Comparison and Culture Discrepancy Between Chinese and English Idioms

Comparison and Culture Discrepancy Between Chinese and English Idioms

Idiom makes the complicated life more concretized and visualized. It is widely recognized as the essence or the crystallization of a language, and an indispensable part of a language, and fixed sentences or phrases which have been refined through ages of use. Is there an identical point to view the idiom between Chinese and English under the different cultural backgrounds? This paper grasps the point to embody the cultural differences between Chinese and English from the definition and comparison of the idioms. It also researches into the factors that influence the idioms.

How to understand the idiom “Dog does not eat dog” from Chinese views? From the words some people may describe it as “same creatures do not kill themselves” or “the relationships between people and people in official circles”. Why do the western people use “dog” to express the meaning? Is it shallow? No, it is just the reflection of culture and the different life style between Chinese and English. The idiom is also a type of art. Some idioms used in the famous artist William Shakespeare’s works incarnate the values of art. The idiom “one’s pond of flesh” comes from the great works The Merchant of Venice (张,1999:38-53)which, for the time being, means “the demand is legal but illogical” It’s a simple idiom but tells the focus in The Merchant of Venice. It reflects not only the art value from the surface meaning of “one’s pound of flesh” which is different from the internal meaning of “the demand is legal but illogical”, but the key point to research the different views between Chinese and English cultures. Therefore, the idiom is observed as a shift from a linguistic approach to a cultural approach on the study. What are the factors to influence the idiom differences between Chinese and English? Maybe the different life-styles, geographic environment, historical cultures, religious beliefs are the major causes. The idiom “be born in the purple” can be explained as “the people born in a rich and powerful family”. It confuses the meaning of “purple” in the idiom stands for “richness and power”. Actually, it is a product of historical culture in western countries. The “purple” is a representative of power in ancient Greece. “In the ancient time of Rome, it is a symbol of class that some important people wear the purple clothes to represent their position in that society, like the emperor, officers or generals." Idiom is a product of culture and an accretion of culture and history of different nations. English and Chinese idioms carry cultural features and information of their nations and it is closely related to their cultural traditions. The thesis researches English and Chinese idioms from their definitions and comparisons and explores their cultural differences according to geographic environment, historical culture, religious beliefs and thinking patterns and values.

Ⅱ.The Difference between Chinese and English idioms
Idiom is the reflection of culture and language. Idioms are the basic elements in daily life as a part of different cultural concept in certain social community, which makes it difficult to give a specific definition of idiom.

2.1Definition of idioms
Ammer said: “An idiom is a set phrase of two or more words that means something different from the literary meaning of the individual words.” (骆,2006:4). From the definition above, we know that the word “idiom” mainly refers to “a set phrase” which should be understood as a whole. For example, “green hand”, an idiom meaning “a person without experience”, has nothing to do with either the green color of the human hand. Chinese idioms are defined as “Chengyu”. It usually used as a word or a semantic unit in a sentence to force the expression. Cihai defines “chengyu” as “a kind of shuyu, set phrases or word groups that are of customary usage” (夏,1999:4699) In fact, no exact equivalence can be defined between English “idiom” and Chinese “chengyu” because the different nations are laden with different cultures.

2.2Comparison between English and Chinese idioms
Different cultures and daily life make the idioms different. To study a culture of a country, one must study the words and idiomatic expressions of this country. Why are the idioms so different between Chinese and English? There are three major types of Chinese and idioms as followed.

2.2.1 Similar sense and form of English and Chinese idioms
This type of idioms is well-known that human beings have many similar life experiences through the external world so that the sense and the form of the idioms are quite similar. In other words, both English and Chinese idioms are descriptive in their aim to convey the same meaning. Due to the similarity of life experience and mode of thinking, people use “An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth(以眼还眼,以牙还牙)” to convey the concept “ take the same measures to fight back the opponent do to you”. The idiom “Failure is mother of success. (失败是成功之母)” expresses “don’t be discouraged when someone meet with difficulties”. Here are more instances:
A rat crossing the street is chased by all.
Pour oil on the flame
These above idioms are quite easy to understand no matter which country you come from or what language you say. They do an excellent job in adding vivid images and further imagination from readers though in different language. And they illustrate the similarities between the two different languages and cultures.

