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

According to Hornby (1995), in his Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary, a proverb is defined as “a short well-known sentence or phrase that states a general truth about life or gives advice, e.g. Better safe than sorry or Don’t put all your eggs in one basket”. More particularly, Vu Ngoc Phan (2000: 39) considered a proverb as “a complete saying expressing one idea of comment, experience, morality, justice or criticism”.

It is easy to find that idioms and proverbs have many in common and it comes as no surprise that they are traditionally studied together. The first one is that both idioms and proverbs are ready-made. They are products of human’s thought, cultures and processes of hard working and learning. They are mainly orally handed down from generation to generation and naturally accepted in daily life. Secondly, both idioms and proverbs are set-expressions with stable and insubstituted components. Therefore, their meanings can not be deduced from individual words but must be understood as a whole. It means that any substitutions in any components of an idiom or a proverb may result in unacceptable changes in the meaning of the whole group, which make them nonsensical in metaphorical meaning. Apart from this, most idioms and proverbs use language in a metaphorical way. We can not usually discover their meanings by looking up the individual words in a dictionary; their meaning must be understood metaphorically.

 

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n Van Tu [28] said “The meaning of an idiom does not come from individual components which may have their images or not. Its meaning can be different from the meaning of each component or does come from each original word”. Nguyen Thien Giap [13] focused on the basic semantic features of idioms: Being rich in imagery is a basic feature of idioms. Idioms express concepts basing on specific images and symbols. The imagery of idioms is made from its metaphor and comparison. Although there have been different ideas about the semantic features of idioms, Vietnamese linguists have all shared the same point of view as follows: Firstly, the meaning of an idiom is a perfect whole which does not come from the meanings of individual components added. Secondly, the meaning of an idiom expresses the reflection of things or concepts. Thirdly, the meaning of an idiom is usually figurative and descriptive. Although many linguists affirm that idioms have their own figurative and imaginary meanings, we shouldn’t consider this as an absolute fact. In Vietnamese, there are also some idioms which have literal sense coming from the meanings of their components. They may be comparative idioms such as nát như tương (as pasty as soy), đen như cột nhà cháy (as black as a sweep) and bám như đỉa đói (to stick like a limpet), whose imagery comes from the images compared with activities or properties. Some Sino-Vietnamese idioms such as nhất cử lưỡng tiện (to kill two birds with one stone), bán tín bán nghi (half doubtful) and bách phát bách trúng (to hit the mark one hundred times out of one hundred) also have literal sense basing on the meanings of their components. 2.2. Classification of idioms In both English and Vietnamese there exist many different ways of idiom classification among linguists who have based on different categories such as motivation, function, origin, meaning and kind, etc. However, each language has its own characteristics and the idiom classification is also based on different points of view. 2.2.1. Classification of English idioms Some authors have classified English idioms into topic groups and countries. They have also listed the amount of idioms belonging to each topic or country. Idioms by topic Animals: the birds and the bees Body and bodily functions: at arm’s length Buildings and construction: to drive someone up the wall Character and appearance: as cold as ice Children and babies: like a kid in a candy store Clothes: at the drop of a hat Colours: black and white Death: at death’s door Drinking and pubs: to turn water in to wine Drugs: close but no cigar Food: as cool as a cucumber Furniture and household fittings: to cut a rug Gambling: to go for broke Law: to bring someone to book Men and women: man in the street Money: for my money Music: to call the tune Nationality and ethnicity: for England Nature: as cold as a stone Numbers: to feel like a million Person’s name: as rich as Croesus Place name: to set the Thames on fire Plants and flowers: to gild the lily Police and crime: to get away with murder Politics: on the stump Profession or work: all in a day’s work Religion: at the bottom of the totem pole Sex and sexuality: to play the field Sport: to drop the ball Technology and science: to hit the airwaves Time: behind the times Transport and travel: to hit the road War and conflict: war of words Weather: in a fog Idioms by country American English: as mad as a wrongly shot hog Australian English: to cut down the tall poppies British English: by a long chalk Canadian English: The Mountie always gets his man Indian English: to do the needful Irish English: Even the dogs in the street know New