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Accroding to the authors such as Hopper; Knapp and Scott (1981), idioms can convey positive, neutral or negative meanings. Some idioms have positive meaning like look the picture of health (look extremely healthy). As for idioms conveying negative meaning
four distinct groups:
Idioms with a focus on individual ( run in the family)
Idioms with a focus on the world ( right as rain)
Idioms that refer to the interaction of individuals (nurse someone back to health)
Idioms which express the interaction between an individual and the world
(living on borrowed time )
However, it is impossible to cover all criteria for classification of idioms.
Due to the framework of the thesis, the classification in terms of syntactic and
semantic classification of idioms is the most suitable.
2.3.4 Idioms and other language units
18.104.22.168 Idioms and proverbs
Proverbs are considered as “memorable short sayings of the people,
containing wise words of advice or warning” by Flavell (1994). Also, the Oxford
advanced learner’s dictionary (1994) defined a proverb as “a well-known phrase or
sentence that gives advice or says something that generally true”.
It is necessary to distinguish idioms and proverbs although it is not an easy
task because of their same short sentence nature and the usage in expressions.
Basically, proverbs and idioms have something in common such as both of them are
ready-made linguistic units. The use of fixed expression is abused in these two
types of language units so they tend to become cliches. The national characteristics
are often expressed in both proverbs and idioms. For example, to talk about the
slowness, English people use the image of the snail in the idiom as slow as a snail
while Vietnamese people use the image of the tortoise in the idiom chậm như rùa.
With reference to proveb, the national characteristics and be recognized in some
proverbs such as Đàn ông chớ kể Phan Trần, đàn bà chớ kể Thúy Vân, Thúy Kiều in
Vietnamese or Every Jack has a Jill in English. It is easy to see from above
examples, such proper names as Phan Trần, Thúy Vân, Thúy Kiều in the former and
Jack and Jill in the latter are a part of culture of naming in acommunity.
In addition, idioms and proverbs are fairly common in some other ways. The
lexical items are permanent, moreover their meanings are conventional and largely
metaphorical. In contrast to free expression in which the member words may differ
according to the needs of conversation, the lexical components in proverbs and
idioms are consistently presented as single unchangcable collocations or cannot be
substituted by others. As the above idiom Một quả cà bằng ba thang thuốc, the
number một is fixed and unchangcable. An example of proverb is out of sight out of
mind. The collocations of the phrases in this proverb are not permutable or
changeable. The proverb will not make sense if it is modified as out of sight, out of
mind. Due to the permanence of member words in idioms and proverbs, therefore, it
is out of the question to make any changes in them, even when it is merely an
One more similarity is that the meanings of idioms and proverbs are
understood figuratively other than literally. Moreover, in many cases, idioms are
formed from the basics of proverbs. For example, rooten apple (one bad person who
has a bad effect on others in a group) is the basics to form the proverb the rooten
apple injures its neighbors (con sâu làm rầu nồi canh), or the case of the idioms put
all your eggs in one basket or the idioms có vay có trả originates from the proverb
có vay có trả mới thỏa lòng nhau.
Besides the similarities, both idioms and proverbs have their own typical
features that distinguish one from another. The first and most obvious difference
lies in their syntactic structures. In term of syntactic structures, idioms are phrases
which are parts of sentences, thus they are equivalent to words. In contrast, proverbs
are mostly the complete sentences or phrases which can express the whole idea by
themselves. What is more, idioms and proverbs are also different in terms of their
functions. Proverbs are short well-known sentences or phrases that express a
judgment, general truth about life, advice or moral lesson. They contain three main
literature functions namely perceptive, aesthetic and educational functions.
Therefore, a proverb can be considered as a perfect literature work. Its perceptive
function is to make people aware that it is not easy to change one’s own
characteristic. Moreover, the proverb is expressed in a figurative and picturesque
way which helps readers understand the proverb easily then be deeply convinced.
