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University of Pedagogy, Ho Chi Minh City English Department ***

A contrastive analysis of Vietnamese and English Metaphor

Instructor: Ph.D Nguyen Ngoc Vu Student: Class: Phan Thi Ngoc Thach 4B06

A contrastive Analysis of Vietnamese and English Metaphors

Abstract In his book Dan Luan Ngon Ngu Hoc, Nguyen Thien Giap provide readers a fun story: Once upon a time, an English aristocrat forced his servants to use the special names for his possession. For example, the best gentleman for his name, the white swan for his bed, the red cock for the fire, the monkey with a moustache for his cat, the deep blue pond for water, and the best mountain for his house. One day, a servant came to him and said respectfully that the best gentleman, please quickly move away from your white swan. A red cock fell into your red monkey with a moustache. If you dont mind, take the deep blue pond immediately, or else, Im afraid that the red cock would eat up your best mountain. It took the aristocrat such a long time to understand that his house was completely fired (82)

Many metaphors are used in the funny story above. The white swan is a metaphor of his bed. The red cock and the monkey with a moustache are also metaphors. Metaphors penetrate into the fables, fairy tales, and on utterances in daily life. Metaphors are both similar and various across cultures. This research is aimed at making clear the likeliness and the differences of Vietnamese and English metaphors. Furthermore, we would like to suggest some application of those similarities and variances in teaching as well as some ways of giving a better understanding about metaphors in the classroom

A contrastive Analysis of Vietnamese and English Metaphors

1. Meaning change phenomenon Causes of meaning change phenomenon Metaphor is a subpart of meaning change phenomenon. In his work, Dan Luan Ngon Ngu Hoc, Nguyen Thien Giap (81) clarifies the meaning change phenomenon into three causes

The most important reason is the social environment. Language is lifes reflector. Social life is changing everyday. Obviously, language is also changing. The social environment is, mainly, the demanding of keeping secret and the need of using ornate style. In term of the keeping secret demand, we can take cm as example. Foreigners could hardly understand the meaning of the word cm in the sentence: bn cm n ri ka, chun thi, uttered by two men sitting in a caf shop. cm means the police. In term of the ornate style, we can pick up thousands of examples, in both English and Vietnamese. In Vietnamese, we can see the ornate style very clearly in the fork song below: By gi mn mi hi o Vn hng c ai vo hay cha Mn and o mean I and you. These words not only carry the basic meaning I and you but also convey a positive connotation which indicate the longing for getting acquainted with the opposite. It is somehow similar to the English use of my kitten, not a young cat but a cute woman of whom the speakers fond.

The second reason of meaning change phenomenon is the linguistic reason. The frequent use of a word makes the word change its meaning. For instance, when browsing Vietnamese forums, we can see lots of Vietnamese use bc to indicate the person they are talking with, instead of bn anh, ch.... This word indicates the politeness since netizens do not know (or not sure) with whom they are talking. This habit makes the meaning of bc change one way or another.

A contrastive Analysis of Vietnamese and English Metaphors

One more example is the use of man in English. A man means a male. However, people also use this word the same as human beings. Therefore, the meaning of man is changed.

The last main reason of meaning change phenomenon is the psychological status of a speaker. The moods of speakers at a momentary time will add more colors to his or her utterances. For example, one will say con ra ny b chm gh to his friend when he is waiting hourly downloading a file on the internet. Con ra ny is a metaphor of the computer he is using. We can also find the same example in English.

1.2 Three common kinds of meaning change phenomena In Dan Luan Ngon Ngu Hoc, Nguyen Thien Giap (84) describes the meaning change phenomenon in three types. The first type of meaning change phenomenon is to extend the meaning of a word. For example, the word p is basically used for describing the outside of something. Now, it is widely used in some other areas, such as relationship (p li) or mentality (p lng). Another example is the word angle in English. The Oxford English Advanced Learner Dictionary (49) states that angle means the space between two lines or surfaces that join, measured in degrees. Time passes, people also use angle as an aspect, like an angle of a problem, an angle of a vision.

The second type of meaning change phenomenon is to curtail the meaning of a word. To illustrate this point, we can use mi in Vietnamese and compose in English as examples. In Vietnamese, mi is a word that prefers to the smell of something. However, when it is in the sentence thc n ny c mi ri, mi means something sour. The food is spoilt. The meaning is curtailed from the general sense of odor to a specific smell, a sour small. Another example is compose. Compose is generally used with the meaning as make up or write music (The Oxford English Advanced 4

A contrastive Analysis of Vietnamese and English Metaphors

Learner Dictionary, 297). On the other hand, the words compose in he is composing his feeing means that hes calm and able to control his feeling. In order word, the meaning of compose is curtailed.