Zealand English: across the ditch Scottish English: to turn the crack ( catergory) Basing on parts of speech, Jennifer Seidl – W. McMordie (1988) gave eight groups of idioms as follows: Key words with idiomatic uses Adjectives and adverbs: bad, good, long etc Nouns: end, line, thing etc Miscellaneous: all, how, too etc Idioms with nouns and adjectives Noun phrases: a drop in the ocean Adjective + noun: a close shave Idiomatic pairs Pairs of adjectives: cut and dried Pairs of nouns: wear and tear Pairs of adverbs: more or less Pairs of verbs: hit and miss Identical pairs: bit by bit Idioms with prepositions: by, for, from etc Phrasal verbs: act up, call something off, make something up to someone etc Verbal idioms: blow one’s own trumpet, call a spade a spade, do a bunk etc Idioms with key words from special categories Animals: bird, bee, bull etc Colours: black, blue, red etc Numbers, size, measurement: one, inch, mile etc Parts of the body: arm, back, nose etc Time: day, minute, night etc Idioms with comparisons Comparisons with as … as: as bold as brass Comparisons with like: to go like the wind Basing on functions, idioms can be also classified as follows: Idioms as noun phrases e.g. peace and quiet (peace/ calm): It is nice to have some peace and quiet. the cat’s whiskers (wonderful): She thinks she is the cat’s whisker. dog’s dinner (over dressed in a showy way): He was dressed up like a dog’s dinner. Idioms as verb phrases e.g. to ump out of my skin (give a big jump): I jump out of my skin when I heard the bang. to get the bottom of things (find the true the explanation or the state of affair): We need a proper investigation to get the bottom of things. Idioms as adjective phrases e.g. as good as gold (generous, helpful, well-behaved): He is as good as gold. hard and fast (can not be changed in any circumstances): There are no hard and fast rules about this. Idioms as adverbial phrases e.g. as likely as not (certainly/ surely): He’ll be at home now, as likely as not. Idioms as prepositional phrases e.g. in a black mood (a bad mood/ temper): Gerry is in a black mood. Idioms as interjections e.g. Well, I never! Never say die! Take your time! Idioms as independent clauses e.g. A little bird told me ( It is not necessary for me to tell you who told me this) 2.2.2. Classification of Vietnamese idioms According to Luong Van Dang [9], Vietnamese idioms (in “Thành ngữ tiếng Việt”) can be classified as follows: Idioms with three single words or more e.g. bạn nối khố (a bosom friend) bở hơi tai (fagged out) treo đầu dê, bán thịt chó (He cries wine and sells vinegar) trẻ không tha, già không thương (Neither consideration for the young nor the pity for the old)… Idioms with a single word and a compound word e.g. bé hạt tiêu (little body, great mind) câm miệng hến (mute as a fish) có máu mặt (to be in comfortable circumstances)… Idioms with two compound words e.g. buôn gian bán lận (to cheat in commerce) nhắm mắt xuôi tay (to die) năm xung tháng hạn (an unpropitious period of time) … Idioms as simple sentences e.g. châu chấu đá xe (David fights Goliath) êch ngồi đáy giếng (a frog in a well) mèo mù vớ cá rán (The devil looks after his own)… Idioms with alliterations or compound words e.g. hì hà hì hục (be completely engrossed in) lảm nhảm lảm nhàm (to drivel) ăn bớt ăn xén (to take a stealthy rake off)… Idioms with symmetrical comparisons e.g. nát như tương (as pastry as soy) đen như mực (inky-black)) nặng như chì (as heavy as the lead) nguây nguẩy như mẹ quẩy tôm (to turn away in anger)… Idioms with summary comparisons e.g. như cá gặp nước (feel like duck in water) như đỉa phải vôi (like a scalded cat) như nước đổ đầu vịt (like water off a duck’s back)… However, the common structures of Vietnamese idioms are the structures which have two balanced members. Idioms are also formed by joining rhymes (usually interior rhymes) such as bóc ngắn cắn dài (to live beyond one’s means), bé xé ra to (to make mountains out of molehills) etc. These structures do not only make idioms easy to say and remember, but they also keep the fixation and unshakeable characteristics of idioms. According to Nguyen Cong Đuc [11], Vietnamese idioms can be divided into two main groups: Idioms with symmetrical structures Symmetrical structures consist of two members which have the same forms and harmonious balanced contents (opposite or supplement of each other). These structures form a large number of idioms in general and idioms showing speaking activities in particular. They are concretized by the following expressions: - AxAy (A: verb; x, y: combinative words) e.g. buôn gian bán lận (to cheat in commerce) ăn không nói có (to be dishonest) ăn thật làm giả (to work perfunctorily) … - BxBy (B: noun; x, y: combinative words) e.g. điều ong tiếng ve (unfavourable reputation) mồm năm miệng mười (loud-mouthed) mồm loa mép dải ( loud-spoken)… - CxCy (C: adjective; x, y: combinative words) e.g. dại mồm dại miệng (foolish tongues) vụng ăn vụng nói (not good at speaking) vụng chèo khéo chống (A bad workman blames his tools)… - DxDy (D: numeral; x, y: combinative words) e.g. nửa nạc nửa mỡ (neither flesh nor fish) nửa đùa nửa thật (half seriously) nửa úp nửa mở (equivocal)… Idioms with