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A study of idioms by clothes in english and vietnamese from a perspective of components





Field: English Language
Code: 8220201

Hanoi, 2018




Field: English Language
Code: 8220201
Supervisor: Đặng Nguyên Giang, Ph.D.

Hanoi, 2018


I, the undersigned, hereby certify my authority of the study project report
entitled “A Study of Idioms by Clothes in English and Vietnamese from a
Perspective of Components” submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for
the degree of Master in English Language. Except where the reference is indicated,
no other person‟s work has been used without due acknowledgement in the text of
the thesis.
Hanoi, 2018

Nguyễn Thị Vân
Approved by

Đặng Nguyên Giang, Ph. D.


The thesis could not have been completed without the help and support from
my suppervisor, teachers and closest relatives.
First and foremost, I would like to express my sincere gratitude to Mr. Đặng

Nguyên Giang, Ph. D, my supervisor, who has patiently and constantly supported
me through the stages of the study, and whose stimulating ideas, expertise, and
suggestions have inspired me greatly through my growth as an academic researcher.
Many thanks go to my colleagues and many others whose support and
encouragement help me to have this thesis accomplished.
Last but not least, I am greatly indebted to my family for their patience,
endless love, and devotion. Whatever choices I have made, they have always stood
by me and believed in me. I am immensely thankful for all the assistance they have
given me.
It is the support of all of the above that has enabled the completion of this
study, and for this I remain eternally grateful.


An investigation of idioms by clothes in English and Vietnamese in terms of
structural and semantic components is carried out in the present study.
Componential analysis, describing, comparing and contrasting are regarded as the
main methods used in the current thesis. The findings of the study are concerned
with the similarities and differences between English and Vietnamese idioms by
clothes in terms of (1) structural components and (2) semantic components. In order
to collect the data, a hand search approach of the dictionaries in both languages has
been conducted, which helps to establish a corpus of 89 idioms by clothes in
English and 50 idioms by clothes in Vietnamese.In the present study, a common
theoretical framework on idioms by clothes is applied to both English and
Vietnamese. The structural and semantic components involve three types of idioms
existing in our data: symmetrical, similized, and non-symmetrical (Nguyễn Công
Đức (1995), Hoàng Văn Hành (2008)). The structural components of each idiom
type are realized, described and analyzed according to grammatical rules suggested
by Quirk, Greenbaum, Leech, & Svartvik (1985).The semantic components of each
idiom type involve the motivation degrees (transparent, semi-transparent, semiopaque, and opaque) (Fernando & Flavell (1981), Fernando (1996)), the association
between the literal readings and the idiomatic meanings (Langlotz, 2006), and the
semantic composition of component parts (Hoàng Văn Hành, 2008). The findings of
the current study also reveal that most of the idioms in both English and Vietnamese
are analyzable and have meanings that are at least partly motivated. The thesis also
presents the implications for idiom teaching and translation.










1.1. Rationale


1.2. Aims of the Study


1.3. Research Questions


1.4. Scope of the Study


1.5. Significance of the Study


1.6. Research Methods


1.7. Design of the Study




2.1. Theoretical Background


2.1.1. Idioms Defined


2.1.2. Idioms from Traditional and Cognitive Views


2.1.3. Functions of Idioms


2.1.4. Idioms and other Language Units


2.2. Previous Research


2.2.1. Previous Research Works on Idioms in English


2.2.2. Previous Research Works on Idioms in Vietnamese


2.3. Summary




3.1. Componential research


3.2. Analytical research


3.3. Data Collection


3.4. Data Analysis


3.5. Procedures


3.6. Summary






4.1. Structural Components of Idioms by Clothes in English and


4.1.1. Symmetrical Idioms by Clothes


4.1.2. Similized Idioms by Clothes


4.1.3. Non-Symmetrical Idioms by Clothes


4.2. Semantic Components of Idioms by Clothes in English and Vietnamese


4.2.1. Motivation Degrees of Symmetrical Idioms by Clothes


4.2.2. Motivation Degrees of Similized Idioms by Clothes


4.2.3. Motivation Degrees of Non-Symmetrical Idioms by Clothes


4.2.4. Composition of Semantic Components of Idioms by Clothes in


English and Vietnamese
4.3. Comparision between English and Vietnamese Idioms by Clothes


