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PROVERBS AND IDIOMS RELATED TO ANIMALS IN ENGLISH AND VIETNAMESE

Running head: PROVERBS AND IDIOMS RELATED TO ANIMALS IN ENGLISH AND VIETNAMESE

Proverbs and Idioms Related to Animals in English and Vietnamese:


A Contrastive Analysis and Educational Implications
Le Thi Thu Hien
Class 4C-06
University of Pedagogy

PROVERBS AND IDIOMS RELATED TO ANIMALS IN ENGLISH AND VIETNAMESE

Abstract
One of the most typical elements of the implication of culture in language is the
use of proverbs and idioms. In communicative English, there are a huge number of
idioms and proverbs, and they are used very often in everyday conversation. The use of
proverbs and idioms causes many troubles for English learners because sometimes
they are very confusing. Therefore, English teachers have to teach the students not only
the knowledge about the language but also the knowledge about English culture so that
the students can communicate well.
Animals play a very important role in many culture include English culture and
Vietnamese culture. A large portion of proverbs and idioms in English as well as in
Vietnamese contain the images of animals. There are some outstanding similarities and
differences between them. Within understanding this, English teachers and English
learners can deal with proverbs and idioms much easier. However, there is so few
works focus on this issue. For this reason, this paper aims at categorizing the
similarities and differences of proverbs and idioms related to animals in English and
Vietnamese as well as giving out some explanation. On this basic, it also offers some
educational implications for English teachers and learners to make there teaching and
learning more effective.

PROVERBS AND IDIOMS RELATED TO ANIMALS IN ENGLISH AND VIETNAMESE

I. Introduction
We all know that language is the most important mean of communication in the
world. However, only when both the speakers and the listeners have a common
understanding about each other can they communicate effectively. Actually, the culture
and the language are considered the two sides of a paper; both are inseparable from
each other and from the social context. In communication as well as in language
teaching, the culture elements are getting more and more important. Knowing the target
languages culture helps second language learners comprehend the knowledge of that
language more effectively.
One of the most typical elements of the implication of culture in language is the
use of proverbs and idioms. In communicative English, there are a huge number of
idioms and proverbs, and they are used very often in everyday conversation. The use of
proverbs and idioms causes many troubles for English learners because sometimes
they are very confusing. Therefore, English teachers have to teach the students not only
the knowledge about the language but also the knowledge about English culture so that
the students can communicate well.
Animals play a very important role in many cultures including English culture and
Vietnamese culture. A large portion of proverbs and idioms in English as well as in
Vietnamese contain the images of animals. There are some outstanding similarities and
differences between them. Within understanding this, English teachers and English
learners in Vietnam can deal with proverbs and idioms much easier. However, there is
so few works focus on this issue. For this reason, this paper aims at categorizing the
similarities and differences of proverbs and idioms related to animals in English and

PROVERBS AND IDIOMS RELATED TO ANIMALS IN ENGLISH AND VIETNAMESE

Vietnamese as well as giving out some explanation. On this basic, it also offers some
educational implications for English teachers and learners to make there teaching and
learning more effective.
II. Literary review
1. Proverbs
There is a variety of definition for the term proverbs. Some say proverbs are
short statements of wisdom or advice that have passed into general use, others say
they are succinct and pithy sayings that are in general use and expresses commonly
held ideas and beliefs. However the most sophisticate one is Meiders, a prominent
proverb scholar in the United States, in the book Proverbs: A Handbook (2004).
According to Meider, a proverb is a simple, concrete and popular saying, which
expresses the truth, the wisdom, moral lessons, and traditional norms based on
common sense or the practical experience of humanity. They are usually expressed in
simile, fixed, easy to remember and are passed though generations.
They are often borrowed from similar languages and cultures, and sometimes
come down to the present through more than one language (Questia) and almost every
culture has examples of its own. The study of proverbs has been approached from
many different points of view: personal, formal, religious, cultural, cognitive and so on.
Subgenres include proverbial comparisons (e.g. as busy as a bee), proverbial
interrogatives (e.g. Does a chicken have lips?) and twin formulas (e.g. give and take)
(Meider 2004).