On the contrary, idioms do not express judgments, gives advice or state general
truth about life, which means they do not have functions of perception and
education but only aesthetic function. Lacking these two functions, idioms can be
considered as a language unit only. The idiom to eat like a horse illustrate that
idioms own only aesthetic function since it merely describes the ability of eating
strongly of someone because of great hunger in figurative way as well as it does not
offer any moral lessons or experience of life.
22.214.171.124 Idioms and collocations
Cruise (1987) defines collocation as “sequences of lexical items which
habitually co-occur, but which are nonetheless fully transparent in the sense that
each lexical constituent is also a semantic constituent”. The term collocation in
linguistics is used to refer to sequences of lexical items which habitually co-occur,
but which are nevertheless fully transparent in the sense that each lexical constituent
is also a semantic constituent. From Cowie’s viewpoint (1994), words which
combine with other words, or with idioms in particular grammatical constructions
are said to collocate with those words or idioms. Collocations are of two kinds:
restricted collocations and open collocations.
Collocations share several common features with idioms. Restricted
collocations are sometimes referred to as semi-idiom. In such combination, one
word has a figurative sense not found outside that limited context. The other
elements appears in a familiar and literal sense (the verb and noun in to jog one’s
memory, and the adjective and noun in a blind alley). Some collocations allow a
degree of lexicon variation, for instance to have a cardinal error/sin/virtue/grace
and in this respite, restricted collocations resemble open ones. Another point of
similarity is that the literal element is sometimes replaced by a pronoun, or deleted
altogether, in sentence where there is an earlier use of the full expression, for
example The Board didn’t entertain the idea, and the Senate wouldn’t entertain it
either. However, restricted collocations are idiom-like.
Besides the similarities, both idioms and collocations have their own typical
features that distinguish one from another. Open collocations are most sharply and
easily distinguished from idioms in the strict sense are combinations such as to fill
the sink and a broken window. The use of the term “open”, “free” or “loose” to refer
to such collocation reflects the fact, in each case, both elements (verb and object, or
adjective and noun) are freely recombinable, as for example in to fill/empty the sink
and to fill the sink/ basin. Typically, also, in open collocations, each element is used
in a common literal sense. It is easy to distinguish from idioms, nonetheless, they
have a kind of semantic cohesion. The semantic cohesion of a collocation is the
more marked if the meaning is carried by one (or more) of its constituent elements
which is highly restricted contextually, and different from its meaning in more
To sum up, idioms and collocations share with each other several common
features. Both of them are fixed groups of words, highly restricted in a given
context, and have arbitrary limitation in use. An idiom is a lexical complex which
semantically simplex while each lexical constituent is also a semantic constituent in
collocation. A collocation maybe idiom-like in respect of constraints on the
combinability of constituents, but the phrase is like in semantic structures.
2.3.5 Idioms denoting health
According to the Cambridge dictionary (2008), “health” is “the condition
of the body or mind and the degree to which it is free from illness, or the state of
being well”, for example: Her health was much improved after she started doing
According to the Oxford dictionary (2013), “health” is the state of being free
from illness or injury. For example, Her concerns include possible health risks to
children and the blight on her property.
As defined in the Business dictionary (2013), “health” is the "State of
complete physical, mental, and social well being, and not merely the absence of
disease or infirmity". Health is a dynamic condition resulting from a body's constant
adjustment and adaptation in response to stresses and changes in the environment
for maintaining an inner equilibrium called homeostasis.
Health is a very popular topic in our lives because health is always important
to people. There are many idioms denoting health in English and Vietnamese.
Idioms denoting health is a part of idiom treasure; therefore they have features,
functions like idiom in general. An idiom is a fixed expression with the meaning of
which could be carried out by gathering the bare meaning of its singular words.