symmetrical structures can be compound sentences; for example, có mồm thì cắp, có nắp thì đậy (to keep silent for good). Idioms with comparative structures These are the common structures of Vietnamese idioms. A như (like/as) B is considered as the comprehensive form of comparative idioms. The words such as như, bằng, tày are usually between A and B, and they are concretized by the following expressions: - A như B (A: verb or adjective; B: noun) e.g. nói như vẹt (to parrot)) ngang như cua (utterly nonsensical) chua như dấm (sour like vinegar))… - Ax như B (Ax: verb-adjective phrase; B: noun) e.g. nói dối như cuội (to be a colossal liar) nói ngọt như đường (to use honeyed words) nói dẻo như kẹo (to be smooth-tongued)… - A như Bx (A: usually verb; Bx: phrase expressing activity) e.g. dỗ như dỗ vong (to soothe) chửi như vặn thịt (to abuse someone regularly) chửi như hát hay (to heap abuses on)… - Ax như Bx (Ax: phrase consisting of a verb and an adjective; Bx: phrase expressing activity) e.g. nói dai như chó nhai dẻ rách (to talk constantly) chuyện nở như ngô rang (to chat loudly) chuyện giòn như bắp rang (to chat loudly)… 2.3. Idioms versus other language units Words and groups of words including idioms make a vocabulary system of a language. It means that a vocabulary system of a language is very complex. It consists of a lot of different language units. Therefore, distinguishing idioms and other language units is necessary. 2.3.1. Idioms versus words “Words are the smallest language units having their own meanings and fixed forms, and are used to build sentences”. [29] According to this definition, words have the following features: - Words are independent language units and have their own meanings. - Words are available language units and have their own fixed forms. - Words usually have nominative functions. It means that they are the names of things, phenomena, activities, properties, states, etc. - Words are basic language units used to build sentences. The biggest difference between idioms and words is that they are compared with single words: The smallest idioms consist of at least two single words. Moreover, the determination of words closely connects concepts. For example, hẻo lánh (out of the way) is a word and khỉ ho cò gáy (out of the way) is an idiom. Both of these semantically express the same meaning. However, hẻo lánh (out of the way) has literal meaning which is quite objective and neutral; khỉ ho cò gáy (out of the way) has figurative meaning containing the speaker’s emotional colorings and comments: It is a boring hard place to live and work. Words are the smallest language units which are independent and have their own meanings. The meanings of compound words such as rain coat, coffee table and pocket dictionary are usually clear and easy to deduce by looking at the literal sense of their components. However, it is impossible to understand the meanings of idioms by doing like that (except comparative idioms in Vietnamese) because idioms have figurative meanings. 2.3.2. Idioms versus locutions Most of the linguists share the same point of view that an idiom is a fixed expression whose meaning can not be worked out by looking at the meaning of its individual words. “A locution is a fixed group of words having been used for a long time and its meaning comes from the meanings of its components”. [29: 810] For example, rán sành ra mỡ (to skin a flint) (Vietnamese), as bald as a coot (English) are idioms, but lên lớp (to give a lesson) (Vietnamese), go to bed (English) are considered as locutions. It can be said that the forms of idioms and locutions are the same: They are all fixed groups of words. However, the meanings of idioms don’t come from the meanings of their components; locutions tend to have their own literal sense coming from the meanings of their components. 2.3.3. Idioms versus slang In Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary, slang is defined as follows: “They are very informal words and phrases commonly used in speech, especially between people from the same social groups or who work together, not considered suitable for formal contexts and often not in use for long”. Although both idioms and slang are almost fixed in structures and words, they have some certain differences. Firstly, slang is used among some groups of people whereas idioms can be found everywhere. Slang is a means of identifying and reinforcing certain sub-groups in society; the member of this group may not understand the conversations of other groups’. Secondly, even in the same cultural area, while idioms are almost the same, slang stands differently from region to region. For example, the idiom like death warmed up (being ill) can be understood both in England and the US; meanwhile, such slang as asskissing (flattering, toadying), dinge (a black person) are accepted only by the American. Finally, it is found that slang is fashionable and soon out of date. For instance, to indicate something beautiful, before the World War II, people used the word top hole, then in the 1940s, it was wizard, 1970s ace, comic and in the 1980s, it turned to be brills, wicked. 