In the world today, there are 5,000 to 6,000 living languages, of which English is by far the most widely used. Approximately 350 million people speak English as their first language. About the same number use it as a second language. It is the English language that is used as the language of aviation, international sport and pop music. 75% of the world's mail is in English, 60% of the world's radio stations broadcast in English and more than half of the world's periodicals are printed in English. It is also the English language that is used as an official language in 44 countries, and as the language of business, commerce and technology in many others. English is now an effective medium of international communication.
In Vietnam, English has long been considered as a tool of international communication, and together with its rising importance, the need of learning English is becoming more and more urgent. It can't be denied that all foreign learners in general and Vietnamese learners in particular desire to master English as the native speakers; however, they usually face a lot of difficulties that prevent them from gaining successful conversations. One of the reasons for these problems lies in the way people perceive and use idioms.
Each nation's language lies in itself similar and different concepts on many fields of life such as humane values, ways of thinking, behavior standards, religious beliefs, customs and traditions, social conventions, etc. Words and expressions including idioms have formed the vocabulary system of a language. Idioms are considered as special factors of a language's vocabulary system because they reflect cultural specific characteristics of each nation, including material and spiritual values. Therefore, a lot of researchers have long shown their concerns for idioms.
Idioms are used to express ideas in figurative styles. They bring the vividness and richness to the speakers' speeches. This is the reason why the more skillfully a person use idioms in his conversations, the more effectively he can establish his communicative relationship. One more important thing is that the general present tendencies are towards idiomatic usage; therefore, knowing how to use idioms effectively in the right situations is becoming essential. Moreover, the most distinguished advantage of idioms is that they do provide users with a whole new way of expressing concepts linguistically. It can be said that idioms are the color and vitality of a language.
Several linguists have given a lot of definitions about an idiom basing on its fixed characteristics. For example, "An idiom is a fixed group of words with a special different meaning from the meaning of several words" (Dictionary of English Idioms, 1979). Sharing the same point of view, Hoang Van Hanh (1994) considered an idiom as a fixed group of words which is firm in terms of structure, complete and figurative in terms of meaning, and is widely used in daily speaking. The fixed characteristics of an idiom are as follows:
- Form: The words of an idiom are generally fixed. It means that the components forming an idiom are unchanged in using.
- Structure: The fixed characteristic of structure of an idiom is expressed by the fixed order of the components forming an idiom.
In fact, we can see a lot of idioms violating the principles of their fixed characteristics such as toswear like a bargee and to swear like a trooper, to die a dog’s death and to die like a dog in English, nước đổ đầu vịt and nước đổ lá khoai (like water off a duck’s back), giãi gió dầm mưa and dầm mưa giãi gió (to be exposed to the sun and socked with dew) in Vietnamese. This gives us some questions as follows:
Are the idioms above the idiomatic variants or synonymous idioms?
What kinds of idioms allow us to use the violation about their fixed characteristics?
What criteria make a clear distinction between idiomatic variants and synonymous idioms?
What are the similarities and differences between idiomatic variants and synonymous idioms in English and those in Vietnamese?
The questions above have not been found in any studies about idioms before. This is the reason why the author decided to make a further study on this topic. The thesis, A study on idiomatic variants and synonymous idioms in English and Vietnamese, is expected to be an interesting and helpful material for foreign language teachers and learners and for people who are interested in idioms in both English and Vietnamese.
The study, as entitled, focuses on the idiomatic variants and synonymous idioms in English and Vietnamese. Therefore, the study is aimed to:
- Present some theoretical background on idioms.
- Establish some possible criteria for the distinction between idiomatic variants and synonymous idioms.
- Gain an insightful look at idioms in general and idiomatic variants and synonymous idioms in particular in both English and Vietnamese.
- Work out the similarities and differences between English and Vietnamese in terms of idiomatic variants and synonymous idioms.
3. Scope of the study
Due to the duration of time and the length as well as the references available, this thesis does focus on the forms and contents of idiomatic variants and synonymous idioms in English and Vietnamese. The author would like to pay attention to the following questions:
- "Comparison" can be considered as a cognitive procedure, a scientific thought used in all processes of perception. It means that it is different from a basic linguistic method.
- "Contrastive analysis" is a method which has its own principles and techniques.
- "Semantics-Pragmatics", according to Do Huu Chau, is a mergence of semantics and pragmatics (semantics containing pragmatics and on the contrary).
Due to the aims and objectives of the thesis, the scope of contrastive analysis is based on the following principles and aspects:
Due to the main aims and objectives of the study, description, componential analysis and contrastive exploitation would be mainly carried out throughout the process. Also, the thesis makes use of the English language as the target and the Vietnamese one as the source language (the base language). The process, in general, can be divided into two stages which are always applied in a quick-minded and active way.
Stage 1: During the process of investigating materials from various sources, the forms, characteristics and meanings of idioms and their variants and synonyms in English and Vietnamese are described and analyzed in the relationship with cultures. Then, techniques such as comparison, transformation, and contrastive analysis are applied in a quick-minded and active way to find out a general picture about the idiomatic variants and synonymous idioms in both languages.
Stage 2: Basing on the results from stage 1, the author has taken a careful contrastive analysis to find out the similarities and differences between English and Vietnamese about the field of the study.
The sources for the analysis are from materials and references written by linguists in English and in Vietnamese as well as some bilingual reference books available in Vietnam. This will help to make clear both the similarities and the differences between the idiomatic variants and synonymous idioms in English and those in Vietnamese.
Techniques for analyzing materials:
- English and Vietnamese idiomatic variants and synonymous idioms are investigated in many of their aspects such as appearances, forms, component orders, characteristics, meaning colours, figurative styles etc. Basing on this, the author has tried to find out the similarities and differences between English idiomatic variants and synonymous idioms and Vietnamese ones.
- Description and comparison are carried in the order of different groups of subjects by using some techniques such as contrastive analysis, componential analysis, transformable analysis and statistics.
Moreover, frequent talks with the supervisor, lecturers and experts on the field have proved to be a very useful method for the completion of the study. Also, the study is carried out on the basis of the author's personal experience.
Part one, Introduction, consists of the rationale, the aims and objectives, the scope, the methods, and the design of the study.
Part two, Development, is the heart of the study which directly deals with the idiomatic variants and synonymous idioms in English and Vietnamese. This part is divided into three chapters including chapter I: Literature review and theoretical background, chapter II: Major characteristics of English and Vietnamese idioms, and chapter III: Idiomatic variants and synonymous idioms in English and Vietnamese.
The last part is the conclusion of the study as well as some suggestions for implications achieved from the discussion in the thesis and for further studies.