Idioms denoting health have semantic features of literal meaning and figurative
meaning, syntactic feature of stability. Idioms denoting health are the idioms that
contain the words about health such as die a natural death, show signs of an illness
in English idioms; sức khỏe là vàng, yếu như cây sậy in Vietnamese ones or express
the meaning related to health such as full of beans, black out, feel blue in English
idioms; Gái 17 bẻ gãy sừng trâu, cổ cày vai bừa, cày sâu cuốc bẫm in Vietnamese
2.4 English and Vietnamese cultural features
Language cannot exist without culture as its component. Linguists have
different definitions of culture as follows. According to Taylor (1974), “Culture, or
civilization, taken in its broad, ethnographic sense, is that complex whole which
includes knowledge, belief, art, morals, law, custom, and any other capabilities and
habits acquired by man as a member of society”
Trần Ngọc Thêm (1993) defined “Culture includes all things that make this
nation different from other ones” (Văn hóa bao gồm tất cả những gì làm cho dân
tộc này khác với dân tộc kia). In fact, Vietnamese and English people have different
cultural tradition, cultural backgrounds, customs, religious belief and different
geography environment. Therefore, the language that Vietnamese and English
people use reflects their different lifestyles and thought.
In the book “Cross-cultural communication”, Nguyễn Quang (1998) defined
culture as “a share background (for example, national, ethnic, religious) resulting
from a common language and communication style, custom, beliefs, attitudes, and
values. Culture in this text does not refer to art, music, literature, food, clothing
styles, and so on. It refers to the informal and often hidden patterns of human
interactions, expressions, and viewpoints that people in one culture share. The
hidden nature of culture has been compared to an iceberg, most of which is hidden
underwater! Like the iceberg most of the influence of culture on an individual
cannot be seen. The part of culture that is exposed is not always that which creates
cross-cultural difficulties; the hidden aspects of culture have significant effects on
behavior and on interactions with others”
In “Notes toward the definition of culture”, Eliot, Thomas Stearns (2010)
stated that “The culture will appear to be the product of the religion, or the product
of the culture”.
According to Kim Ann Zimmermann (2013), “Culture is the characteristics
and knowledge of a particular group of people, emcompasing language, religion,
cuisine, social habits, music and arts”. It defined culture as share patterns of
behaviors and interactions, cognitive construcs and understanding that are learned
by socialization. Thus, it can be seen as the growth of a group identify fostered by
social patterns unique to the group.
Based on theoretical perspectives and the cultural realities of English and
Vietnamese one, it is easy to see that culture is different from society to society and
even from individual to individual. What is right in one culture may not be right in
another culture. England belongs to the Western country while Vietnam belongs to
the Eastern one, so there are some differences of the culture between two countries.
Firstly, the difference of geography environment makes different cultures. The West
with the dry, cold climate and vast grasslands is suitable for animals, husbandry and
it establishes the trend of nomadic life. Therefore, Westerners in general and
English people in particular, appreciate individualism and have ambition to conquer
the nature. Meanwhile, the East has the hot, humid climate and lot of delta which
are good condition for cultivation. Due to the influence of Eastern culture,
Vietnamese people tend to live in harmony with their environment. They have the
great respect for their communication which leads a flexible and harmonious life for
them. Therefore, in communication, Vietnamese people do not want to trouble
anyone. They always keep their inner feelings to remain a peaceful coexistence. In
England, they have a tendency to speak out nearly all personal problems and
Secondly, Vietnamese civilization is considered “plant civilization”. Among
the countries in Southeast Asian region, Vietnam is believed to be the cradle of
agricultural civilization. Also, natural history surrounding the society forms
Vietnamese cultural characteristics. For these reasons, Vietnamese products contain
a various kinds of tropical agricultural products such as: sắn dây, lá vơng, cùm cụm,
hắc hương, gừng, trần bì, đu đủ, khoai lang, cà, kinh giới, rau sam, ầu tầu, khoai
môn, chuối tiêu, hang mận, chuối hột, rau dền, cam quýt, dưa, củ cải, quả lê, giá
đỗ, ngô, khoai, ect.
