Dissertation > Language, writing > Linguistics > Semantics,pragmatics,lexicology, meaning school > Semantics, pragmatics

Euphemism Research

Author ShaoJunHang
Tutor WangDeChun
School Shanghai International Studies University
Course Foreign Linguistics and Applied Linguistics
Keywords Euphemisms Defined Motivation and purpose Feature Constitute a means of Type Mechanism Translation
CLC H030
Type PhD thesis
Year 2007
Downloads 6300
Quotes 22
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Euphemism is very common in language and there is a wealth of academic thesis on it. But these theses have some defects. First of all, the simple repetition in these theses is very serious. Second, many theses are just simple introduction. Third, the reference materials of these theses are few. Forth, few theses study how the euphe- misms work. Fifth, both home and abroad there are few books on euphemism. Sixth, the definition of euphemism is not so scientific, because many definitions do not discriminate rhetoric figures from language phenomena, and do not distinguish the dynamic utterance process from the static utterance itself. Besides, the denotation of these definitions is too narrow and makes many euphemisms fall out of the scope of the category of euphemism. To overcome these drawbacks listed above, we should study all the aspects of euphemism in detail.Based on the relative aspects of euphemism, it can be defined as the following:“Euphemism is the non-direct expressions or utterances for the things which bring the information organizer and interpreter pains such as reverence, fear, shame, discomfort, etc. and which is formed by using phonetic, semantic and grammatical methods.”What brings euphemism to occur? The answer lies in behavioral psychological factors. The general and abstract motivity of behavior is desire; while the direct and specific motivity of all behaviors is pursuing happiness and good fortune and avoiding pains and disaster. Euphemism is closely related to the experience of happiness and acquirement of interests: it can bring about happiness and interests and avoid pain and hurt. Pursing love and avoiding hate is the true and specific motivity. Hate can be classified into the hate towards others and the hate towards oneself while love can be classified into love towards others and the love towards oneself. The hate towards others manifests itself as jealousy, revenge and the hate towards oneself has inferiority complex and compunction as its manifestation. The love towards others includes sympathy and gratitude while the love towards oneself includes desire for life and self-esteem. If our utterance or words make the interpreter feel painful, they will regard us as the source of their pain and hate us, then they will make reprisals against us and make us feel painful in return.As a category, euphemism has its own features. Generally speaking, euphemism has five features: prototype feature, accompanying feature, systematic feature, superseding feature, updating feature and regional feature. Specifically speaking, in meaning euphemism has edging-out feature; in using, it is acceptable, context-dependent, multi-purposed and gradational-purposed. (1) Euphemism’s prototype feature mainly lies in the euphemized subjects, and the existence state of euphemism. In the euphemized subjects taboo is regarded as the main source of euphemism. So the euphemism that substitutes for taboo is prototypical. Existence state of euphemism refers to the form of euphemism and the degree of conventionality of euphemism. Decided from the forming methods, the semantic forming methods of euphemism are typical and the euphemisms formed with such method is big. Whereas the number of euphemisms formed with phonetic and grammatical methods is comparatively small and such kind of euphemisms are in marginal position. The degree of euphemism’s conventionality refers to the degree of acceptance of euphemism by the members of language community. When the acceptance degree of euphemism is medium, in other words, not so high and not so low, the prototypicality of such euphemisms is most obvious. (2) The accompanying feature of euphemism shows itself in that euphemism accompanies blunt expression. Blunt expression appears before its euphemism. Usually blunt expressions concern conceptual meaning, while euphemisms add rhetorical meaning to the conceptual meaning. (3) The systematic feature of euphemism manifests in three aspects. First, the related things of the euphemized subjects should be euphemized too and these things formed a macro-system. Second, a euphemized subject may have many aspects and these aspects should also be euphemized. The result is that a micro-system is formed. Third, a euphemized subject may have many euphemisms which form a system. (4) The superseding feature of euphemism means that even if euphemized subject does not change, its euphemisms keep changing and the old euphemisms are superseded by new ones. When one euphemism is used for a certain period of time, the relation between it and its euphemized subject will get more and more familiar to people. When the familiarity of the connection between one euphemism and its euphemized subject reaches a certain degree new euphemism will appear. (5) Euphemism’s updating feature manifests itself in two aspects. One is that different times may have different euphemized subjects. The other one is that the same euphemized subject may have different euphemisms in different times. (6) Euphemism’s regional feature can be seen in that different regions may have different euphemized subjects and the same euphemized subject may have different euphemisms in different regions. (7) Euphemism’s edging-out feature results from the“contamination”caused by taboo. A taboo or tabooed meaning is the thing people do not want to mention. When a non-taboo expression or word is used as a euphemism of a taboo, the expression or word will have more than two senses, one is the sense for the taboo and the other or others is or are its original senses. Then the sense for the taboo will contaminate other senses of the expression or word and