2.3.4. Idioms versus proverbs According to Hornby (1995), in his Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary, a proverb is defined as “a short well-known sentence or phrase that states a general truth about life or gives advice, e.g. Better safe than sorry or Don’t put all your eggs in one basket”. More particularly, Vu Ngoc Phan (2000: 39) considered a proverb as “a complete saying expressing one idea of comment, experience, morality, justice or criticism”. It is easy to find that idioms and proverbs have many in common and it comes as no surprise that they are traditionally studied together. The first one is that both idioms and proverbs are ready-made. They are products of human’s thought, cultures and processes of hard working and learning. They are mainly orally handed down from generation to generation and naturally accepted in daily life. Secondly, both idioms and proverbs are set-expressions with stable and insubstituted components. Therefore, their meanings can not be deduced from individual words but must be understood as a whole. It means that any substitutions in any components of an idiom or a proverb may result in unacceptable changes in the meaning of the whole group, which make them nonsensical in metaphorical meaning. Apart from this, most idioms and proverbs use language in a metaphorical way. We can not usually discover their meanings by looking up the individual words in a dictionary; their meaning must be understood metaphorically. Beside those similarities, both of them still own typical features that distinguish one from the other. The first and most obvious difference lies in their grammatical structures. Idioms are phrases which are parts of sentences; thus, they are equivalent to words only. Proverbs are complete sentences or phrases expressing the whole idea. Moreover, idioms and proverbs are also different in terms of their functions. Proverbs are short well-known sentences or phrases that express a judgment, state a general truth about life or advice; they are told to contain three main literature functions which are perceptive function, aesthetic function and educational function. For example, the proverb Money makes the mare go demonstrates a remark as well as a criticism about the negative side of money. Its perceptive function is to make people aware of the bad effect of money which can become the power dominating the society, even the most inanimate things. The educational function is to criticize the negative side of money and urges people to be aware of that ill effect. And its aesthetic function is to exaggerate in a picturesque way to help readers understand the proverb easily. In contrast, idioms do not express judgments, give advice or state general truth about life, which means they do not have functions of perception and education but only aesthetic function. For example, the idiom to eat like a horse merely describe the strong ability of eating because of great hunger in figurative and imaginary way and does not point out any educational lesson or knowledge of life. In short, beside their common things, idioms are distinguished from proverbs by their structures and functions. 2.4. Summary Although English and Vietnamese idioms have some different features about structures, meanings, functions as well as origins, they both have some similarities as follows: Idioms are fixed groups of words which are firm in terms of their structures and lexical components. Idioms are complete and figurative in terms of meanings which do not come from the meanings of their individual components. Idioms have their own expressiveness. Grammatically, idioms are usually groups of words, sometimes sentences. Idioms are semantically considered as words or groups of words. The function of idioms is naming things, phenomena, processes, properties, etc. Both English and Vietnamese idioms can be classified due to parts of speech, topics or origins. However, Idiom categories basing on their grammatical functions are quite common. Each group of idioms has its own grammatical function and can form sentences. This is the reason why idioms can function as words. Idioms in both languages are quite multiform and flexible. Therefore, we can not understand idioms clearly without understanding the culture of each country. Idioms in both English and Vietnamese are very different from other language units. These differences are summarized in Table 1 Table 1: Idioms versus other language units Features Idioms Words Locutions Slang Proverbs Structure fixed groups of words or sentences morphemes or words groups of words words or fixed groups of words sentences Relationship among components close, fixed, available independent (single words), close/ lax (compound words) close, fixed, available close, fixed, fashionable close, fixed, available Meaning figurative literal literal figurative generalized Nominative function naming things, phenomena, processes, properties… naming things, phenomena, processes, properties… naming things, phenomena, processes, properties… naming accounts, events… Syntactic function forming sentences forming sentences forming sentences forming sentences sentences used independently Expression pure concepts pure concepts saying with a smooth tongue, taking verbal precautions, connecting or emphasizing ideas pure concepts communiqué, conclusion, truth, experience… CHAPTER III: IDIOMATIC VARIANTS AND SYNONYMOUS IDIOMS IN ENGLISH AND VIETNAMESE 3.1. Lexical synonymy In the language system, all the language units are closely connected and define by regulations each other. In order to study these, a connective form of the language units is taken out and given a look separated from the scope of other connections. One of the most basic connective forms of the language units is synonymy. The language unit that expresses synonymous attribute by far the most clearly is the lexicon system, including idioms synonymically connected with each other. Synonymy (synonymia in ancient Egyptian) means “the same name” and displays the relationship between two expressions which are literal but not identical. Literality is the correspondence or something in the same denotatum (events, objects), or something in the same significance (something displayed belongs to the language). In other word, expression A and expression B are synonymous if their outsides are not the same (form A is different from form B) but their insides are the same (content A = content B). Synonymous units including synonymous words and idioms are the exceptions of the synonymous expressions. Therefore, synonymous idioms can be realized by the following formula: Synonymy Form A ≠ Form B Content A = Content B e.g. English Form A ≠ Form B not to turn a hair without turning a hair Content A = Content B almost, nearly Vietnamese Form A ≠ Form B dạy đĩ vén váy (to teach the dog to bark) dạy khỉ leo cây (to teach the dog to bark) Content A = Content B to do something unnecessary When studying synonymy, they usually deal with lexical and grammatical synonymy. Lexical synonymy is the synonymy of words (words and equivalent units including idioms). Idioms are language units functioning as words; however, they are formed by many lexical words. Therefore, the synonymous idioms are more complex than the synonyms of words because they are connected with the idiomatic variants. In many cases, it is difficult to distinguish those phenomena clearly. e.g. English Vietnamese to die a dog’s death – to die like a dog not to turn a hair – without turning a hair to be head over ears in – to be over head and ears in bữa đực bữa cái – buổi đực buổi cái (day on day off) mua quan bán tước – mua danh bán tước (to buy and sell status) tránh vỏ dưa gặp vỏ dừa – tránh được lợn cỏ gặp gấu chó… (to jump out of the frying pan into the fire) 3.2. Idiomatic variants in English and Vietnamese Idiomatic variants are available in both English and Vietnamese. However, the forms and contents of idiomatic variants in each language are different. 3.2.1. Idiomatic variants in English It is easy to realize that the components, especially verbs and nouns, of an English idiom can be replaced by units which are synonymous or belong to the same field of meaning. For example, the verb get in the idiom to get one’s back up can be replaced by the verb put, but the meaning of the idiom is still the same. We can see this in a lot of idioms such as to get one’s blood up – to have one’s blood up, to welcome with open arms – to greet with open arms, and to find the length of someone’s feet – to know the length of someone feet which are idiomatic variants. The idiomatic variants in English are the other forms of idioms whose meanings are the same as the original idioms. In other word, when one (or more components) of the original idiom is (are) replaced by another (other components) belonging to the same field of meaning, we consider this the idiomatic variant. These can be concretized as follows: - A verb (a verb phrase) replaced by another belonging to the same field of meaning: to get one’s back up – to set one’s back up – to put one’s back up etc. - A noun (a noun phrase) replaced by another belonging to the same field of meaning: to take into one’s head – to take into one’s mind etc. - An adverb replaced by another belonging to the same field of meaning: to come apart – to come asunder etc. - A conjunction replaced by another belonging to the same field of meaning: to make as if – to make as though etc. - An adjective replaced by another belonging to the same field of meaning: to have a great mind to – to have a good mind to etc. In addition, like words, English idioms can form sentences; therefore, some components of the idioms such as possessive adjectives, objects of personal pronouns can themselves change in order to keep the agreement among the components in the sentences. 3.2.2. Idiomatic variants in Vietnamese Ju.X. Xtepannov said that phonetic deformation of words was limited by synonyms. This means that forms of words are changed while their meanings are still the same. That a word is pronounced in two ways makes two phonetic variants. [31: 42] It can be said that idiomatic variants are different forms of the same idioms. It means that the form of an idiom has changed but its meaning is still the same. That the components of an idiom are replaced by the others, or that the order of the components of an idiom changes makes the different forms of an idiom. Idioms

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