In addition, one further different characteristic between English and
Vietnamese is their traditional religion. English people are Christians who believe
in God. In Vietnam, Buddhism is considered the most common religion. The
philosophies of Buddhism have affected Vietnamese people’s thought.
English people, with the origin of nomadic culture, have individual features
that give them the will of independence and determination. They are willing to face
their failure and try to get another opportunity. Nevertheless, Vietnamese people,
with the origin of agricultural culture, usually have the enduring and stable life.
In short, this part has described cultural features of English and Vietnamese.
The two patterns indicated above can show that the English culture is significantly
different from Vietnamese one. These two types of culture are almost contradictory.
Therefore, we can see that English and Vietnamese idioms denoting health have
different national cultural characteristics.
In conclusion, this chapter has reviewed previous related studies, the theory
about phrase, clause and sentence structures, some specific characteristics of
idioms, which will be the foundation for the following chapter in finding the
syntactic and semantic features. Besides, distinguishing idioms and other language
units is a good way to help the author avoid mistakes while collecting and sorting
them. Finally, English and Vietnamese cultural features are also metioned. This is
the basics to explain the similarities and differences between English and
Vietnamese idioms denoting health for the following chapter.
This chapter will present about the context of the study, the instrumentation,
the procedure and the statistical analysis.
3.1 Context of the study
Firstly, a large number of idioms denoting health were collected in order to
make corpus of this thesis. In order to have idioms and knowledge supporting for
the study, the author has read many linguistic books and reliable dictionaries for
example: “English idioms in use” by Michael McCarthy, Felicity O'Dell (2002);
“Oxford dictionary of idiom” by Judith Siefring (2004).
Besides, the Vietnamese idioms have been selected from some reference
books such as: “Từ điển thành ngữ Việt Nam” by Nguyễn Như Ý, Nguyễn Văn
Khang, Phạm Xuân Thành (1993); “Từ điển thành ngữ Anh-Việt” by Mai Lan
Hương, Nguyễn Thanh Loan, Lý Thanh Trúc, Trần Lan Anh, Phan Thị Mai Hương,
Hà Thanh Uyên (2008); “Từ điển thành ngữ tục ngữ Việt Nam” by Nguyễn Lân
After the data of idioms denoting health are collected, there are 109 English
idioms denoting health and 109 Vietnamese ones. They are the idioms that contain
the words denoting health such as die a natural death, show signs of an illness in
English idioms; sức khỏe là vàng, yếu như cây sậy in Vietnamese ones as well as
the idioms that express the meanings related to health such as full of beans, black
out, feel blue in English idioms; Gái 17 bẻ gãy sừng trâu, cổ cày vai bừa, cày sâu
cuốc bẫm in Vietnamese ones.
The data used for analysis of this thesis, as mentioned above, are collected
from dictionaries and books. The dictionaries and books are chosen with names of
authors, names of publishers, time and place of publication. In addition, the results
of the research are withdrawn from analysis of evidence, statistics with a thorough
consideration. Therefore, the thesis is totally reliable and valid.
After collecting the data from reliable sources, the author classifies and
analyzes them into syntactic and semantic fields in order to find out the similarities
and differences between English and Vietnamese idioms denoting health.
This study is designed to investigate the idioms denoting health in English
and Vietnamese, so the descriptive and comparative methods have been chosen as
First, the descriptive method is utilized in order to give a full account of
syntactic and semantic features of the idioms denoting health in English. Second,
the comparative method is applied to identify the similarities and differences in
term of syntactic and semantic features of the idioms denoting health in English and
Some other methods such as analytical, synthetic methods have also been
used as supporting ones. Furthermore, to investigate in details the syntactic features
of the idioms denoting health in English with their different components and
semantic features with various nuances of meanings, analytical method is also
employed, and then the synthetical method is used for grouping them on the basics
of certain criteria according to syntactic and semantic features. Moreover, quite a
few of research techniques have been combined, such as statistics, componential
analysis and contrastive analysis.
