A study on idiomatic variants and synonymous idioms in English and Vietnamese

In the world today, there are 5,000 to 6,000 living languages, of which English is by far the most widely used. Approximately 350 million people speak English as their first language. About the same number use it as a second language. It is the English language that is used as the language of aviation, international sport and pop music. 75% of the world's mail is in English, 60% of the world's radio stations broadcast in English and more than half of the world's periodicals are printed in English. It is also the English language that is used as an official language in 44 countries, and as the language of business, commerce and technology in many others. English is now an effective medium of international communication. In Vietnam, English has long been considered as a tool of international communication, and together with its rising importance, the need of learning English is becoming more and more urgent. It can't be denied that all foreign learners in general and Vietnamese learners in particular desire to master English as the native speakers; however, they usually face a lot of difficulties that prevent them from gaining successful conversations. One of the reasons for these problems lies in the way people perceive and use idioms. Each nation's language lies in itself similar and different concepts on many fields of life such as humane values, ways of thinking, behavior standards, religious beliefs, customs and traditions, social conventions, etc. Words and expressions including idioms have formed the vocabulary system of a language. Idioms are considered as special factors of a language's vocabulary system because they reflect cultural specific characteristics of each nation, including material and spiritual values. Therefore, a lot of researchers have long shown their concerns for idioms.

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PART A: INTRODUCTION 1. Rationale In the world today, there are 5,000 to 6,000 living languages, of which English is by far the most widely used. Approximately 350 million people speak English as their first language. About the same number use it as a second language. It is the English language that is used as the language of aviation, international sport and pop music. 75% of the world's mail is in English, 60% of the world's radio stations broadcast in English and more than half of the world's periodicals are printed in English. It is also the English language that is used as an official language in 44 countries, and as the language of business, commerce and technology in many others. English is now an effective medium of international communication. In Vietnam, English has long been considered as a tool of international communication, and together with its rising importance, the need of learning English is becoming more and more urgent. It can't be denied that all foreign learners in general and Vietnamese learners in particular desire to master English as the native speakers; however, they usually face a lot of difficulties that prevent them from gaining successful conversations. One of the reasons for these problems lies in the way people perceive and use idioms. Each nation's language lies in itself similar and different concepts on many fields of life such as humane values, ways of thinking, behavior standards, religious beliefs, customs and traditions, social conventions, etc. Words and expressions including idioms have formed the vocabulary system of a language. Idioms are considered as special factors of a language's vocabulary system because they reflect cultural specific characteristics of each nation, including material and spiritual values. Therefore, a lot of researchers have long shown their concerns for idioms. Idioms are used to express ideas in figurative styles. They bring the vividness and richness to the speakers' speeches. This is the reason why the more skillfully a person use idioms in his conversations, the more effectively he can establish his communicative relationship. One more important thing is that the general present tendencies are towards idiomatic usage; therefore, knowing how to use idioms effectively in the right situations is becoming essential. Moreover, the most distinguished advantage of idioms is that they do provide users with a whole new way of expressing concepts linguistically. It can be said that idioms are the color and vitality of a language. Several linguists have given a lot of definitions about an idiom basing on its fixed characteristics. For example, "An idiom is a fixed group of words with a special different meaning from the meaning of several words" (Dictionary of English Idioms, 1979). Sharing the same point of view, Hoang Van Hanh (1994) considered an idiom as a fixed group of words which is firm in terms of structure, complete and figurative in terms of meaning, and is widely used in daily speaking. The fixed characteristics of an idiom are as follows: - Form: The words of an idiom are generally fixed. It means that the components forming an idiom are unchanged in using. - Structure: The fixed characteristic of structure of an idiom is expressed by the fixed order of the components forming an idiom. In fact, we can see a lot of idioms violating the principles of their fixed characteristics such as to swear like a bargee and to swear like a trooper, to die a dog’s