Laotzu's View of Language: As Represented in Tao De Ching

도덕경(道德經)에 나타난 노자(老子)의 언어관

  • Published : 2006.12.30


Laotzu's view of language is well expressed at the beginning stanza of "道可道 非常道" of Tao De Ching, the interpretation of which is pivotal for the proper interpretation of the entire text. Two lines of interpretation of this stanza have been proposed; The first view regards the letter "道" in "非常道" as representing that which is signified by a sign. The other takes the posture that the letter "道" is itself the signifier of the sign. I argue in this article that the second posture should be taken to interpret Tao De Ching properly, contrary to the traditional interpretation of this stanza, by pointing out the verses which inevitably contradict each other when interpreted according to the first view. The second view leads to the conclusion that everyday language is not sufficient enough to describe the supernatural beings, including Tao, accurately, and seeks a way to augment ordinary language for appropriate description of such supernatural beings. The strategy Laotzu adopts in Tao De Ching is to expand the expressive power of ordinary language by extensive use of metaphors. This paper discerns 4 conceptual metaphors in the sense of Johnson and Lakoff(1980) which underlie the metaphors used in Tao De Ching: (1) Tao is Void; (2) Tao is Mother; (3) Tao is Valley; and (4) Tao is Untrimmed Log.