Dissertation > Language, writing > Chinese > Semantics,vocabulary, word meaning ( exegesis ) > Modern vocabulary

A Comparative Study of Chinese and English Idioms about Animals from Cultural Perspective

Author WuLin
Tutor LuChangHuai
School Dongbei University of Finance
Course Foreign Linguistics and Applied Linguistics
Keywords English and Chinese animal idioms cultural meaning similarities and discrepancies influences of culture
CLC H136
Type Master's thesis
Year 2011
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Currently, cultural studies have been one of the most-heated subjects to which great importance has been attached by many researchers. Numerous scholars have concentrated on studies in cross-cultural field. This thesis makes a comparative analysis of English and Chinese animal idioms from cultural perspective in order to draw conclusions of similarities and differences between English and Chinese cultures.Idioms are essences of a language and wisdom of human beings. Idioms, as a specialized form of language will naturally reflect its culture even more profoundly and intensely than all other kinds of words. Much cultural information is condensed in idioms. Among idioms in English and Chinese, different species of animals are adopted to express people’s feelings, since they have been considered as people’s good friends for hundreds of years. Both English and Chinese are rich in animal idioms which are used by the people to describe their feelings or explain complicated rules and phenomena with vivid animal images in brief and simple words.A perfect translation of idioms between English and Chinese not only brings the target language readers a vivid cultural picture but enriches its vocabulary. However, owing to different historical evolutions, geographical conditions, national customs, value orientations, religious beliefs, etc., having a full understanding of animal idioms in one culture is difficult for people living in another. Thus, misunderstanding of true meaning of an animal idiom in Chinese may sometimes happen to a reader or listener in English and vice-versa. The culturally-bounded idioms become an obstacle during international communication. With an increasing intercultural communication and global development, how to understand the correct connotation of animal idioms between the two languages becomes the first and also very important step for further translation and communication. Only with an adequate understanding of English and Chinese cultures can we fully understand the cultural connotations of animal idioms in both languages. It is necessary for us to strengthen the understanding of the two cultures to remove the obstacles to fully intercultural communication caused by the lack of knowledge of cultural connotations in the two cultures. Therefore, it is necessary for us to make a fully and completely comparative study of English and Chinese idioms about animals from the perspective of culture. It is also the significance and objective of this thesis.The thesis consists of six chapters. Chapter I deals with a general introduction including the significance and objective of the study, and structure of the thesis.Chapter II is devoted to literature review. A general survey concerning definition, classification and common features of idioms is presented by the writer. Apart from the definitions given by dictionaries, many scholars also proposed their opinions on how to define idiom which are authoritative too. Classification can be approached from different criteria. This thesis focuses on the cultural research of idioms. Hence by this criterion, English idioms can be mainly classified into set phrase, colloquialism, proverb and slang. Chinese idioms discussed in this thesis are in a broad sense which refer to成语(set phrase),俗语(common saying),谚语(proverb),歇后语(two-part allegorical saying). Then the writer probes into common features of English and Chinese idioms after discussing the different versions of definitions and classifications of English and Chinese idioms. In general, there are three basic features in both English and Chinese idioms, respectively being structural stability, semantic unit and rhetorical feature. Previous studies on animal idioms are stated in the final part of this chapter.In Chapter III, the writer gives theoretical foundation to the thesis. Definition of culture and the relationships among culture, language and idiom are stated. Obviously, language is not an independent phenomenon without the participation of many elements in culture. Language is compared to a mirror through which we can know about culture. Idioms, as a specialized form of language will naturally reflect its culture even more profoundly and intensely than all other kinds of words. Much cultural information is condensed in idioms.In ChapterⅣ, the writer starts with similarities and discrepancies between English and Chinese animal idioms. We have similarities on recognizing, understanding or observing the objective material world in many aspects, though native speakers of English and Chinese live far away from each other. Those similarities are embodied in languages. Therefore, in both languages, there are many idioms about animals expressing similar or even identical meanings. When discrepancies are mentioned, the writer analyzes the problem from the following aspects:conflict, divergence and blankness of cultural meaning between the two languages based on comparison and contrast of examples. The conflict of meaning refers to the phenomenon that the idioms concerning the same animal have opposite and conflicting meanings in the two cultures. As divergence of cultural meaning between English and Chinese animal idioms is mentioned, it means that cultural connotations of idioms containing the same animal in the two languages are different while not contradictory to each other. Blankness of cultural meaning is also regarded as cultural vacancy which refers to the phenomenon that we can only find certain cultural meanings in one language lacking its correspondence in another language.After that, in ChapterⅤ, the writer attempts to make an analysis of the influences of culture from the following aspects:geographical conditions, historical backgrounds, social customs, religions, value orientations, literary works, fables and myths. It is evident that each aspect is closed related with culture and has great influence on idioms about animals. In each aspect, the writer studies the differences between English and Chinese culture with the support of plentiful examples chosen from the two languages.Chapter VI summarizes the whole thesis by emphasizing the significance of the study again and draws a conclusion based on the analysis and research in the previous chapters.Through a carefully comparative study with the support of numerous examples, the writer has achieved two findings. For one thing, between animal idioms of the two languages, some amazing and incredible similarities or even identical coherences are found. Besides, some animal idioms convey divergent cultural connotations. While, there are some animal idioms in English and Chinese express conflicting rather than different cultural meanings. Also, some animal images contain strongly ethnic flavor that only exist in one language and turn cultural blankness in the other one. For another, those similarities, divergences, conflicts or blankness are closely related to the two cultural backgrounds to which those animal idioms belong. Through the vivid and colorful animal idioms, the influences of geographical conditions, historical backgrounds, social customs, religions and value orientations of the English and Chinese cultures are reflected. Moreover, literary works, folk legends, myths and fables in the two cultures provide idioms with rich sources.A comparative analysis of cultural background of idioms will not only help language learners to have a good command of the essence of idioms also lead to a better understanding of them. On the basis of comparative study, it is obvious that the different cultural connotation of animal idioms will deeply influence intercultural communication to some extent. The purpose of language is to communicate. Under the new condition that the globe is becoming a small village, various kinds of cultures impact, conflict and intermingle mutually. For one thing, we will unceasingly encounter misunderstandings in intercultural communication since we do not fully understand the unconsciously patterned behaviors, beliefs and values of westerners. It is one of the biggest obstacles to full communication. For another, during intercultural communication, we can interact with westerners because we all have something in common like some basic attitudes and thoughts towards natural phenomenon and feelings towards animals. Language learners should learn about the meaning and usages of idioms as well as the origins of these idioms for the sake of adequate communication. Therefore, we can translate our excellent culture into English to make westerners understand Chinese civilization better and further. Meanwhile, we can absorb and take advantage of western culture in order to enrich Chinese culture.

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