The last type of meaning change phenomenon is changing the meaning of a word. The meaning does not change completely but somehow related to the basic meaning. It consists of metaphor and metonymy. Metonymy is the act of using somethings name for something else in the case that the two things have close relationship. For example, nh ti is used to talk about v ti (wife). Whitehouse is for the US President. Metaphor will be analyzed clearer in the next part of the research.

2. Metaphors definition According to the Oxford Advanced Learners Dictionary (925), metaphor is a word or phrase used to describe somebody or something else, in a way that is different from its normal use, in order to show that the two things have the same qualities and to make the description more powerful. For example, Bt n xanh in the sentence c y bt n xanh cho ti is a metaphor. It is figuratively used to describe another different concept giving the encouragement. In addition, it is obviously that this metaphor created more power in the utterance. Another example is I give him an earful. It figuratively describes the angry I want to give him. It creates the strength in the utterance.

3. Some kinds of Vietnamese and English metaphors 3.1 About Vietnamese metaphors There are various ways of categorizing Vietnamese metaphor. Among them, the category sorted by Do Huu Chau and Nguyen Thien Giap are the most reliable. Based on the meaning change mechanism, in His book Tu vung Hoc Tieng Viet, Do Huu Chau (134) divides metaphors into five subparts: The first kind is metaphors based on form. This kind of metaphor based on the similarities in the outside appearance. For example, mi dao, chn bn. 5

A contrastive Analysis of Vietnamese and English Metaphors

The second kind is metaphors based on position. For example, u lng, di sn. The third kind is metaphors based on method of action. For example, ct and nm in ct h khu, nm bi. The next kind is metaphors based on function like bn sng, bn tu. The last kind is metaphors based on the result (of utterance into the feeling of listeners) as li ni chua cht, mu vng nh.

Based on Nguyen Thien Giaps Tu Vung Hoc Tieng Viet (163), there are eight kinds of metaphors: Firstly, metaphors is based on form like mi kim, rng lc. Secondly, metaphors are based on colors. For example, mu ru, mu chm. Thirdly, metaphors are based on function as n du, n in. Fourthly, metaphors are based on inner features. For example, ngh c c, tnh cm phai nht. Next, metaphors are based on the outer features, such as Ch pho, Hon th. Next, metaphors is based on the concretization of the abstract concepts like nm ngoi ng:, nm tnh hnh. Next, metaphors are based on the use of animals names for man. For example, con ch con ca m, mo ca anh. Last, metaphors are based on the use of one characteristic for another, such as thi gian i, con tu chy.

In term of the likeliness, they both have some subparts like metaphor based on form, function, method. In term of the differences, the numbers of subparts are different since the category of Nguyen Thien Giap is more specific; however, the content is quite the same. Therefore, Vietnamese metaphor should not be sorted as clear-cut categories.

A contrastive Analysis of Vietnamese and English Metaphors

3.2 About English metaphors English metaphors are as various as Vietnamese metaphors. According to Wikipedia, therere 4 common kinds of metaphor: Dead metaphors are metaphors that do not have the image transfers. Since dead metaphors are used frequently in everyday life, people tend not to regard those as metaphors, e.g. to break the ice. Extended metaphors are mainly based on the comparisons between the two subjects, the subject and the comparable subject. For example, anger is a fire is an extended metaphor of whose main subject is anger and of whose comparable subject is fire. Mixed metaphors are a succession of two or more than two metaphors. For example, if we can hit that bulls eye then the rest of the dominoes will fall like a house of cards. Absolute metaphors express concepts that cannot be understood by any other ways but its only way. For example, talking about light, people will never think about unfairness or untruths but justice and rightness.

According to Nguyen Ngoc Vu, therere 4 main kinds of metaphors. Conceptual metaphors are understood based on the opposite concept. For example, love is a journey is a conceptual metaphor since the concept love is defined suitably as a journey in which people must try hard in order to reach the final destination. Structural metaphors are understood in the way of conceptual metaphor. However, the difference is the structural metaphor is explanation by another structural concept. For instance, she doesnt believe that hes two-timing her. Orientational metaphors are metaphors that the two concepts have some relationship with each other. Up and down is a typical example of orientational metaphor. When a person is happy or when he has a positive feeling, he often attaches that feeling with up (Im feeling up today) and vice versa (you let me down)

A contrastive Analysis of Vietnamese and English Metaphors

Ontological metaphors are metaphor that based on the concrete concept. The concrete concepts define the abstract concepts. For example, childrens mind is a blank page.

