Using a corpus-based approach, this paper analyzes figurative language through observing the Chinese five elements (五行) of 金 'metal,' 木 'wood,' 水 'water,' 火 'fire' and 土 'earth.' This work found that there are at least two types of figurative language in Mandarin Chinese-one of which occurs at the morphosyntactic level and the other occurs during the mappings between two domains (between the body part terms and these five elements). When the figurative uses of the co-occurring five elements with body part terms were tested in a psycholinguistic experiment composed of two groups of subjects (non-native and native speakers of Mandarin), a majority of the non-native speakers were unable to comprehend these figurative uses. This study attempts to prove that a linguistically-driven understanding of the five elements will be of great help to teaching or learning figurative language in a Mandarin L2 context.
International Journal of Computational Linguistics and Chinese Language Processing, 14(2), 221-236