Last but not least, setting up a regular consultancy with supervisor for a
guidance and academic exchange is a critical technique to find out a right direction
for doing the research successfully.
This study is conducted by the following steps. Firstly, the author collected
English and Vietnamese idioms from reliable sources such as books, dictionaries.
After that, statisticalizing the data that was collected is also an important step.
Secondly, the author analyzed and categorized English and Vietnamese idioms
denoting health according to their syntactic and semantic features based on their
meanings, theoretical background in chapter 2 and some printed medicine books.
The next step is that figuring out the similarities and the differences in terms of the
syntactic and semantic features of English and Vietnamese idioms denoting health.
Finally, the author put forward some implications for teaching and learning idioms
as well as making some suggestions for further research.
3.4 Statistical analysis
109 English and 109 Vietnamese idioms denoting health are collected from
the reliable sources such as dictionaries and printed books.
With the collection of data from both languages, we analyze and classify
them in order to meet the need of analysis. Data analysis is done in terms of syntax
Syntactically, the analysis and classification are mainly based on the
different structural categories of idioms such as noun phrase, verb phrases, adjective
phrases, prepositional phrases, adverb phrases. From which, we find out the
similarities and differences in idioms denoting health s’ structure.
Semantically, the classification is carried out on the basic typical semantic
features of idioms denoting health in two languages.
From the results of the analysis, we also suggest the ways to handle idioms in
general and some effective ways for language users in teaching and learning idioms
in general and idioms denoting health in particular.
This chapter gave an overview of the research design. The descriptive and
contrastive ones were mainly used for the findings of the study. Books, dictionaries,
and tables are useful instruments for data collection and analysis. Besides, it
mentioned how detailed the data for this study were collected and analysed. After
that, it pointed out the research procedures following with the aim of guaranteeing
the research schedule. Finally, it further emphasized the importance of validity and
reliability in doing research.
SYNTACTIC AND SEMANTIC FEATURES OF IDIOMS DENOTING
HEALTH IN ENGLISH AND VIETNAMESE
In this chapter, the findings of syntactic and semantic features of idioms
denoting health will be presented. The author will conduct a combined analysis of
idioms denoting health in English and Vietnamese. Also, to clarify the findings, a
detailed discussion and examples from the data collection will be presented.
4.1 Syntactic and semantic features of idioms denoting health in English
4.1.1 Syntactic features
126.96.36.199 Phrase structures
Based on the statistical results, the author has found 96 idioms have the
phrases structures out of 109 English idioms making up 88 % of English idioms
denoting health. Based on the theoretical background, idioms can be divided into 4
groups: idioms in a structure of a noun phrase, idioms in a structure of a verb
phrase, idioms in a structure of an adjective phrase, and idioms in a structure of a
188.8.131.52.1 Noun phrase
There are 21 idioms making up 19,3% of English idioms denoting health.
The idiomatic noun phrases are classified into these following patterns:
(Article) + Adjective + Noun:
4 English idioms which account for 19% out of 21 ones in total are under
this pattern such as: couch doctor, junk food, spare tyre, verbal diarrhoea.
Here are the examples:
- The man was sent to see a couch doctor because of his many problems.
(Doctor is the noun and couch is the adjective that supplies the meaning for doctor)
- I’d better go on a diet, I’m getting a spare tyre.
(Tyre is the noun and spare is the adjective that supplies the meaning for tyre)
- Junk food is bad for us because it contains large amount of harmful substances.
(Food is the noun and junk is the adjective that supplies the meaning for food)
-If someone has verbal diarrhoea, they can not stop talking.
(Diarrhoea is the noun and verbal is the adjective that supplies the meaning for
(Article) + Noun/ Noun phrase + Prepositional phrase: