thinking taken by Chinese people, and     (4) the difficulty of translating a single complex English sentence into a single complex Chinese sentence. And    (5) Chinese people themselves confessed that they have difficulty grasping counterfactuals and universal. This essay responds, saying: 

   (1) Lack of Chinese counterfactuals: In response, eighty-four examples of Chinese counterfactuals are listed, and forty-four more from Dobson are mentioned. 

   (2) Poor Chinese performance on Bloom’s counterfactuals-tests: In response we say that the tests are about topics remote to Chinese people, and in English-like formulation. 

   (3) Poor Chinese performance on Bloom’s universals-tests: the fact shows the 

Chinese trend toward concrete universals. 

    (4) Difficulty of translating into one Chinese sentence one complex English sentence: yet the Chinese language can faithfully translate English sentences, but in different linguistic devices. 

    5) Chinese people’s confession for their lack of counterfactuals and universals: Chinese literature (historical, philosophical) has many counterfactuals and universals; the confession must mean that the Chinese do not express themselves in the abstractive manner of the English manner of the English language. All in all, both English languages variously express the essentials of thinking, counter-factuality and universal notion



Author: Kuang-ming Wu
Genre: Article
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