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Contrastive Analysis: Euphemisms in English and Vietnamese with DEATH as examples
Instructor: Nguyen Ngoc Vu Student : Le Thi Mai Anh
“Death” is an unpleasant thing people are afraid of talking about or dealing with in their lives. Many poets and writers describe it with profound feelings in different words. For instance: Ngàn thước lên cao ngàn thước xuống Nhà ai Pha Luông mưa xa khơi Anh bạn dãi dầu không bước nữa Gục lên súng mũ bỏ quên đời ! (Tây Tiến) Tôi còn nhớ Đêm hôm qua Có người nằm cạnh Sáng nay lay mãi không thưa. (Hồi ức chiến tranh) Ngày các chị các anh nằm xuống vừa tuổi hai mươi thôi cũng đành coi như một chuyến đi về một thế giới khác (Những người chết không trẻ mãi) Đất nước gian lao chưa bao giờ bình yên Bão thổi chưa ngừng trong những vành tang trắng Anh đứng gác. Trời khuya. Đảo vắng Biển một bên và em một bên. (Thơ tình người lính biển) Mười cô gái tên vô cùng bình dị Như quê hương: Cúc, Nhỏ, Hợi, Tần… Mang Hồng Lĩnh, Lam Giang đi đánh Mỹ Nên hy sinh không giây phút ngại ngần . ( Ngã ba không có ngã ba) “Bỏ quên đời” “lay mãi không thưa” or “nằm xuống ” are those words that express the death of people in the war. As we should know, people always talk about our heroes,
and martyrs with high respect and gratitude. We hardly can see the word “die” in these poems though the writers in fact describe the death of people. So what is the purpose of this choice and its usage? The discussion below will focus on the contrast between Vietnamese and English euphemism with DEATH as examples.
I) A BRIEF OVERVIEW OF CONTRASTIVE ANALYSIS
According to Đặng Đình Thiện’s research, Contrastive Analysis is the method of analyzing the structure of any two languages to make the distinction between the aspects of the language systems, the irrespective or their generic affinity of development. Moreover, Contrastive analysis of two languages seems to be more effective when it describes similarities and differences among two or more languages at such levels as phonology, grammar, and semantics. The study started in Central Europe before the Second World War and developed afterwards in North America. In Linguistics Across Cultures , Lado( 1957) formulated the theoretical foundations of the Contrastive Analysis Hypothesis .In this book, he claimed that "those elements which are similar to [the learner's] native language will be simple for him, and those elements that are different will be difficult ". He was the first to provide a comprehensive theoretical treatment and to suggest a systematic set of technical procedures for the contrastive study of languages. He considered CA as a means of identifying areas of difficulty for language learners which includes describing the languages, comparing them and predicting learning difficulties. In the book Contrastive analysis by Carl James (1980), Contrastive analysis (CA) is not concerned with classification, as the term contrastive implies, and, although it is not concerned with language families, or other factors of language history, nor the study of “static” linguistic phenomena to merit the label synchronic, it focuses on the difference between languages than in their likenesses. CA therefore is defined as a linguistic enterprise aimed at producing inverted two-valued typologies (a CA is always concerned with a pair of languages), and founded on the assumption that languages can be compared. Besides, CA is defined as an applied linguistics. In the same book, according to Corder (1973) “ The application of linguistic knowledge to some object- or applied linguistics, as its name implies- is an activity. It is not a theoretical study. It makes use of theoretical studies. The applied linguist is a consumer, or user, not a producer, of theories”. Also "Contrastive analysis was developed and practiced in the 1950s and
1960s as application of structural linguistics to language teaching" (Richards, Platt & Platt, 1992). The Contrastive Analysis Hypothesis claimed that all the errors made in learning the L2 could be attributed to 'interference' by the L1. Moreover, many errors predicted by CA were not discovered in learners' language. Therefore, it’s obvious to see that CA could not predict learning difficulties, and just give explanation of errors, which weakened the appeal of Contrastive Analysis. ( Wiki)
Language is a useful means of communication. It allows people to convey, exchange ideas and elaborate their perspectives. However, there are many forms and styles of language. Different countries and religions have different styles of speaking. Instead of using words as a normal way to express ideas, people have various ways to do that. For example, if you don’t like a bracelet your friend gives you on your birthday, it’s impolite to say “I don’t like it!. It should be “I already have one like this, anyway, thanks!, which may please your friend much more .Therefore, people can express what they think in appropriate ways to make the communication smoothly and comfortable. Among these, euphemism is one of effective ways of communication. It is defined in Longman dictionary of contemporary English (2003), a euphemism is the use of a pleasanter, less direct name for something thought to be unpleasant The English word euphemism originally comes from the Greek word ευφημία
(euphemia), meaning "the use of words of good omen" which in turn is derived from the Greek root-words eu (ευ), "good/well" + pheme (φήμι) "speech/speaking" (Wiki). A euphemism is a proper language pattern which people create in social communication so as to make the communication effective and to take place the unpleasant expression. There are two kinds of euphemism : traditional euphemisms and stylistic euphemisms. Traditional euphemisms are related to taboo like illness, sex, dead and other expressions which are rude, harsh and impolite if they are showed directly.