death and to die like a dog in English, nước đổ đầu vịt and nước đổ lá khoai (like water off a duck’s back), giãi gió dầm mưa and dầm mưa giãi gió (to be exposed to the sun and socked with dew) in Vietnamese. This gives us some questions as follows: Are the idioms above the idiomatic variants or synonymous idioms? What kinds of idioms allow us to use the violation about their fixed characteristics? What criteria make a clear distinction between idiomatic variants and synonymous idioms? What are the similarities and differences between idiomatic variants and synonymous idioms in English and those in Vietnamese? The questions above have not been found in any studies about idioms before. This is the reason why the author decided to make a further study on this topic. The thesis, A study on idiomatic variants and synonymous idioms in English and Vietnamese, is expected to be an interesting and helpful material for foreign language teachers and learners and for people who are interested in idioms in both English and Vietnamese. 2. Aims and objectives of the study The study, as entitled, focuses on the idiomatic variants and synonymous idioms in English and Vietnamese. Therefore, the study is aimed to: - Present some theoretical background on idioms. - Establish some possible criteria for the distinction between idiomatic variants and synonymous idioms. - Gain an insightful look at idioms in general and idiomatic variants and synonymous idioms in particular in both English and Vietnamese. - Work out the similarities and differences between English and Vietnamese in terms of idiomatic variants and synonymous idioms. 3. Scope of the study Due to the duration of time and the length as well as the references available, this thesis does focus on the forms and contents of idiomatic variants and synonymous idioms in English and Vietnamese. The author would like to pay attention to the following questions: - "Comparison" can be considered as a cognitive procedure, a scientific thought used in all processes of perception. It means that it is different from a basic linguistic method. - "Contrastive analysis" is a method which has its own principles and techniques. - "Semantics-Pragmatics", according to Do Huu Chau, is a mergence of semantics and pragmatics (semantics containing pragmatics and on the contrary). Due to the aims and objectives of the thesis, the scope of contrastive analysis is based on the following principles and aspects: - Contrastive analysis of signs and appearances. - Contrastive analysis of meanings of components. - Contrastive analysis of forms. 4. Methods of the study Due to the main aims and objectives of the study, description, componential analysis and contrastive exploitation would be mainly carried out throughout the process. Also, the thesis makes use of the English language as the target and the Vietnamese one as the source language (the base language). The process, in general, can be divided into two stages which are always applied in a quick-minded and active way. Stage 1: During the process of investigating materials from various sources, the forms, characteristics and meanings of idioms and their variants and synonyms in English and Vietnamese are described and analyzed in the relationship with cultures. Then, techniques such as comparison, transformation, and contrastive analysis are applied in a quick-minded and active way to find out a general picture about the idiomatic variants and synonymous idioms in both languages. Stage 2: Basing on the results from stage 1, the author has taken a careful contrastive analysis to find out the similarities and differences between English and Vietnamese about the field of the study. The sources for the analysis are from materials and references written by linguists in English and in Vietnamese as well as some bilingual reference books available in Vietnam. This will help to make clear both the similarities and the differences between the idiomatic variants and synonymous idioms in English and those in Vietnamese. Techniques for analyzing materials: - English and Vietnamese idiomatic variants and synonymous idioms are investigated in many of their aspects such as appearances, forms, component orders, characteristics, meaning colours, figurative styles etc. Basing on this, the author has tried to find out the similarities and differences between English idiomatic variants and synonymous idioms and Vietnamese ones. - Description and comparison are carried in the order of different groups of subjects by using some techniques such as contrastive analysis, componential analysis, transformable analysis and statistics. Moreover, frequent talks with the supervisor, lecturers and experts on the field have proved to be a very useful method for the completion of the study. Also, the study is carried out on the basis of the author's personal experience. 5. Design of the study This study consists of three parts, excluding the appendixes and the references. Part one, Introduction, consists of the rationale, the aims and objectives, the scope, the methods, and the design of the study. Part two, Development, is the heart of the study which directly deals with the idiomatic variants and synonymous idioms in English and Vietnamese. This part is divided into three chapters including chapter I: Literature review and theoretical background, chapter II: Major characteristics of English and Vietnamese idioms, and chapter III: Idiomatic variants and synonymous idioms in English and Vietnamese. The last part is the conclusion of the study as well as some suggestions for implications achieved from the discussion in the thesis and for further studies. PART B: DEVELOPMENT CHAPTER I: LITERATURE REVIEW AND THEORETICAL BACKGROUND 1.1. Literature review There have been a lot of authors whose studies generally relate to idioms. Hoang Van Hanh (1973), Nguyen Thien Giap, Le Nhu Tien (1988), Nguyen Khac Hung (1988), Hoang Van Thang (1992), Trinh Duc Hien (1995), Phan Van Que (1995), Dang Anh Dao (1997) showed their concerns for the ways how to use idioms in literature and in different kinds of act. Studies on the roles of idioms in traditional culture were carried by some authors such as Duong Quang Ham (1956), Pham The Ngu (1969), Dinh Gia Khanh, Chu Xuan Dien (1972, 1973), Cao Huy Dinh (1974), Le Chi Que, Vo Quang Nhon (1990) etc. Nguyen Xuan Hoa (1995), Phan Van Que (1996), Ngo Minh Thuy (2005) gave their own studies on idioms in Vietnamese in comparison to Russian, English and Japanese. Here are some studies directly relating to the field of the study: A Study on Vietnamese Idioms (Hoang Van Hanh, 2004) Hoang Van Hanh is a well-known Vietnamese linguist who had spent a lot of time and energy on this research. This study specialized in the objectives, the aims, the tasks, the problems, etc. of Vietnamese idioms. The author analyzed idioms based on different aspects, synchronically and diachronically, on the view of functional and structural system as well as from cultural, social and psychological perspectives. The research also introduced a systematic collection of Vietnamese idioms in forms of three main types. A contrastive analysis on animal-based comparison idioms in English and Vietnamese (Nguyen Thi Nga, 2003, VNU-CFL) In the study, the author focused on the features of English idioms and made a contrastive analysis on animal-based comparison idioms in English and Vietnamese counterparts. The author found that, though the animal-based comparison idioms in both cultures use different animal images to express ideas, they semantically reflect the personal characteristics and status of people in the society during the course of historic development of the two nations. According to her, many animals are positive in English but negative or neutral in Vietnamese and vice versa, which creates a lot of interests for learners in accessing and analyzing them. Simile in English and Vietnamese - A contrastive analysis (Le Thu Ha, 2001, HOU) In this paper, the author presented a contrastive analysis on the concept, formulation, cultural traditional function, syntactic function and classification of simile in English and its Vietnamese equivalents. She also pointed out some common mistakes made by Vietnamese learners of English and some solutions as well as suggestions for translating simile from English into Vietnamese. A contrastive analysis of English and Vietnamese idioms of comparison (Do Quynh Anh, 2004, VNU-CFL) The author gave out some theoretical background about idioms and made some comparison with other concepts such as proverbs, slang and quotations. In the development, the author made a contrastive analysis of English and Vietnamese idioms, and then pointed out some similarities and differences between these two languages. Due to the findings, the author stated out some difficulties of learning English in terms of idioms and raised the awareness of cultural related factors that should be put into consideration in the teaching process. A study on comparative idioms from cultural perspective (Do Thi Thu Trang, 2006, VNU-CFL) In this study, the author analyzed and discussed English and Vietnamese comparative idioms in the light of culture and she found out some similarities and differences in the way and the reason why people from the two cultures convey their comparative idioms. Idiomatic variants and synonymous idioms in Vietnamese (Nguyen Thi Minh Phuong, 2006) This is a study written in Vietnamese. In the study, the author gave some theoretical background relating to Vietnamese idioms in general and their idiomatic variants and synonymous idioms in particular. Basing on the forms and contents, some criteria were given to make a clear distinction between idiomatic variants and synonymous idioms in Vietnamese. She also carried an investigation on these due to their forms and meanings. 1.2. Theoretical background 1.2.1. Culture and the relationship between language and culture Culture has a great influence on the origin and development of language. This is the season why content of language is closely linked to culture. Besides words and expressions, idioms are considered as special language units because they reflect cultural characteristics of different countries. 