A corpus-based comparative study on the word 'Green' and environmentalism


  • Lan Li Hong Kong Polytechnic University
  • Meng Ye Hong Kong Polytechnic University



green, metaphor, environmentalism, corpus approach, comparative study


The word green is a high-frequency colour word in language. In the last few decades, its meaning has been metaphorically extended to environmental studies and further stepped into politics, economics, and other areas. Th e new meanings of green are used in diff erent languages, but there is limited research to show if the concept of ENVIRONMALISM IS GREEN is applied the same in every culture. Th is study aims to compare ecological green used in English and Chinese by investigating the word in two mega-corpora: the 450-million-word Corpus of Contemporary American English (COCA) and the 477-million-word Chinese Corpus compiled at Peking University (CCL). Sinclair’s (1991) fi ve categories of co-selection in corpus study are used to identify green metaphors and their functions in the language pair, following Goatly’s (1997) classifi cation. Th e fi ndings reveal that green metaphors are common in the two languages; they are used to enlarge the impact of eco-friendliness and promote environmental protection to the public. However, there are also diff erences in use. English green can bear both positive and negative attributes in diff erent contexts while Chinese green is generally positive. Also, the English green is used metaphorically in diff erent genres such as politics and fi nance, while the Chinese green focuses on environmentalism. Th is study contributes to the understanding of colour metaphors in diff erent languages and its pedagogical value lies in the comparison between languages.

Author Biographies

Lan Li, Hong Kong Polytechnic University

Lan Yi was an Associate Professor at the School of Humanities and Social Science, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Shezhen.

Meng Ye, Hong Kong Polytechnic University

Meng Ye is a Research Associate at the Department of English, Hong Kong Polytechnic University , and she just completed her PhD from the school.


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How to Cite

Li, L., & Ye, M. (2019). Greenspeak: A corpus-based comparative study on the word ’Green’ and environmentalism. Linguistics and the Human Sciences, 13(3), 221–240.