Stylistic euphemisms show speaker’s praise or complement. In daily conversation, people often use inflated language to show politeness and to save from trouble. (http://www.docstoc.com/docs/17727220/On-Features-of-English-Euphemisms)
III) CONTRASTIVE ANALYSIS: EUPHEMISMS IN ENGLISH AND VIETNAMESE WITH DEATH AS EXAMPLES
Death is not what people expect in their lives but they have to take it for granted. Death brings us sorrows, sadness, and big loss of our beloved ones. That’s the reason why people don’t want talk about it directly because Death is an unpleasant thing that may depict deep sorrows. The English and Vietnamese language contains numerous euphemisms related to dying, death, burial, and the people and places which deal with death, a painful fact. In the war, people always talk about the death of soldiers with high respect, so they try not to use the word “die”. People have many different ways of euphemism to talk about that in order to avoid hurting and showing disrespect to the dead people. Nowadays, euphemisms for death are quite popular. People use this to make the pain released when they want to talk about death of their relatives, their acquaintances. However, sometimes that negative euphemism is used depends on the attitudes and the feelings of the speaker to the dead person. Despite whatever languages, the way people deal with the word “death” share the target purposes and usages. Thus, both Vietnamese and English have a vast practice of using euphemism for death. The First euphemisms for death aim to show sympathy and respect to relatives and friends and play as a milder way to regard feeling and reduce sadness. Instead of using the word “chết”, Vietnamese people want to make the death less painful by some words such as: nhắm mắt xuôi tay, không còn ở bên chúng ta nữa,hy sinh, từ giã cõi đời, nằm xuống, qua đời, từ trần,lâm chung, ra đi, tạ thế, trút hơi thở cuối cùng, lên đường, nhắm mắt, yên nghỉ, , "về chín suối", "lên thiên đàng", "xuống địa ngục" , khuất núi, đi xa, ngừng thở, tắt thở, qui tiên, ,rời bỏ chúng ta, mất,về cõi vĩnh hằng, về nơi suối vàng" , an nghỉ, không còn nữa, hai năm mươi, đứt bóng… However, these
words are not equally used in any situation. For example, we may say “Bác đã về cõi vĩnh hằng”,“Bác đã đi xa”, not “Bác đã hy sinh” or “Bác đã hai năm mươi ” because we should consider the age, the position of him in society, the situation in which he dies and also our feelings about his death ( Is it respectable or not?). In addition, Vietnamese tend to recall and worship their ancestors and consider that dead means về với tổ tiên, về với ông bà, thăm các cụ, , "về với các cụ" … In English, the practice of using euphemisms for death is likely to have come from the magical belief. People are afraid of speaking out the word "death" because they think that it’s a way to invite death- a bad fortune. It’s a common sense that death is a taboo subject in most English-speaking cultures for this reason. We also have: passed away, deceased or departed, have gone to a better place, No longer with us; be no more; cease to breathe; cease to live; close one’s eyes; left us; lost; breathe one’s last … .English people define that a person never die, but fading quickly because the end is near. (Wiki) Secondly, people tend to use some euphemisms for death that are related to religion. Religion is a set of beliefs that affect our lives in many different ways, so has a strong influence on culture and language. Different countries have different popular religions with which their language and culture are influenced. For example, in Vietnamese, Christianity and Buddhism are two most popular religions. Christian often talk about death with their own language such as gặp Đấng sáng tạo, về với Chúa,… While Buddha assumes that death is when people fly into another life to enjoy happiness. When a person dies, he or she leaves the pains and sorrows behind, so people tend to view death as an escape for their life. Many phrases related to death are very colorful and hopeful about a new life such as đi về thế giới khác, siêu thoát, hết đau đớn, thoát khổ bể khổ, giấc ngàn thu, đi Tây phương, được giải thoát, xuống suối vàng…. That’s why religious people believe that what they do when they’re alive may affect their lives after death. A person just deserves a wonderful life in Heaven only when he or she is conscientious, or else, he or she may jump into the Hell. Christianity is the most popular religion in English. A person has gone to a better place is one way to reduce the pain of death, but this is used primarily among the
