Bowl, Plate, Plowl
This is part 2 of 2 in a semantic space series about the bowlness of bowls, or the plateness of plates. Part 1 here.
Next time you consider that one-word gloss in your Chinese-English dictionary,
碗 wǎn N. bowl
pause for a moment to contemplate this:
A couple weeks ago, when I invoked topology in the context of semantic spaces, I had no idea that the next discussion of semantic space would come from two objects that share the same topology. If you still want to vote on whether the object in the pictures above is a plate or a bowl, go back to the post with the survey. Otherwise, read on for results.
At the time of this writing the survey says:
- Native Chinese speakers call it a pán 盘, commonly translated into English as “plate”
- Native English speakers call it a bowl
- Native speakers of other languages are divided, and some languages have a particular word for this object.
Even though the comments grumbled about how the object was kind of in between — Lisa even mentioned that for the English there’s a technical term / trade word from Williams-Sonoma calling it a “soup plate” or “pasta bowl” (neither of which I would have been able to associate with this particular dish) — there’s apparently not a lot of disagreement about what to call it when push comes to shove in English and Chinese. About 80% of native Chinese say it’s pán 盘 and about 80% of native English say it’s “bowl”.
So it’s apparently a difference in definition about what a bowl IS. The explanation I got for Chinese was extraordinarily similar to what Julie commented on the other post:
the wide rim (more than the depth) makes it un-bowl like to me.
Interesting. My own definition of “bowl” in English, on the other hand, hinges on the criterion that Porfiriy put forth:
My standard is that if I can eat a “mostly liquid” food in it – for example, cereal, or soup – it’s a bowl.
The conclusion is kind of obvious, I guess: the semantic space for bowl-plate can be sliced any way you want it, but your categorization of objects near the slice will hinge on the details of your definition. In Norwegian, German, Spanish and Dutch, the commenters say, you don’t even have the same slice because there’s a specific word for exactly that object. In the meantime, Chinese and English force a decision, unless you want to go with catalog-speak from Williams-Sonoma or with Kellen’s Plowl.