To sum up, we see that English metaphors are also divided by various ways. The numbers of English as well as Vietnamese subparts of metaphors are based on the specific framings, and the specific purpose of each author. Therefore, to some extend, metaphors should not be defined as straightforward categories.

4. The similarities of Vietnamese and English metaphors 4.1 In term of their components

Despite the variation metaphor have, Wikipedia states they are both consist of two parts: the tenor and the vehicle (qtd. in I. A. Richard). The tenor (or the target) is the subject to which attributes are ascribed. The vehicle is the subject who attributes are borrowed.

The first example is bt n xanh as an example. Since we cannot find out the two parts clearly, we can say that its metaphor is hidden. The actual metaphor is c y khuyn khch ti tip tc(she gave me a good response like a green light). Therefore, the tenor is khuyn khch (a good response or something like that). The vehicle is bt n xanh. The similarities on which the metaphor is based is both allow people or thing continue doing something.

The second example is Michael is a Barbie girl one sees that his friend- Michael is beautiful, and attractive. He will say, Michael is a Barbie girl. The tenor is Michael. The vehicle is a Barbie girl. The similarity on which the metaphor is based is the two are both beautiful and active. In general, we can see that both English and Vietnamese metaphors have two parts (the tenor and the vehicle) and the common ground.

A contrastive Analysis of Vietnamese and English Metaphors

4.2 In term of their function 4.2.1 They both serve as a way of changing the basic meaning. The purpose of meaning change is to make the words more vivid, and serving a personal purpose (like keeping secret, being requested).

Let us take some metaphors about body part as examples. Some words like u-head , mt-eye, mi-nose, and mtfaceappeared very early to name after the parts in the body in order to help people distinguish each kind of body part as well as distinguish their outside appearances, functions and positions via the specific meaning of each word. For example, u-head is a top part of the body, contained the brain. Chn-foot is the last part of the body, for going out and around.

Basing on the basic meaning of those words, people develop hundred of words to name for hundred of things in case those words have some characteristics in common. For example, in Vietnamese, the word u ging indicates the top of the bed, in English, the word the head of a bed to talk about that. In Vietnamese mi sng hints at the pointed part of a gun, in English, the use of the nose of a gun mentions that part.

The other examples are: Bodys parts Head Vietnamese English

u t, u ging, u of a queue, of a bed, of nm stairs


Mt bn, mt gh, mt of a watch, of a building t

Eye Nose

Mt da, mt tre

of a potato, of an animal

Mi tn, mi dao, mi of an aircraft, of a gun giy

Neck Hands

C chai, c l Tay li, tay cm

Bottle-neck of a watch, of an altimeter

A contrastive Analysis of Vietnamese and English Metaphors

In the examples above, we see that metaphors serve as a way of using the basic meaning of one subject for the other subjects, making words functionally various.

Diggings deeper, we found out metaphors are not only the way of using the basic meaning of one subject for the other subjects but also a means of creating other meanings from the basic meanings. For example, apart from the meaning the first part, the word head also has some other meanings. Firstly, it is used with a positive connotation (the honored position or the leader) like ng u in Vietnamese and the head of the department in English. Secondly, it is used with negative connotation (based on the function of controlling the brain) as cng u, u b in Vietnamese and bull-headed in English. Metaphor serves as a way of changing the basic meaning of subjects for the use of the other subjects.

4.2.2 They both serve as cognitive mechanism. There is a popular idea that metaphor exist only in language. That is because language is much easier to be observed than thought and action. However, metaphor is more universal than that. Human beings not only use metaphors in language but also use metaphor in both their language and action. In other words, people think about the world metaphorically and act metaphorically. Moreover, the process of thought and action, using metaphor, is often conscious.

Argument is war is a typical example of the way people use metaphor as cognitive mechanism In Vietnamese: H tn cng vo im yu trong bi pht biu ca ti. Ti nh gc mi l l ca bn h. H khng bao gi thng khi tranh lun vi ti. Ti lun tnh to to ra chin lc phn cng trc nhng li cng kch ca h.