2.2.2 Similar form but different sense of English and Chinese idioms
This type of idioms is opposite to the first type. The sense of this idiom is quite different from what you think when you take the first sight. Do you know the meaning of the idiom “eat one’s words”? The idiom means “someone is not unreliable” from Chinese views. However, it is “a person who speaks wrong words to somebody” on the view of English. Another instance “to make one’s hair stand on end” means “scared of something” from English perspective. In Chinese, this idiom means “a person is angry or a person’s behavior is awful”. Although some words in these idioms between Chinese and English are similar in form, the meaning of the entire idioms is quite different.

2.2.3 Both form and sense are different of English and Chinese idioms
The third type of idioms is quite different both in form and in sense. Can you imagine the meaning of idiom “cut a tooth” is “a tooth has been outgrown”, rather than “pull out a tooth from the mouth”? This type of idioms is not associated with its form and sense. That means you can not translate it correctly if you just understand the meaning of the words in an idiom. The idiom “The longest day must have an end” means “a person who is free after a busy day” in English. However, this idiom is explained “people may not always be together” in Chinese. The idiom “get out of bed on the wrong side” means “someone is angry” which comes from an old western superstition. The superstition tells that someone will be unlucky if his left leg down to the earth firstly when he gets up.

Ⅲ.The culture difference between Chinese and English idioms
The differences between Chinese and English idioms directly reflect the different culture. The idioms come from different living environment and the historical cultures we experience. There is a form which reflects the use of different emphases from geographic environment from Chinese and English idioms.

3.1 Geography
From the above form we know the use of idioms is different between Chinese and English in geographic environment. Most idioms in English are prone to sea but seldom continent. However, most idioms in Chinese are about the continent. The reasons are different geographic environment. “Britain is an island country which is surrounded by the sea. It lies in north Atlantic Ocean off the north coast of Europe”(余;2005:4) As to the living environment, here are more other idioms relate to the sea.
keep one’s head above water clear the decks, steer clear of, sink or swim.Compared to western countries, China is a country far away from sea which people makes a living on agriculture. Han Dynasty is an ancient dynasty of China, where people can not live without land. Therefore, the use of idioms in China is closely related to agriculture and land, such as “土包子” means “a person is in yokel fashion” ;“土生土长”means “ a native person”
When we describe someone who spends money largely, English people will say “spend money like water”, while Chinese will say "挥金如土". The reason of that is the geographic environment which affects the use of different idioms between Chinese and English.

3.2 Religious beliefs
Religion, a kind of special form of human culture, is a universal social phenomenon. Different religious beliefs are different cultural expressions which reflect different cultural characteristics and different cultural background. In China, it is a kind of religious beliefs embodiment that people of Hui Nationality do not eat pork. Religious belief of most Chinese is Buddhism. Therefore, we have a lot of idioms related to Buddhist, such as the idiom “借花献佛” means “get things from another person to entertain one's own guests” which comes from a Chinese allusion.
Professor Samuel P. Huntington said “Western civilization is Christ civilization. (张,2006:107) ” Most people in west are Christian. Most of those religious idioms come from Bible, such as the idiom “in sackcloth and ashes” means “someone is in sorrow” (张,2006:107)There are some different idioms between Chinese and English expressing their different religious beliefs. Chinese people always say “Buddha bless us” when we are in trouble, while most people in western countries idiom used to say, “God bless us”
Those different religious beliefs also form different diet cultures. In bible, Jesus said: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes?”(殷,2007:157-158). It stresses the life is more important than diet. The idiom “Diet kills more than pills” puts across the phenomena for further explanation. The Bible also gives warning to the Christians “Do not look on the wine when it is red, when it sparkles in the cup, when it goes down smoothly. Afterward it bites like a snake, and stings like a viper” (殷,2007:157-158) The wine, regard as “blood of Jesus” in western countries, is forbidden to drink because that is a sin for the Christian. The idiom “temperance and fasting cure most disease” is the best embodiment of diet cultures in western countries.
Under the influence of the Christian, the diet cultures in western countries advocate controlling eating, drinking. Compare with the western diet cultures, China diet cultures advocate the concept “To the people foodstuff is all-important”. This is an embodiment of "benevolent governance" that the ancient rulers advocated. In China, idioms with "eat" to express the people’s thoughts and ideas are extremely rich Such as the idiom“吃闭门羹” which means “someone meet with a rebuff”. The idiom“吃回扣”means “take kickback” which reflects the social corruption.