4.3.1. In Terms of Structural Components


4.3.2. In Terms of Semantic Components


4.4.Idioms and their Importance for english Language Learners


4.5 Implications for Idiom Teaching and Translation


4.6. Summary




5.1. Summary of the Findings


5.2. Concluding Remarks


5.3. Recommendations for Further Studies










Vietnam is on the path of development and intergration not only with the

countries in the region but also with countries around the world. Therefore, learning
and using English in communication becomes very important and necessary. All
English learners in general and Vietnamese learners in particular desire to master
English as native speakers. However, people often face to a lot of difficulties that
prevent them from gaining successful conversations. One of the reasons of these
problems is that they meet difficulty in understanding and using idioms in
Each nation‟s language lies in itself similar and different concepts on many
fields such as customs and traditions, ways of thinking, religious beliefts, behavior
standards, social conventions, ect. Words and expressions including idioms have
formed the vocabulary system of a language and make specific characteristics of
each nation both material and spiritual values. Hence, investigating the idioms in
both English and Vietnamese always attracts many authors with many different
It is clear that studying idioms is not new; nonetheless, it has never been old.
In Vietnam, there exist three approaches in studying idioms: etymology, synchronic
evolution, and comparison and contrastive analysis (Hoàng Văn Hành, 2008).
Firstly, the investigations on idioms under etymology go into macro field. These
studies focus on the formation and transformation of each idiom during its
existence. It is hard work taking a lot of time and energy. The method mainly used
in these studies is the etymologizing, i.e. the origins of idioms are recovered in
order to make the forms and the idiomatic meanings transparent. Hoàng Văn Hành
(2002) and Tiêu Hà Minh (2007) are the typical authors who pay attention to this
area. The second approach in studying idioms is synchronic evolution. Descriptive
method is used in these studies from which the underlying cultural factors behind
the idioms are partly interpretable. This area of study attracts a lot of authors such
as Trương Đông San (1974), Nguyễn Lực & Lương Văn Đang (1978), Nguyễn


Công Đức (1995), Hoàng Văn Hành (2008), etc. Studying idioms under comparison
and contrastive analysis is the third approach. The studies under original recovery
and synchronic evolution are the backgrounds for comparison and contrastive
works. Several attempts have been made to work out the similarities and differences
between English and Vietnamese in terms of emotion expressing idioms (Nguyễn
Văn Trào, 2009), idiomatic verb phrases (Nguyễn Văn Long 2010), idiom
translation (Nguyễn Thị Lan, 2001; Hoàng Thị Minh Phúc, 2009), structural and
semantic components of idioms (Đặng Nguyên Giang, 2013), etc.
In fact, there have been so far studies on idioms such terms as human
feelings, colors, geography, animals, and time and so on from different
perspectives. However, to my best of knowledge, there have not been any studies
investigating idioms by clothes in English and Vietnamese from a perspective of
components. Therefore, this investigation is carried out to help learners of
Vietnamese and English as a foreign language improve their understanding of
idioms by clothes, especilally from the perspective of components.
1.2. Aims of the Study
The study is conducted to improve English teaching and learning in general
and idiom teaching and learning in particular. The findings of the study, to some
extent, help the teachers and the learners have a better understanding of English and
Vietnamese languages through the idioms by clothes.
In order to achieve the aim, the study is intended to reach the following
- to uncover how the components of idioms by clothes are organized
structurally and semantically in English and Vietnamese;
- to find out the similarities and differences between English and Vietnamese
idioms by clothes in terms of structural and semantic components;
- to give some implications for idiom teaching and translation.
1.3. Research Questions
The objectives of the study can be elaborated into the research questions as
- How are the components of idioms by clothes organized structurally and
semantically in English and Vietnamese?


- What are the similarities and differences between English and Vietnamese
idioms by clothes in terms of structural and semantic components?
- What are the possible implications for idioms teaching and translation?
1.4. Scope of the Study
This study investigates idioms by clothes in both English and Vietnamese
from a perspective of components. The study focuses on the idioms by clothes
selected from recently published dictionaries. All the authors of these works affirm
that the idioms in their books are both current and used, or undersood, by most
native speakers.
1.5. Significance of the Study
Theoretically, this study will add some basic theories of English and
Vietnamese idioms, specially the idioms by clothes from the perspective of
components. This helps to find out the similarities and differences between English
and Vietnamese idioms by clothes in terms of structural and semantic components.
It also contributes to the knowledge of linguistics in general and of idioms by
clothes in particular.
Practically, for language teaching (both English and Vietnamese), the study
facilitates learners‟ communication because language is for communication, and
idioms are an indispensable part of common expressions (Cowie, Mackin &
McCaig, 1993, p. x). The work will provide assistance to English-speaking learners
of Vietnamese and Vietnamese learners of English to distinguish one kind of idioms
from others in each language. The work will also enable learners to tell when
idioms in English and Vietnamese are similar and different, which is likely to be
useful for their study. Language teachers will be aided to help their learners reach
this communicative goal. For translation, knowledge of idioms from this work will
help translators find closest equivalents to the expressions in the source language.
1.6. Research Methods
1.6.1. Major Methods
Due to the main aims and objectives of the study, description, componential
analysis, contrastive exploitation and experimental method have been chosen as
major ones.
Firstly, the description, componential analysis are utilized in order to give a


full account of the structural and semantic components of English and Vietnamese
idioms by clothes. Secondly, the contrastive method is applied to identify the
similarities and differences between English and Vietnamese idioms by clothes.
Finally, the experimental method is used to uncover the effectiveness of idiom
componential analysis applied to idiom teaching at An Duong high school.
In conducting the research thesis, 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.
1.6.2. Data Collection Techniques
The monolingual and bilingual dictionaries of idioms in two languages are
useful instruments to collect data. Google search should be accounted because a large
number of relevant journals, newspapers, reference materials have been taken thanks
to this tool. Hence, to select an appropriate collection of English and Vietnamese
idioms by clothes with illustrating examples, the following techniques have also been
applied: dictionary checking, Google searching techniques and data categorizing with
determined criteria.
Regarding dictionary checking techniques, such key words as „idiom‟, names
of clothes are used to check the relevant meanings of English idioms containing
them. To categorize the data with determined criteria, some data mining techniques
like clustering technique and classification technique are used for defining the various
semantic features in accordance with certain meaning categories. In addition, others
minor techniques are also employed as reading comprehension, meaning comparison
and note-taking for selecting desired material of various idioms by clothes apart from
the word processing technique for archive of data categorizations.
Applying those data collection techniques, English and Vietnamese idioms
containing the component parts of clothes have been collected. Simultaneously, a
collection of examples extracted from dictionaries and literature works have been
gathered as well.
1.6.3. Data Analysis Techniques
After finishing the collection of data, they are qualitatively described and
analyzed in terms of the structural and semantic components to create a full picture of
English and Vietnamese idioms by clothes. In doing this thesis, the data profiling


technique is used in this research thesis to track the frequency, distribution and
characteristics of the values that populate the columns of a data set; they then
present the statistical results for review and drill-down analysis. The selective
idioms by clothes are carefully sorted out together with illustrated examples of the
above-mentioned features to find out the similarities and differences between English
and Vietnamese idioms by clothes.
Checklists and statistical techniques are utilized to quantitatively show the
frequency and distribution of English and Vietnamese idioms by clothes. Statistic
tables for generalization, comparison and contrastive analysis are used with the
purpose of making the investigation clear for discussion and interpretation.
1.7. Design of the Study
The study consists of five chapters, in addition to the appendices and the
Chapter 1, introduction, contains the rationale, the aims, the research
questions, the scope, the significance, the research methods, and the design of the
Chapter 2, literature review, is formed by two main parts: a review of
theoretical background and a review of previous research works.
Chapter 3, data and methods, discusses theoretical and analytical
frameworks, data collection, data analysis and procedures.
Chapter 4, structural and semantic components of idioms by clothes in
English and Vietnamese, is divided into two main parts: structural components of
idioms by clothes in English and Vietnamese, and semantic components of idioms
by clothes in English and in Vietnamese.
Chapter 5, the last one, is the conclusion which includes the summary of the
findings as well as the concluding remarks and recommendations for further