A contrastive Analysis of Vietnamese and English Metaphors

In English: I knock down their argument. Shoot me! I am listening to you. They never won any arguments with me. I protect my viewpoint.

In a real argument, we regard the opposite as our enemies. We attack them in order to protect ourselves by planning s strategy. In addition, the most important thing is that we can win or lose. Many concepts about war are used in argument- a war of verbal messages. The core of metaphor is the understanding of one thing based on the characteristic of something else. Argument and war are two different concepts. However, argument is presented as war since on cognitive mechanism, arguments are seen as wars.

Another example is time. We really think of time in the view of cognitive mechanism. In Vietnamese: Thit b ny s gip tit kim c thi gian. Sp ht thi gian lm bi. H rt trn trng nhng giy pht bn nhau.

In English: You are wasting your time in a useless effort. How do you spend your time? We are running out of time.

Time in the examples above is priceless goods. It is a limited property, which is used in a certain way to get a certain result or purpose. In our modern society, a business is closely attached to time. For example, workers are paid based on time (part-time jobs), hotels charge their customers by how much time they stay, the interests is charged by the borrow time. Those things exist in our society now and will be continued in the future. Therefore, time is connected with money, and even, time is money.

To sum up, the human beings thought and action through the cognitive mechanism influence the use of metaphors and present by the metaphors.


A contrastive Analysis of Vietnamese and English Metaphors

5. The differences between Vietnamese and English metaphors 5.1 In term of the logical thinking The logical thinking of Vietnamese and the English-speaking community are distinctively different. When they conventionalize phenomena, the process of conceptualization between Vietnamese and English-speaking community are different. Therefore, they have different kinds of expressing their thought via their ideas.

For example, Vietnameses conventionalization of the beginning of a river is ca sng. In English, the word river mouth expresses the beginning of a river. The word ca in Vietnamese is recognized as mouth in English. Vietnamese, when they want to mention the eye of a needle, will use the word l kim. In English, the eye of a needle is verbalized as eye of a needle. l is comprehended aseye.

In the two examples above, all the English ones contain words of bodys parts like eye or mouth. The examples in Vietnamese do not contain any words like that. We cannot state that Englishs minds are more specific and relating to the concrete object than Vietnameses minds. In addition, we cannot say that Vietnamese have a richer source of vocabularies than English does, too. The only conclusion is that the ideas are conveyed in different ways since the logical thinking are different.

5.2 In term of the cultural features Talking about metaphors, there will be a shortcoming if we do not mention the relationship between the language and the culture. The culture is a very important element of forming the soul of the peoples. Therefore, it contributes partly to the language use.

Let us take some Vietnamese and English idioms as examples. Idioms are also a kind of metaphors since it is also the way of using words or phrases different from their literal meanings and makes the description more vivid or powerful.


A contrastive Analysis of Vietnamese and English Metaphors

The idiom n gy tai tru is a Vietnamese idiom talking about some useless efforts that are unable to influence the listeners. In English, that idea is voiced by the idiom cast pearls before swine. In the two idiom above, n and pearls have the same figurative meaning, the effort which the speaker does to influence the listener. Gi and cast are figuratively

understood as the action to carry out those efforts. The only difference and the main difference between the two idioms are tru (buffalo) and swine.

There are some reasons for the use of tru in Vietnamese. Firstly, in Vietnamese consciousness, buffaloes are the very familiar animal (and even the holy animal), as in the fork song below: Tru i ta bo tru ny, Tru ra ngoi rung tru cy vi ta. Cy cy vn nghip nng gia, Ta y tru y ai m qun cng. Secondly, buffaloes are assiduous. Despite the working condition, buffaloes work with farmers. Basing on the two reasons above, the idiom n gy tai tru come in to exist in Vietnamese. It indicates the attitude of not listening to the others ideas.

If we translate the idiom cast pearls before swine into Vietnamese, it means vi ngc trc by ln. Vietnamese, when hearing this, will misunderstand the meaning, which the English idiom conveys. Ln (swine) in Vietnamese conceptions is considered as a stupid animal. For example, Vietnamese are usually saying ngu nh heo(or ngu nh ln). Therefore, the languages (especially metaphors) which present thoughts and action are various.