3.3 Custom culture
Custom has much to do with national characteristics of idioms. From Chinese and English idioms, we can see people’s different attitudes towards certain civil buildings, such as the “fence” and the “wall”. We also can understand English and Chinese idioms of Numbers in cultural differences.

3.3.1 Custom culture----the “fence” and the “wall”
The fence in western countries is a wall made of wood or wire, diving two areas of wood.(A, 2002: 534) The western people build the fence at large to reflect the beauty, to show their creativity or to avoid the animals’ attack. The personalities of western people are independent, open and frank who do not rely on others. So the purpose to build the fence is just to reflect their personalities. There are some idioms about fences which prove the features. The idiom “fence-sit” means “remain indifferent” The idiom “good fences make good neighbors” expresses the independent of western people.
In China, the walls are high and impenetrable which the inner structures of house can not be seen by the outside. “Siheyuan”, which a house is surrounded by walls without any windows except a door in China feudal society, is a typical example to reflect the introvert of Chinese people. This is the reason why the Chinese are completely isolated from each other all their lives. The walls in China are not just “walls”, they are the reflections of national cultures. When people discuss some secrets each other, they say; “be careful, ‘walls have ears’.” The idiom “walls have ears” means “even the most secret and private conversation may become known to other people” which embodies caution of Chinese people. The building differences between China and western countries reflect the different custom cultures. Chinese traditional wall type of building make its occupant’s relationships tend to authority which reflects the introverted Chinese culture. Relatively speaking, western fence type building make its occupant’s relationships tend to social exchanges as center which reflects the straightforward western culture.

3.3.2 Custom culture----the numbers
In western countries, “six” is unwelcome number. Some idioms like “six penny” which means “something is worthless. Three “six” in Bible is a terrible number which stands for the code of devils. The idiom “at sixes and sevens” comes from Troilus and Criseyde---Geoffrey Chaucer (殷,2007:206)which means “out of order”. Different from Western countries, the number "six" in Chinese appears to be the most auspicious number. Chinese use idiom “六六大顺”to stand for “something is easy to do or good luck”. Besides ,people particularly like to choose the number “six” when choosing the phone number or vehicle license plate number. The “four” is a horrible number in Chinese custom cultures. People do not like the number because Chinese pronounce “four” that like the word of “death”. Here is a idiom “不三不四” which describes a person is indecent. Nevertheless, there is no taboo about the number of “four”.

3.3.3 Custom culture----the colors
The color red , in Chinese idioms, symbolizes victory, success and other positive events such as "开门红," "走好运," and "满堂红."In English, red is linked with bloodshed and anger. The idiom “red-handed,” means “someone is at the scene of the crime”. Furthermore, why do Westerners wear a white wedding dress, and black clothing for a funeral? In the eyes of Westerners, white symbolizes joy and purity, while black is a metaphor of sorrow and death. The idiom “black Tuesday” states a market crash affair which happened at a Tuesday of 1987. The idiom springs from the Sunday Mail newspaper. In contrast, the traditional Chinese mourning is white, because Chinese people have always been poor through ages – as white as pathos, the symbol of the decline of death.

IV. Conclusion
It has explored the differences from definitions, customs, living environment and religious beliefs between English and Chinese idioms in the thesis. And in comparison of different idioms between English and Chinese, it is concluded that every nation has its own cultures and expressions, so idioms in different forms and senses reflect culture differences. It is helpful to understand the differences between English and Chinese idioms clearly and correctly. As for English major students, it is very necessary to master enough and general knowledge of idioms. Moreover, it benefits us bilaterally that we could attain is not only the idioms both Chinese and English themselves, but also more about the deep understanding and analyses of both cultures that idioms represent.