1.2.1.1. Culture and its characteristics Culture is what makes you a stranger when you are away from home. It includes all beliefs and expectations about how people should speak and act which have become a kind of second nature to you as a result of social learning. A way of thinking about culture is to contrast it with nature. Nature refers to what is born and grows organically (from the Latin nascere "to be born"); culture refers to what has been grown and groomed (from the Latin colere "to cultivate") (Kramsch, 2000: 4) According to Goodenough's famous definition (1957: 167), the term "culture" is used in the sense of whatever a person must know in order to function in a particular society. Society's culture consists of whatever it is one has to know or believe in order to operate in a manner acceptable to its members, and to do so in any role that they accept for any one of themselves. Culture, therefore, is the "know-how" that a person must possess to get through the task of daily living; only for a few does it require a knowledge of some, or much, music, literature, and the arts. Some scientists also compare the nature of culture to an iceberg, which is mostly hidden under water. The part of culture that is exposed is not always that which creates cross-cultural difficulties; but the hidden aspects of culture have significant effects on behavior and on interactions with others. Characteristics of culture proposed by Porter and Samovar (1994: 12): - Culture is not innate, it is learnt. Fact has shown that members of culture learn their patterns of behaviors and ways of thinking until they have become internalized. The power and influence of these behaviors and perceptions can be seen in the ways in which people acquire culture. - Culture is transmissible. The symbols of a culture are what enable us to pass on the content and patterns of a culture. People can use spoken words as well as nonverbal actions as symbols to spread culture. - Culture is dynamic. As with communication, culture is on going and subject to culture, they can produce changes through the mechanisms of invention and diffusion. - Culture is selective. Every culture represents a limited choice of behavior patterns from the infinite patterns of human experience. This selection is made according to the basic assumptions and values that are meaningful to each culture. In other words, culture also defines the boundaries of different groups. The notion of selectivity also suggests that cultures tend to separate one group from another. If one culture selects work as an end (Japan) while another emphasizes work as a means to an end (Mexico), we have cultural separation. - Facets of culture are interrelated. As Hall clearly states: "You touch a culture in one place and everything else is affected" (Porter and Somovar, 1994: 13). This characteristic shows that culture is like a complex system. - Culture is ethnocentric. Keesing notes that ethnocentrism is a "universal tendency for any people to put its own culture and society in a central position of priority and worth" (Porter and Somovar, 1994: 13). Ethnocentrism, therefore, becomes the perceptual window through which a culture interprets and judges all other cultures. In conclusion, culture, in anthropology, is the pattern of behavior and thinking that people living in social group learn, create, and share. Culture distinguishes one human group from others. It also distinguishes humans from other animals. A culture belonging to a group of people includes their beliefs, rules of behavior, language, rituals, art, technology, styles of dress, ways of producing and cooking food, religion, and political and economic systems. 1.2.1.2. Characteristics of British culture The United Kingdom, constitutional monarchy in Northwestern Europe, is officially the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Great Britain is the largest island in the cluster of islands, or archipelago, known as the British Isles. England is the largest and most populous division of the island of Great Britain, making the South and East. Wales is on the West and Scotland is to the North. Northern Ireland is located in the Northeast corner of Ireland, the second largest island in the British Isles. Among these four cultural regions, the English culture is considered a representative and often used to refer to the entire country's culture. To other Europeans, the best known quality of the British, especially of the English is "reserve". They are people who often keep certain distance to strangers, do not talk much about themselves, do not show much emotion and seldom get excited. This fact tends to give their communicators the impression of coldness. Apart from "reserve", a typical English man is expected to be modest and humorous. Any self-praise is felt to be ill-bred and it is ideal to laugh at oneself- at one's own faults, one's own failures and embarrassment. He also tends to expect those characters in others and distrusts exaggerated promises and shows of affection, especially if they are expressed in flowery language. Politeness is a hallmark of British society though their habits of politeness are on the whole very informal. There are no complicated greetings, for instance, a simple "good morning" or a cheery wave of the hands across the street is quite satisfactory; handshakes are only exchanged on a first introduction, or on special occasions, or as a token of agreement or congratulation. All politeness is based on the elementary rule of showing consideration for others, and fitly acknowledging the consideration they show to you. Moreover, sportsmanship is highly valued in Britain with rules showing generosity to one's opponent and good temper in defeat. It is also an ideal that is applied to life in general. This is proved by the number of sporting terms used in ordinary speech. One of the most elementary rules of life is "never hit a man when he's down", in other words, never take advantage of another's misfortune. In short, we can say that a