A contrastive Analysis of Vietnamese and English Metaphors

Some other differences in expressing the thoughts via idioms are: The content of metaphor Vietnamese Doing some very difficult M kim y bin task that are unable to get a good result Using deeper scheme to V qut dy c mng win the others tay nhn Kill two birds with one stone Ch vng nh, g mc ui tm When the cat s away, the mice will play Diamond cuts diamonds English You cant get blood out of stone

Combining one task with Mt cng i vic another task Someone enjoy themselves more and freely when the person in charge of them is away (Note: the underline words indicate the differences)

Another example is the metaphor about jealousy in Vietnamese and English. If a Vietnamese woman is always following her husband or her lover like a shadow and has negatively strong reaction to any girl who intends to approach her object, she is regard as Hon Th. The notion as ghen nh hon th began to exist since the great Vietnamese Poem, Nguyen Du, write Kieu, a work telling about the destiny of Vietnamese woman in the feudal system. Vietnamese read Kieu. Vietnamese declaim Keu. Kieu is so famous that it takes root in Vietnameses soul, becoming the standard of behavior.

In English, talking about jealous, people will use the image of Othello. Othello is a famous work of W. Shakespeare. Jealousy likes a green-eye monster, it obsessed and controlled Othellos mind. Since he was always blaming his wife as infidelity woman, he made many unpardonable mistakes. At the end, the marriage of both Othello and his wife, Desdemona ended in a tragedy.


A contrastive Analysis of Vietnamese and English Metaphors

In the two ways of talking about jealousy, Hon Th and Othello, we also see the differences in the culture. Vietnamese has a famous fork song: t no m t chng cay Gi no m gi chng hay ghen chng Therefore, woman often causes jealousy, to the Vietnameses mind. However, in English, the jealousy is prejudiced against men. Both Kieu and Othello are so famous that they make strong influences to the culture of the two languages-Vietnamese and English

In conclusion, the difference in the verbalization between English and Vietnamese is due to the impact of cultural elements. That culture is different causes the variations in language.

5. The application of metaphors Metaphors are a very important part of language use. It is widespread use. Therefore, understanding metaphor will help the student much, especially in enriching their vocabularies in order to have more ideas in putting more strength into their languages expression.

Firstly, metaphors help the student in comprehending a reading text. How can the students completely understand the message without the knowledge about metaphors? They need to begin to understand by trying to find the literal meaning first. After that, they need to imagine getting the figurative message.

Secondly, metaphors help much in the students writing. Reading is a perceptive skill; writing is a productive skill. Writing is somehow more active than reading. There are some tasks that the teacher could in the classroom to help the student realizing the importance of metaphors. To begin with, the teachers could provide the student some model sentences that contained metaphor and ask the student to infer the figurative meaning of the metaphor. In addition, the teacher could suggest the students brainstorming any words 15

A contrastive Analysis of Vietnamese and English Metaphors

they like; after that, using the dictionary to find out the metaphors related to those words as much as possible. Last but not least, the teacher also could ask a student draw a picture, asking them to find the metaphors related to any parts of the pictures, explain and discuss in the classroom

Those tasks are somehow limited since it seems to be artificial. However, without them, how can the teacher help the students realizing the importance of metaphors? Therefore, those activities should be carried out first. Later on, the teachers job is to help the student know that metaphors are understood by the conceptual mind of human beings and can de adapted or adopted. Therefore, the student themselves can renew their language by adapting or adopting the metaphors.


A contrastive Analysis of Vietnamese and English Metaphors


Chau, Do Huu. Tu vung Hoc Tieng Viet. Ha Noi: Hanoi: Vietnam National University publisher, 2007. Giap, Nguyen Thien, Doan Thien Thuat, and Nguyen Minh Thuyet. Dan Luan Ngon Ngu Hoc. Ha Noi: Giao Duc Publisher,2006. Giap, Nguyen Thien. Tu Vung Hoc Tieng Viet. Ha Noi: Giao Duc Publisher, 2008. Oxford English Advanced Learner Dictionary. A S Hornby. 7th Ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1948 Richards, Inov Armstrong. The Philosophy of Rhetoric . Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1936. Vu, Nguyen Ngoc. Conceptual metaphor analysis of English and Vietnamese body part idioms. Elearning.khoaanh.net. 20 Dec 2009 <http://elearning.khoaanh.net/file.php/6/Topic12_Cognitive_Linguisti cs/Conceptual_metaphor_analysis_of_English_and_Vietnamese_b ody_part_idioms.pdf > Wikipedia. Conceptual metaphor. 17 December 2009. 20 Dec 2009 <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conceptual_metaphor >