are gradually edged out of use. (8) Euphemism’s multi-purposed and gradational purpose features mean that for the whole category euphemism has various purposes and for a specific euphemism it has gradational purposes. To be euphemism is the most superficial purpose and under the superficial purpose there are purposes such as to show reverence, to cheat, to be elegant or to conceal shame, etc. (9) Euphemisms are used to substitute for blunt expressions that cause pain of various degrees. As the blunt expressions are not acceptable, euphemisms that replace them are acceptable. (10) Generally speaking, euphemisms are context-dependent. Context consists of physical context of an utterance, utterance or discourse, the background knowledge of the participants of the communication.Euphemism can be formed with phonetic, semantic and grammatical means. Phonetic method mainly concerns phonetic distortion. Semantic means include using vague words, conceptual metaphor, conceptual metonymy, circumlocution, semantic upgrading (hyperbole), understatement, loan word, semantic distortion of deixis, etc. grammatical methods consists of syntactic method and lexical method. The former has negation, interrogative, subjunctive mood as its members, while the latter includes abbreviation, apocopation, initialism, back-forming, etc.Euphemism involves many aspects such as euphemized subjects, functions, constituting methods, conventionalization degrees, etc. These aspects can be used as different criteria according to which euphemisms can be classified into different groups. The criteria that often used are conventionalization-degree criterion, semantic criterion, and pragmatic function criterion. According to the conventionalization degree criterion, euphemisms are classified into“conventional euphemisms”and“non-conventional euphemisms”. According to euphemized subject criterion, euphemisms are grouped into“death and funeral”,“sickness and disability”,“secretions and excretions”,“sex and reproduction”,“parts of the body”,“crime and punishment”,“placement and circumstances”,“war and disaster”,“politics and economy”,“shortcomings and mistakes”,“religion and superstition”, etc. According to the constitution method criterion, euphemisms are classified into“phonetic euphemisms”,“semantic euphemisms”and“grammatical euphemisms”. According to the pragmatic function criterion, euphemisms are grouped into“beneficial-to-self euphemisms”,“beneficial-to-others euphemisms”and“beneficial-to-all euphemisms”. The four criteria have different uses: classification with conventionalization is conducive to word selection in dictionary compilation; classification with the euphemized subject criterion is conducive to dictionary compilation in content arrangement; the classification with constitution method criterion is useful to find out the working mechanisms of euphemisms; the function criterion is helpful to settle the dispute on whether euphemism is hypocritical ---- beneficial-to-self euphemism is out of one’s own benefit and is hypocritical.Euphemisms formed with different methods have different mechanisms. Generally speaking, the functions of euphemisms are fulfilled by making the interpreter feel vague in understanding the conceptual meaning of euphemisms. The vagueness has three types: beatifying vagueness, distance vagueness and attenuating vagueness. The beautifying mechanism mainly concerns those euphemisms that formed with hyperbole method, and the euphemized subjects are chiefly humble jobs and inferior goods or services. The distance mechanism mainly concerns those euphemisms that formed with deictic methods. Interpersonal relations can be understood metaphorically with spatial concept. Deixis reflects the division of the space and metaphorization of time, interpersonal relations and discourse structure. Human beings all have psychological territory and the feature of which is that members in it are intimate and amiable, while the members out side of it should be taken precautions against. If one thinks that he is not a member of another person’s psychological territory, he will widen the psychological distance from the person to show respect and avoid being offensive. But if one regards a person as a member of his psychological territory, he will narrow the psychological gap to be cordial and friendly. So the mechanism of the euphemisms that formed with psychological spatial distance method is to widen or narrow the psychological distance between the information organizer and information interpreter. The attenuating mechanism of euphemism is to use euphemism to attenuate the pain, antipathy, discomfort brought about by blunt expressions. This kind of mechanism applies to all euphemized subjects other than humble jobs, inferior goods or services, request, address. And it works by using methods such as image substitution, circumlocution, attention focus translocation, phonetic distortion, abbreviation, etc.Translation of euphemism involves translation standards, principles and process. There are three translation standards: conceptual information standard; style and emotion coloring standard; coherence and smoothness standard. There are four principles of euphemism translation: try to preserve the flavor of euphemism; try to make the style equivalent; try to make the emotion colorings equivalent and try to give consideration to the forming methods equivalent. In the process of translation, we should first understand the original text thoroughly and decide whether or not the original is euphemism. If it is euphemism we should know its style and emotion coloring and what kind of method it used. Then there comes the alternation of the language codes. In the process of translation, different tactics are used according to the features of the original text.Euphemism has many aspects and some of them are fully analyzed in this dissertation. But the application of the fruits of euphemism study in foreign language teaching, cross cultural communication, dictionary compilation is not covered in this dissertation. It is the focus of further study.

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