The literature review is divided into two main parts. The first part gives a
review of theoretical background and framework of idioms in English and
Vietnamese on which the whole research has been based. The second one presents
and discusses the previous research works on idioms in English and Vietnamese.
2.1. Theoretical Background
2.1.1. Idioms Defined
The central problem one comes up against in attempting to define idiom is
identifying the property (or properties) which will adequately capture all the
idioms in a language while excluding all the non-idioms. A number of approaches
to idiomaticity together with various definitions of what an idiom is have already
been presented in the previous chapter. If one narrowed down the consideration of
idiomaticity to the specific problem of definition it is possible to identify two
approaches to what idiomaticity is:
Those scholars who adopt the first approach look on idiomaticity as
manifesting the specific character or genius of a language. Their investigations of
idiomaticity are directed towards revealing this specific character which is, in
effect part of the underlying conceptual design of the language. Such an approach
ultimately leads to the nature of cognition itself and therefore has strong
psycholinguistic implications. The chief exemplars of this approach to
idiomaticity in the Anglo-American tradition of linguistics, Smith (1925) and
Roberts (1944), do not carry their investigations to these depths. Their work,
already referred to in Section 1.1, simply outlines the cultural preoccupations, the
'world view' implicit in the idioms of English, together with the pecularities of
phrasing and other distinguishing features (e.g. non-literalness) that distinguish
expressions as idioms. But the main emphasis in such work is on the conceptual
design of the language in so far as it emerges through a consideration of
idiomaticity rather than on the structural properties of idioms.
Scholars who adopt the second approach are more structurally orientated
and seek to define idiomaticity in terms of one or more structural properties. They


are, therefore more selective in their indentification of idioms. The second
approach, in addition, enables the linguist to make topological classifications of
such idioms on the basis of the properties he adopts as criteria. The majority of the
scholars whose work has been examined in Chapter I adopt this second approach
which is also the one adopted in this chapter.
English is very rich in idiomatic expressions. It is difficult to speak or write
English without using idioms. An important fact that must be taken into
consideration is that idioms are not only colloquial expressions, as many people
believe. They can appear in formal style and in slang. They can also appear in
poetry or in the language of the journalist, the writer and the Bible. What, then, is
an idiom?
Many linguists such as Robins (1989), Palmer (1981), Jackson and Amvela
(1998) and others regard idioms as a special kind of collocation. The meaning of an
idiom, however, cannot be deduced from the meaning of its constituents. An idiom
is distinguished from a collocation, for a collocation is a sequence of lexical items
which habitually co-occur and each lexical constituent of a collocation is a semantic
component. Hornby (1995) argued in his Oxford Advanced Learner‟s Dictionary,
an idiom is “a phrase or sentence whose meaning is not clear from the meaning of
its individual words and which must be learnt as a whole unit”. Sharing the same
point of view, Seidl and Mordie (1988) defined “an idiom is a number of words
which, taken together, mean something different from the individual words of the
idiom when they stand alone”. For instance, the collocation of kick and the bucket
forms an idiom meaning die, which is not systematically determinable from the
meanings of kick and the bucket. This idiom or phrasal lexeme is formally identical
with the phrase kick the bucket whose meaning is systematically determinable on
the basis of the meaning of the lexemes of which it is composed – hit a certain type
of container for liquids with their foot.
In Longman Dictionary of Language Teaching and Applied Linguistics
(1992), an idiom is also regarded as “an expression which functions as a single unit
and whose meaning cannot be worked out from its separate parts”. In addition,
Cowie, Mackin & McCaig (1993) state that idioms are groups of words with set
meanings that cannot be calculated by adding up the separate meanings of the parts.


