Date of Award


Degree Type

UG Dissertation (Restricted)



First Advisor

Prof. Ersu DING


When we speak of “meaning”, most people tend to associate it only with linguistic signs, but meaning can also be non-linguistic. This thesis aims to study three kinds of the latter category, namely, how we communicate through food, clothing and personal space.

At the level of survival, food is the mere physical substance that keeps us alive. As a particular species of animal, humans have to eat in order to gain enough nutrition for our living body. This much is common to people of all nations. But human beings are more than animals in that they have long surpassed the stage of keeping themselves alive with food and have developed unique ways of not just dealing with nature but also with one another which is called culture. In the case of food, for example, there are many things that are perfectly nutritious, but many cultural groups choose not to eat them because of different religious and folk beliefs. Also, we don’t just eat things; we do so in certain ways such as placing our food differently for different occasions and seating ourselves in culturally acceptable manners when eating. In that sense, food and its arrangements have cultural meanings.

The same can be said about clothing. At the survival level, our clothing is like the fur of a fox or the hoof of a horse. It is worn to keep our body warm against cold weather or to prevent our body from being hurt. But human beings have become so capable that we have long satisfied the need for mere survival. That is, we now wear clothing not just to keep warm or to stay safe, but to look good to attract attention or to respect people around us. Over the long history of human civilization, humans have developed a complicated system of wearing certain clothes for various occasions. If you violate these conventions, you send a different message. In that sense, when and where to wear what becomes meaningful.

The third kind of non-linguistic meaning to be studied in this thesis is the space we keep with one another. There are cultures where people feel comfortable touching each other and they seem to present a warm personality in social relationships, but there are also cultures where people prefer to keep a distance from one another, thus giving people an impression that they are less friendly. Also relevant is the urban way of living where people adjust to crowded space such as theatre, public transportation, busy streets and small elevators. How people conduct themselves in such situations reveal a lot about their beliefs and personalities and in that sense their clothing conveys meanings.

Last but not least, this study of non-linguistic meanings is carried out from a cross-cultural perspective. It is my hope that the findings reached in the thesis can help readers better understand the similarities as well as differences that exist among people of different diverse backgrounds. By understanding the hidden meanings that lie beneath our everyday behaviors we can avoid many unnecessary prejudices that often occur when people of different cultures meet and interact.



Recommended Citation

Yi, Y. (2020). The meaning of artifacts: A cross-cultural study of food, clothing and architecture (UG dissertation, Lingnan University, Hong Kong). Retrieved from