religious with a concept of Heaven. They assume that the meaning of “die” just simply: was taken to Jesus, asleep with Jesus/ Christ; fall asleep in the arms of Jesus; fallen asleep in the Lord, gone to his heavenly Father; in the arms of Father; come to Jesus; departed to God; met his/her Maker; go home; called home; answer the last call; go to one’s last home. Some Christians often use phrases such as gone to be with the Lord or called to higher or "graduated" to express their belief that physical death is not the end, but the beginning of the fuller realization of redemption. (Wiki) Thirdly, both Vietnamese and English have different ways to describe death according to their attitudes and emotions. In Vietnamese, there is a plenty of way to describe death such as toi, nghoẻo, tiêu đời, đứt, mất mạng, "tèo rồi" , " tiêu rồi" , " đứt rồi”, “ngủm củ tỏi” “chầu diêm vương” “đi buôn chuối” ect . These words express negative point of view of the speaker. Like Vietnamese, English also use some euphemisms which are not really polite, even negative, as well as dysphemisms such as worm food, or dead meat, or brown bread.
IV) IMPLICATION ON TEACHING
According to Lado (1957), it is absolutely necessary for teacher to know both languages and to have compared them because he believes that “ the student who comes in contact with a foreign language will find some features of it quite easy and others extremely difficult” It is obvious that learning process causes much trouble for learners, especially with language use in daily life. Thus, helping students to differentiate between L1 and L2 is the most effective way to help them realize the would-be mistakes, remember and apply the language appropriately in reality. In addition, in “The significance of contrastive analysis in foreign language teaching” (Kanarakis), J.C. Catford (1959) confirms that it is fairly widely recognized that the comparison of L1 and L2 provides important background material in second language teaching. This means that the contrast between 2 languages brings us an overview of the target language we’ll learn and predicts some problems that may appear during the learning process.
Overall, in this research, it’s said that a comparison of student’s native language and the language to be learned furnishes a basis for a better description of the language, the preparation of teaching materials, the evaluation of the language of the textbook, and the ability to supplement inadequate materials. Therefore, teacher plays a very important part in guiding students and help them get through the similarities and differences between his mother tongue and the target language in order to improve his knowledge and not to mistake two languages due to interference from their native language, which is more emphasized in contrastive analysis. Finally, euphemisms contribute to teaching foreign language. This kind of speech art appears across cultures. Learning this can help student improve their knowledge of the world. For example, a Vietnamese know how many words and phrases can be used to express the meaning of “death” in both their native language and target language. Understand the situation in which each term is used and apply it in suitable condition may enrich students’ language use. Although people have the same purpose when using this speech art, also no one can deny its benefits, it has some drawbacks. The negative impact of euphemism may be the avoidance of losing face that leads to cheating or deceiving other people, or sometimes people use euphemism to give a negative attitude. For example, they use the word “ ngủm củ tỏi” to talk about someone who they hate has died. Thus, we should apply its usage in suitable situation in order not to fail in communication. In conclusion, euphemism makes the conversation more smoothly and successfully because it helps us to show our respect to the listeners and to express our feelings in the right way. As a teacher to be, we should consider what to teach and how to teach our students in order to help them improve their knowledge and apply it in the proper direction.
1) Lado, R. (1957). Linguistics across cultures: Applied linguistics for language teachers. University of Michigan Press: Ann Arbor 2) James C. (1980). Contrastive analysis. Longman Group Ltd. 3) Kanarakis G. The significance of contrastive analysis in foreign language teaching. University of Athens. 4) “Contrastive Analysis”. en.wikipedia.org 28Nov.2010 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Contrastive_analysis 5) “Euphemism”. en.wikipedia.org 28Nov.2010 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Euphemism
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