PROVERBS AND IDIOMS RELATED TO ANIMALS IN ENGLISH AND VIETNAMESE

2. Idioms
In Longman Idioms Dictionary, an idiom is defined as a sequence of words has a
different meaning as a group from the meaning it would have if you understood each
word separately (Stern 1998). In other words, idioms are expressions which have a
meaning that is not obvious from the individual words. For example, the idiom to have a
cow means to be extremely angry and upset, but we can not know this just by looking
at the words. The best way to understand an idiom is to see it in context. If someone
says: She had a cow when she knew that her son smoked. Then the context and the
common sense tell us that to have a cow means something different from giving birth
to a cow. The context tells us the woman experienced a very strong and negative filling.
There are various types of idioms which are categorized based on there form.
We have idioms containing a verb and an object, e.g. to kill two birds with one stone,
to let the wolf into the fold. We also have idioms that are formed by using simile like
as blind as a bat, as cunning as a fox, mouse quite There are other types of
idioms such as prepositional phrases, compound, binomial (word + and + word),
trinomial (word + word + and + word), whole clause or sentence.
Most idioms are fixed in their form, and can not be changed or varied.
Sometimes, however, the grammar or the vocabulary can be varied slightly. For
example, occasionally an idiom in the active can be used in the passive (e.g. to pass
the buck can be changed into buck had been passed), and some verb-based idioms
may have the noun-compounding form (e.g. buck-passing). In some idioms, one or
more words can be varied. Take the idiom to have a cow as an example, we can say to
have kittens instead if a cow and still have the same meaning. There are many other

PROVERBS AND IDIOMS RELATED TO ANIMALS IN ENGLISH AND VIETNAMESE

illustrations for this such as lamb/ sheep/ bullock to the slaughter, to die/ fall/ drop like
flies In Vietnamese we also have ni nh so/ vt/ kt, ngu nh heo/ b, khe nh
voi/ tru
3. Proverbs versus idioms
Proverbs and idioms, like species, evolve. They are vast in imagery; they are
familiar, and easy to learn. Both idioms and proverbs are part of our daily speech that
contains peoples knowledge about the world. However, to have a clear border between
idiom and proverb is still being a controversial issue among the scholars. If you say,
The cat's out of the bag instead of The secret is given away, you're using an idiom.
The meaning of an idiom is different from the actual meaning of the words used. An
apple a day keeps the doctor away is a proverb. People said that because they
believed the apple had magical powers to cure illness. Proverbs are old but familiar
sayings that usually state something commonly experienced or give advice. However,
things are not that easy. Most proverbs have metaphorical meaning and this makes
them more like idioms. Anyway, just let sleeping dogs lie because the focus of this
paper is not separating idioms and proverbs. Instead, we consider the images of
animals in images in proverbs and idioms in English and Vietnamese.
4. Animals images in proverbs and idioms
According to Jones (2007), animals have always played an important part in
culture. People revere some animals. Others are pets we love and view as family
members. Some we gaze at from afar in their wild habitats. Still others are raised or
hunted for food and some are used to help ease a man's workload. Because animals
are so close to humans life, they have a very strong influence on many aspects of

PROVERBS AND IDIOMS RELATED TO ANIMALS IN ENGLISH AND VIETNAMESE

humans culture every where in the world. They play a very important role in religion, art
and especially in language.
Animal diction occupies an important place in the realm of peoples imaginations.
Thanks to the use of animals, the language tends to convey a full intellectual image of
the societies. Animals make our language pregnant with symbols (Abdessalami). Man
is intelligent; he doesnt want to use too many long wining sentences to express an
idea. Instead, he tends to draw short-cuts to reach the exact meaning he wants to
deliver. He usually uses animals in his metaphors, similes, references to previous
experiences and others to express himself. And if those expressions are used often and
passed through generations, they are proverbs and idioms.
III. A contrastive analysis of Vietnamese proverbs and idioms related to animals
versus the ones in English.
1. The cognitive similarities
Hatch and Brown (1995) have convincingly argued that although we think
proverbs are bound to culture, there are many with equivalents across cultures. Like in
many other languages, proverbs and idioms in Vietnamese and English use a lot of
simile, metaphor with animals images. Most of those animals are familiar to human.
Among them, domestic animals such as dogs, cats, mice, chicken, ducks, and cows
take a large portion. Then comes the typical animals in the wild such as foxes, rabbits,
lions, tigers, fish, and birds Maybe those points are also the common points for
proverbs and idioms in most languages in the world.
We often foist some characteristics of human beings on animals. Lakoff and
Turner (1989, p: 193-194) present different metaphorical schemas that show how we

