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Cultural Differences in English and Chinese Idioms

中文题目 英汉习语中的语言文化差异
学生姓名: 学 专 班 号: 业: 级: 褚宏川 10131140134 英语 2010 级 1 班 韩泽亭


2012 年 12 月


Cultural Differences in English and Chinese Idioms
Abstract: Language is the main carrier of culture. Idioms are the essence of a language, and also the quintessence of a nation’s culture and wisdom. English and Chinese idioms carry the different national cultural characteristics and cultural information. Among these idioms, a large number of them are connected with geography,customs, historical allusion, and religion.In order to understand these idioms clearly, this paper will analyze cultural differences from four aspects of geography, customs, historical allusion, and religion. 摘要:语言是文化的主要载体。习语是语言的本质,也是一个国家文化和智慧的精髓。 英汉习语携带不同的民族文化特色和文化信息。在这些习语中有很大一部分都与地 理、风俗、历史典故、和宗教有关。为了更加清晰的理解这些习语,本文将从地理、 风俗、历史典故、和宗教四个方面分析文化差异。 Key words:English and Chinese idioms,cultural comparison,cultural differences; 关键词:英汉习语;文化比较;文化差异



I. Introduction
Idiom is a fixed group of words or a single word, or even a sentence with a special meaning that cannot be guessed from the literal meaning of its components. “Language is the carrier container of culture, and is strongly influenced and shaped by culture.” So in order to learn English idioms, one cannot ignore the importance of the cultural meanings they contain. As the essence of languages,idioms have two features: semantic unity and structural stability. On its broad sense, idioms including set phrases, proverbs, sayings, colloquialisms, allusions and so on are an important part of the language and culture. Human’s life is closely related to geography, customs, historical allusion, and religion, and there are an increasing number of English and Chinese idioms about them which are concise, readable and vivid. And with the development of economy and science, globalization is a more and more obvious phenomenon. The relationship between countries is becoming closer and closer. In order to understand these idioms more clearly and make the international communication more effectively, it is useful and necessary to compare such idioms.

Ⅱ Reasons causing cultural differences .
Culture is an extremely complex concept and an enormous subject. Culture consists of all the shared products of human society. This means not only material things such as cities, organizations and schools, but also non-material things such as ideas, customs, family patterns, languages.In short, culture refers to the entire way of a society, or the way of people.

2.1 Different geography
Geographic environment is the foundation of humans’ existence and development, so different geographic environments have different influences on the formation and development of the nations’ culture . China is located in Eastern Asia, the west coast of Pacific Ocean. China is always a country which agriculture plays an important role since ancient time, so a large number of idioms related to agriculture have been in use. e.g. (1)槁木死灰——withered wood or cold ashes (2)骨瘦如柴——be lean as a rake (3)脚踩两只船 —— sit on the fence The UK is located in the Western Hemisphere. Living on an island, the English are keen on sailing and traveling, the English language abounds in idioms connected with


navigation . e.g. (1) all at sea——不知所措 (2)in the same boat——同舟共济 (3)Never offer to teach fish to swim——不要班门弄斧 (4)as strong as a horse—— 力大如牛

(5)drink like a horse——牛饮

2.2 Different customs
Custom is a social phenomenon, which involves various aspects of social life. Social custom is an important part of culture and it is also a critical difference between English and Chinese culture. The differences are indicated from the idioms related to animals and colors .In China, idioms related to dragon are usually positive while idioms related to dog are often negative. For example: “狐朋狗友”“狗急跳墙”“狗头”.Although in English, “dog” contains , , derogatory connotation, such as: “go to the dogs”, “die like a dog”, “lead a dog’s life”, “a sly dog”, “blush like a black dog”, “put on the dog”. However, English idioms are opposite. “Dragon” is a divine totem in the Chinese culture, and is greatly admired by the Chinese people and they consider themselves as the descendants of the dragon. Dragon is the symbol of all auspicious animals. For example: “望子成龙”, “龙腾虎跃”, “卧虎 藏龙”, “龙盘虎踞”. In English the word “dragon” symbolizes evil. Such as: “the old dragon”, “dragon’s teeth”. Additionally, Chinese people take “owl” as a symbol of bad luck. But in the UK, there is “as wise as an owl”. “owl” in English stands for wisdom. Red is usually considered as a symbol of happiness and thriving, but it is usually related to violence and blood in English.In China, “magpie” is a bird that tells people good news. In the UK, magpie is a noisy bird. e.g. (6) 狗急跳墙——a concerned beast will do something desperate (7) 乘龙快婿——an ideal son-in-law (8) Love me, love my dog——爱屋及乌 (9)a lucky dog——幸运儿 (10) the day in the sun——红极一时 (11) a red rag to a bull——激起暴怒的缘由


2.3 Influence of historical allusion
Historical allusion is rich in historical and cultural information, which has a strong ethnic color and distinctive cultural identity. It is the best to reflect the characteristics of different historical cultures.Many Chinese idioms come from fables, historical events and folk legends. e.g. (1) 亡羊补牢——It’s never too late to mend. (2) 三顾茅庐——make three calls at the thatched cottage (3) 愚公移山——how Yugong moved the mountains Compared with that, many English idioms are from ancient Greek and Roman myths and the works written by great masters such as Shakespeare . e.g. (1)at one fell swoop——刹那之间 (2) arrow of Cupid——丘比特之箭 (3)the Trojan horse——特洛伊木马

2.4 Influence of religion
Every nationality has its own religious belief and culture and it has influence on human’s values, behaviors and linguistic expression. As a result, many idioms related to religion appeared in both English and Chinese . Buddhism and Taoism are the two major religions in China’s history. On the other hand, Christianity has the biggest impact in Europe, and many English idioms are from the Bible and Christianity. e.g. (1) 借花献佛——offer a present to a guest with other people’s things (2) 道高一尺,魔高一丈——While the priest climbs a post, the devil climbs ten (3) finger on the wall——不祥之兆 (4) Forbidden fruit is sweetest——禁果分外甜

To sum up, Idioms are the essence of the national language and the part of language, and the richest in national cultural characteristics.we must learn about English and Chinese idioms through their different culture. Only that can we comprehend the aplenty and profound connotation of idioms in a better way.




[1]王振亚.语言与文化[M].北京:高等教育出版社, 2000. [2]陈瑜敏.从英语动物类习语的文化渊源分析其汉译方法[J].韶关学院学报, 2005. [3]郭建中.文化与翻译[C].北京:中国对外翻译出版社, 2000. [4]李景韩.李健.汉英习语成语对应词典[M].中国国际广播出版社.1990 [5]刘俊.动物词的比喻形象看词语与文化[J].湖北农学院, 2002.


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