Cross-Cultural Contrastive Study of English and Chinese Euphemisms

Article excerpt

Abstract

The use of euphemisms is a common linguistic phenomenon in all languages. By using euphemisms, people can indirectly and politely express their ideas, without making the listeners feel awkward and unpleasant. As a mirror of culture, the generation and development of euphemisms are closely related to culture. Euphemisms in English and Chinese are also abundant, but they have both differences and similarities in expressions and cultural connotations. The cross-cultural contrastive study of English and Chinese euphemisms can help people correctly understand the deep meaning in English and Chinese languages and overcome the obstacles in cross-cultural communications.

Key Words: Euphemisms; Culture; Cross-culture; Contrastive study

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1. EUPHEMISM AND ITS RELATION WITH CULTURE

The word "euphemism" originated from a Latin word. Its prefix "eu" means "good", and "phemism" means "speech", so the word "euphemism" literally means "word of good omen". Routledge Dictionary of Language and Linguistics (2000) defines "euphemism" as "A kind of expressing method which aims at making people feel less embarrassed by using some words with vague and ambiguous meaning instead of those which may make people feel unpleasant and not respected".

The generation of euphemism has its social foundation. While communicating with others, people often face the situation where they can not directly express what they want to say, or sometimes a direct expression will cause the listeners awkward and unpleasant. In these cases, people tend to choose an indirect and roundabout way to express their ideas and thoughts, so as to avoid the embarrassment. With this purpose, euphemisms come into being.

Whereas the use of euphemisms is not only a social phenomenon, it is also a cultural one. The generation of euphemism is also closely related to culture. Due to the low social productivity in the early stage of human society, people were lack of scientific and cultural knowledge, thus there existed a superstitious belief that the direct call of the name of God or a ghost will bring them bad fortune. Then the names of God and ghosts became language taboo and people found substitutes of these names. These substitutes then became euphemisms ofthat time. With the development of the society, euphemisms in all languages also changed. And this on-going change has always being relying on culture. Different nations possess different natural environment, social patterns, ideological systems, modes of production and values. All these can be reflected in the use of language, including the use of euphemisms.

2. CULTURAL SIMILARITIES AND DIFFERENCES REFLECTED BY ENGLISH AND CHINESE EUPHEMISMS

When we compare different cultures, we will find that the similarities and differences of the developing course of human society are manifested in cultures. Language is not only the mirror of culture, but also a part of culture. So the similarities and differences of cultures are undoubtedly reflected by English and Chinese languages, including euphemisms.

2.1 Cultural Similarities Reflected by Euphemisms

Euphemism as a cultural phenomenon has its specific role to play in culture. Cultural similarities reflected by English and Chinese euphemisms can be concluded by the functions of euphemisms. Basically speaking, the functions of English and Chinese euphemisms are the same, which can be divided as taboo-avoiding function, politeness function, and deception function. These functions show the universal characters of human culture.

2.1.1 Taboo-Avoiding Function

In English and Chinese, there are some words that cannot be directly said out. For example, during the time when Christianity was prevalent in the western countries, the name of God "Jehovah" became the biggest taboo, so many euphemisms were created to replace the name, such as "the Almighty", "the Supreme Being", "Holy one", "the Eternal", "the Creator", "the Maker", "the Savior", "the light of the world", "the Sovereign of the Universe", "Our Father", etc. …