The Vietnamese Ruột ‘Intestine’ – The Seat of Life: The Conceptualizations of Ruột in Vietnamese

Author: Hien Tran (Department of Vietnamese Studies and Language, University of Social Sciences and Hunmanitites, Vietnam National University, Vietnam)
Speaker: Hien Tran
Topic: Anthropological Linguistics
The (SCOPUS / ISI) SOAS GLOCAL CALA 2020 General Session


Cultural Linguistics explores the relationship between language, culture and conceptualizations. In particular, language is viewed as a cultural activity and conceptualizations that underlie the language use and structure are constructed by cultural systems (Sharifian 2011).

This study presents the conceptualization of ruột ‘intestine’ in the Vietnamese culture and argues that the way ruột ‘intestine’ is conceptualized is motivated by the Vietnamese folk beliefs and other social and cultural practices. A comparison of the English ‘heart’ and ‘head’ shows differences from and similarities with the Vietnamese conceptualization of the intestine. Data come from general Vietnamese dictionaries, idiomatic and proverb dictionaries and from instances that included the word ruột as collected from nine popular Vietnamese websites.

This study has found that ruột ‘intestine’ is conceptualized as the seat of emotional and mental activities, as representations of human character, behavior, attitude, moral and cultural values, and to describe close family ties. For example: fullness or over-ripeness/softness of the intestine is mapped onto both anger and sadness, as shown in examples (1) – (2). Close family ties are conceptualized in Vietnamese with ruột (intestines) as shown in example (3).

1. Tức đầy ruột
Anger full intestine
‘Someone is so angry that his intestine is full.’

2. Nhìn con ốm mà nẫu hết cả ruột
Look child sick that rot whole intestine
‘Looking at her child who was sick made her intestine rotten.’

3. Con ruột / anh chị em ruột / cô bác ruột
children intestine / brother sister intestine/ aunt uncle intestine ‘children /siblings/ aunts and uncles’

The comparison of the English ‘heart’ – the seat for emotions and feelings, and ‘head’ – the place for rationality and intelligence (Niemeir 2008) with the Vietnamese intestine indicates that the Vietnamese intestine is conceptualized as the combination of the heart and head as they are understood in Western cultures.

The findings of this study show that the conceptualization of ruột is found rooted in Vietnamese cultural models derived from the Vietnamese cultural belief system and other social and cultural practices. Ruột ‘intestine’ forms culturally conceptual bases for Vietnamese speakers to express their emotional and socio-cultural experiences.


Niemeire, S. 2008. To be in control: kind-hearted and cool-headed: The head-heart dichotomy in English. In Culture, Body, and Language: Conceptualizations of Internal Body Organs across Cultures and Languages. Sharifian, F., et al eds. 349-372. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

Sharifian, F. 2011. Cultural Conceptualisations and Language. Theoretical Framework and Applications. John Benjamins Publishing Company: Amsterdam/Philadelphia.

Keywords: Vietnamese, cultural conceptualization, metaphor, intestine