Academic journal article Studies in Literature and Language

Comparison and Contrast between English and Chinese Idioms from Cultural Connotation Perspective

Academic journal article Studies in Literature and Language

Comparison and Contrast between English and Chinese Idioms from Cultural Connotation Perspective

Article excerpt

Abstract

Idiom, being a special and indivisible part of language, is the crystallization of culture. With the development of globalization, idiom plays an increasingly important role in spreading national culture. Due to its special and close relationship with culture, idiom is very difficult to learn. In view of the difficulty in and significance of idiom learning, due attention and efforts should be given to the cultural comparison and contrast between English and Chinese idioms.

This article attempts to analyze the cultural phenomena reflected by the cultural comparison and contrast between English and Chinese idioms from three aspects: cultural connotation overlaps, cultural connotation conflicts and cultural connotation vacancy. By introducing the knowledge of cultural overlaps, cultural conflicts and cultural vacancy, the article analyzes idioms from a relatively new cultural perspective. It starts with an introduction which includes basic knowledge of idioms. Then each part deals with a cultural phenomenon in the following order: introducing the cultural phenomenon, analyzing the causes and effects of the cultural phenomenon, putting forward solutions. The last part is conclusion which includes the implications and limitations of the article. It is found that some English and Chinese idioms have equivalent cultural connotations. But the majority of them have different cultural connotations. They are either opposite or vacant in cultural meaning. Meanwhile, many examples are cited to illustrate the cultural similarities and differences between English and Chinese idioms.

The article may serve to enrich language learners' knowledge on the cultural connotations of English and Chinese idioms. Consequently, the increasing cultural awareness would help learners get rid of the interference of mother tongue. At the same time, their foreign language proficiency and intercultural competence will be improved.

Key words: English and Chinese idioms; Cultural overlap; Cultural conflict; Cultural vacancy

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INTRODUCTION

Idioms, with their frequent appearance, are commonly recognized as the core and essence of language and culture. Without idioms, any language is sure to be proved lifeless. The prominent translation theorist Eugene A. Nida (2001) maintained that idioms usually carry more impact than non-idiomatic expressions because of their close identification with a particular language and culture. Idioms hold great interest of linguists. As the saying puts it, "A thousand-li starts with the first step". Some basic knowledge is needed to further idiomatic studies.

The word "idiom" is from the ancient Greek word "idioma", meaning "peculiarity" or "specialty". In lexicology, an idiom is a fixed group of words or a single word or even a sentence with a special meaning that can not be guessed from its structure. In a broad sense, idioms may include colloquialisms, catchphrases, slang expressions, proverbs, etc. Professor Koonin defined idiom as "a stable combination of words with fully or partially figurative meaning." This definition emphasizes the very important features of the idiomatic expressions: semantic unity, structural stability and rich in figures of speech. An idiom is a semantic unity, that is to say, the meaning of the idiom cannot be guessed from the literal meaning of each word. The relationship between the meaning of each word and the meaning of the idiom is illogical. Many idioms are semantically inexplicable. For example, "till the cows come home" actually means forever or taking a long time. An idiom is a fixed group of words or a single word or even a sentence. This definition well reveals the second feature of idioms, which is structural stability. The structure of an idiom is to a large extent unchangeable:

The constituents of idioms cannot be replaced. For example, "in a brown study" means deep in thought. The word "brown" cannot be replaced by "blue", "in a blue study" has no special meaning. …

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