PROVERBS AND IDIOMS RELATED TO ANIMALS IN ENGLISH AND VIETNAMESE

conceive animals, and how we apply this folk knowledge to the construction of
metaphorical schemas. According to them, the domain of animal life is one of the most
elaborate ones, which we use to understand the human domain. And people from
different cultures may have idioms or proverbs that use the same image of animals and
carry the same message. The reason for this might be that some animals have the
same important role in peoples lives in these two cultures, and have the same
attributes and features. We have the same metaphors:
METAPHOR
SOURCE.........................................TARGET
Pig ...................................................person who is dirty, messy and eat too much
Fox .................................................. clever person
Dog and cat .................................... enemies
Cat and mouse ............................... the bully and the weaker

E.g.1: to pig it ( d nh heo), to make a pig of oneself (n nh heo).


E.g.2: as cunning as a fox (ranh nh co)
E.g.3: argue like cat and dog (ci nhau nh ch vi mo)
E.g.4: cat and mouse game (tr mo vn chut)
a. The same expressions
As we all know, human beings have similar capabilities of thought, similar laws of
cognition. So, looking closer to the proverbs and idioms in English and Vietnamese we
can see there are even more equivalent proverbs and idioms that have amazing
similarities in images, form and implied messages. For example:

PROVERBS AND IDIOMS RELATED TO ANIMALS IN ENGLISH AND VIETNAMESE

- bookworm

mt sch

- crocodile tears

nc mt c su

- a barking dog seldom bite

ch sa thng khng cn

- a dog is valiant at his own door

ch cy gn nh

- a cock is valiant on his own dunghill

g cy gn chung

- to fish in trouble water

tha nc c th cu

- even a worm will turn

con giun xo lm cng qun

- water off a ducks back

nc u vt

b. Different expressions having close meaning


There are some proverbs and idioms that carry the same messages but contain
different images of animals. Although their equivalents are different in expression and
show different perspectives, they are similar in meaning. Followed are some illustrations
from L and Trm (1986):
- birds of a feather flock together

ngu tm ngu, m tm m (p. 35).

- every bird loves to hear himself sing. mo khen mo di ui (p. 44).


- fine feathers make fine birds

con g tt m v lng (p. 49).

- a living dog is better than a dead lion ngi sng, ng vng (p. 25)
- when the cats away, the mice will play vng ch nh g vc niu tm (p. 98).
And from some other sources:
- eat like a bird

n nh mo

- like a cat on hot bricks

nh kin b cho nng

- to shut the stable-door when the horse is stolen

mt b mi lo lm chung

PROVERBS AND IDIOMS RELATED TO ANIMALS IN ENGLISH AND VIETNAMESE

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We can see that the differences dont cause trouble for understanding those proverbs
and idioms because the cognition of both Vietnamese and English people about those
animals is the same.
2. The cross-cultural differences
Proverbs and idioms are always results of social, cultural, historical and political
values. Despite the universal features, there still be distinct features that differentiate
one culture from another. Therefore, we can say that there are two types of proverbs
and idioms: those with a common, universal morality, similar in most cultures, if not in
the form, at least in the message; and those born from a historical fact, a local custom
or a specific event in a particular culture. They have their own identity signs which
characterize the place or time of origin and are the distinct features of that culture.
Cultural connotations of some animal words in English and Vietnamese are closely
related to the religion, customs and the history of the nation. That is why proverbs and
idioms related to animals in these two languages are different in their cultural
connotations. And it causes a lot of difficulties for people from one country to learn the
language of the other.
a. Customs
One of the most important elements that differentiate the proverbs and idioms in
English and Vietnamese is the differences in tradition and custom. Vietnam - an oriental
country - has the agricultural culture, while England a western country - has the
nomadic culture. They have different concepts about the world, especially the animal
world. Each culture highly values the animals that have more contribution to their life.

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That is why though both languages have idioms and proverbs using the images of dogs,
horses, buffaloes, the messages carried are varied through cultures.
In nomadic culture like English culture, dogs help human beings lots of work.
They watch the houses, keep farm animals like sheep, goats , and help hunting wild
animals. In short, the image of a dog sticks to the image of a nomad. Therefore, dogs
are highly valued and are considered humans best friend. There are many proverbs
showing the importance of dogs such as:
- a house without either a cat or a dog is the house of a scoundrel.
- a house is not a home without a dog
- old dog for a hard road
- love me love my dog
- the greater love is a mother's; then comes a dog's; then a sweetheart's.
- a man's best friend is his dog
Because they are humans best companion, the image of the dogs is usually
associated with human being in proverbs and idioms.

METAPHOR
SOURCE.................................................TARGET
dog .........................................................human being (England)

You can find this metaphor in many idioms and proverbs:


- every dog has its day: everyone can be successful at something at some time
in their life

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- to help a lame dog over stile: to help someone who is in difficulty or trouble.
- you can't teach an old dog new tricks: people who have long been used to
doing things in a particular way will not abandon their habits
- give a dog a bad name (and hang him): people who lose their reputation have
difficulty regaining it because others continue to blame or suspect them.
While dogs are so important in English culture, they are not so highly valued in
Vietnamese culture. Let consider the metonymy below:

METONYMY
PART 1.....................................................PART 2
dog .........................................................faithful, dependable (England)
dog .........................................................stupidity, cruelty, inferior (Vietnam)

Though dogs help watching houses, Vietnamese people in general dislike the
behavior of dogs. So, dog is used to describe the bad guys, those who are cruel and
unscrupulous. Bellow are some Vietnamese idioms and proverbs with their meanings:
- mm ch khng mc c ng voi: nice words never come out from the bad
guys mouth.
- chi vi ch, ch lim mt: be kind to the inferiors, then they will be
disrespectful
- ch cng git du: bad guy at the difficult time may be even fiercer.
- ch ngp phi rui: stupid person accidentally says or does right things.

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Similar to dogs are horses, they are highly respected in English culture whereas
they are not as important in Vietnamese culture. In England, horses represent the
strength, willing to work and they are the pride of the owners.
- as strong as a horse
- eat like a horse (eat a lot)
- a good horse cannot be of bad color
- a horse, a wife and a sword may be showed but not lent
- choose a horse and a wife to make
However, in Vietnam horses represent stubbornness. Bellow are some Vietnamese
proverbs and idioms using the horses image and their meanings:
- u tru mt nga: bad and cruel guys
- mm ch v nga: dogs mouth and horses hoop are very dangerous
- nga con hu : the young are always aggressive
- nga quen ng c: hard to rid of bad habits
- nh nga bt kham: as stubborn as a wild horse
Beside typical images like dogs and horses, there still be lots of different
connotations of animals in the two languages expressed in proverbs and idioms such as
buffalos, cow If English learners do not know about the custom of English culture
they will encounter lots of difficulties in communicating, especially with proverbs and
idioms.
b. Religion
There is a big difference between the religion in Vietnam and in England. The
Vietnamese religion can be considered as a complex of Buddhism, Confusion, and

PROVERBS AND IDIOMS RELATED TO ANIMALS IN ENGLISH AND VIETNAMESE

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some other religions; while most English people believe in Christianity. That is why the
concepts of people about some animals in both countries are different. For instance, the
dragon possesses different cultural connotations in Vietnamese and English.

METAPHOR
SOURCE.................................................TARGET
Dragon ...................................................power, excellence (Vietnam)
Dragon ...................................................cruelty, fierceness (England)

In Vietnamese culture, the dragon symbolizes the high reputation. In the past, when
someone passed the national exam and became a mandarin, the case was called c
chp ha rng (the fish turns into a dragon). And when someone having higher social
status visits a lower one, then they use the idiom rng n nh tm (the dragon visits
the shrimp). The dragon represents power, excellence, and striving for goals, as well as
being a benevolent force, which radiates goodwill, good luck, and blessings. In the
feudal society, dragon is associated the kings and royal families. Vietnamese people
consider themselves con rng chu tin which means sons and daughters of Dragon
and Divinity. Whereas in English a Western culture, it is a kind of evil monster, which
can vomit fire and sometimes possess three to nine heads. In English, to chase the
dragon means to take heroin (The Free Dictionary), a dragon lady is a woman who
is domineering or belligerent (Your Dictionary) and the Vietnamese equivalent of that
idioms is s t H ng. Only when one understands the religion features of both
languages can she/he understands those expressions correctly.

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Though there are a lot of religions in Vietnam, most of them are imported from
other popular country in the past such as China and India. That is why there are very
few Vietnamese idioms and proverbs related to classic references of religions. In
contrast, there are a vast number of English idioms and proverbs originate from Bible
and religious references, especially the proverbs and idioms related to animals. Lyman
(2007) stated that:
Animals are often mentioned in the Bible. Some of those passages have
become proverbs--that is, widely quoted sayings that briefly and strikingly
express some universal truth or shrewd observation about everyday life.
One of the animals mentioned most in the Bible is the sheep. Sheep are
mentioned in the Bible more than 500 times, more than any other animal. The
prominence of sheep in the Bible grows out of two realities. Sheep were important to the
nomads and agricultural life of the Hebrews and similar peoples. Secondly, sheep are
used throughout the Bible to symbolically refer to God's people (Sheep 101).

METAPHOR
SOURCE.................................................TARGET
sheep ..................................................... human being (England)

So, in the Bible sheep symbolizes human being that is both innocent and sinful. In
English, we can find lots of idioms and proverbs using sheeps image like:
- a lamb to the slaughter: in an unconcerned manner / unaware of any impending
catastrophe

PROVERBS AND IDIOMS RELATED TO ANIMALS IN ENGLISH AND VIETNAMESE

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- a wolf in sheep clothing: an enemy disguised as a friend


- separate the sheep from the goats: distinguish between good and bad
individuals, or superior and inferior ones
- black sheep: The odd/least reputable member of a group
- lost sheep: person thought to be on a course of self-destruction
- there is a black sheep in every flock: there is no perfect group/family
In the pages of the Bible, you can also see lions, leopards, bears and hundreds
of other animals, insects, and creatures. Each of them has a special meaning base on
the references to the stories in that book. According to Lyman (2007), the followed
proverbs and idioms also originate from the Bible:
- a fly in the ointment: a little flaw that ruins what otherwise would be something
good.
- a lion in the path: the obstacle, especially one invented as an excuse for
inaction.
- a little bird told me: to keep secret, or to claim intuition as, a source of
information
- the Pale Horse: the death
- to strain at a gnat and swallow a camel: to fuss about unimportant issues while
assenting too readily in important ones
Without understanding the religion as a part of culture, we can not understand
the proverbs and idioms originated from them.
V. Conclusion and Educational Implications

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In short, both English and Vietnamese languages are rich in images and have a
lot of proverbs and idioms. And among them, idioms and proverbs using the images of
animals take a large portion. Both cultures share the same capabilities of thought, the
same laws of cognition and a common, universal morality. Moreover, some animals
have the same important role in peoples lives in the two cultures, and have the same
attributes and features. Therefore, we have a large number of similar proverbs and
idioms related to animals, both in the form and in the message.
However, England and Vietnam have different history, different customs and
different religions. They have different connotations of some animals in life. Those
proverbs and idioms born from the historical fact, local custom or specific religion
convey different messages though they use the same images of animals.
Teaching and learning a language are teaching and learning a culture. These two
elements can not be separated. By teaching the proverbs and idioms, English teachers
can help their student to penetrate to English culture excitingly and interestingly.
Moreover, English language learners, often struggling with a limited vocabulary, find
these memorable proverbs and idioms easy to learn and fun to use. Learning idioms
and proverbs helps students to remember the structures and vocabularies carried in the
idioms and proverbs easily.
We can say that in a language classroom, a proverb/idiom a day keeps the
boredom away. According to Roth, proverbs and idioms add familiarity and comfort to
an often strange and stressful situation for older English learners, and they also create a
more global classroom which will excitingly motivate the students.

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Mieder, W. (2004). Proverbs: A Handbook. Connecticut, CT: Greenwood Press.
Stern, K., & Engineer, S. (Eds.). (1998). Longman Idioms Dictionary. Essex: Addison
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Jones, S. (2007). Proverbs from Wales Animals. Associated Content. Retrieved from
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.html
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Roth, E. (n.d.). Use Proverbs to Teach English and Provide Perspective. Ezine Articles.
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