Fernando (1996) defines an idiom as “an indivisible unit whose components cannot
be varied or varied only within definable limits”. This means that no other words
can be substituted for those comprising. Nor are the words of an idiom usually
In Vietnamese, a great variety of definitions of idioms are also given.
Nguyễn Văn Mệnh (1972) and Đỗ Hữu Châu (1981) suppose that idioms are
available linguistic units which have stable structures, typical meanings and
nominative functions. Having the same viewpoint, Nguyễn Đức Dân (1986) defines
that an idiom is a fixed group of words having a complete meaning and descriptive
value. To make it clearer, he also adds that idioms express concepts based on
separated images. It is the reason why idioms usually have their own figurative
meanings. For example, the phrase quần là áo lượt (very formal and well- dressed)
is considered as an idiom because its idiomatic meaning cannot be infered from the
meanings of its constituents (quần, là, áo, lượt). Another definition of idiom from
Hoàng Văn Hành (2008, p. 31) is that an idiom is a fixed group of words which is
firm in terms of structure, complete and figurative in terms of meaning, and is
widely used in daily speaking.
As can be seen from the above definitions, there are different ways of
defining an idiom. In general, most of the linguists share the same point of view
that an idiom is a fixed expression whose meaning cannot be worked out by
looking at the meanings of its individual constituents. What is given below is
regarded as a summary of the defining features of an idiom. Such an idiom:
- is a fixed unit whose components cannot be varied or varied under
definable control;
- is regarded as a complex scene with a bipartite semantic structure: a literal
reading and an idiomatic meaning;
- has the meaning which is usually different from the meanings of the
combination of its components;
- expresses a pure concept.
2.1.2. Idioms from Traditional and Cognitive Views
i) Idioms from Traditional Views
Traditionally, in English, idioms are considered to be unpredictable or non-


compositional (Chafe (1970), Chomsky (1965/1980), Katz (1973), Fernando &
Flavell (198), etc). This results in the concept that although we have learned the
meaning and syntactic property of each word of an idiom, we are still unable to
capture its idiomatic meaning. In other words, the meaning of an idiom cannot be
derived from the meanings of its constituents. According Fernando & Flavell
(1981), the meaning of an idiom is not the result of the compositional function of
its constituent parts. They regard an idiom as a lexeme.
Vietnamese idioms are traditionally thought to be unpredictable or noncompositional (Nguyễn Văn Mệnh (1972), Đỗ Hữu Châu (1981), Nguyễn Công
Đức (1995), Hoàng Văn Hành (2008), etc).
In summary, according to traditional view, the meaning of an idiom is the
special chemical mixture of all components‟ meaning, which is completely new in
quality. It means that there is no link between the literal reading and the idiomatic
meaning. However, in fact there exist a lot of idioms in English and in Vietnamese,
the idiomatic meanings of which can be derived from the meanings of their
component parts, i.e. their syntax is correlative. Indeed, the traditional view cannot
be applied to explain all types of idioms. It is regarded as the limitation of this view.
ii) Idioms from Cognitive Views
In English, from cognitive view, most idioms are believed to be analyzable
and have meanings that are at least partly motivated (Geeraets (1995), Gibbs
(1990/1995), Kốvecses & Szabo (1996), Nunberg et al. (1994), Fernando (1996),
Taylor (2002), Langlotz (2006), etc).
According to Nunberg et al. (1994, p. 497), “saying an expression is an
idiomatic combination (i.e. idiomatically combining expression) doesn‟t require us
to explain why each of its parts has the figurative interpretation it does, so long as
we can establish a correspondence between it and the relevant element of the
idiomatic denotation”. Nunberg et al. (1994) also divides idioms into two
categories. They are idiomatically combining expressions whose constituent parts
carry identifiable parts of their idiomatic meanings, and idiomatic phrases whose
idiomatic meanings cannot be derived from their parts. For example, the phrase
spill the beans, which means „divulge the information‟, can be analyzed by looking
at the action of „spill‟ as the action of divulging and „beans‟ as the information.


Gibbs (1990/1995) supposes that most idioms are motivated by cognitive-semantic
mechanisms such as metaphors, metonymies and conventional knowledge.
According to cognitive view, most Vietnamese idioms are also believed to
be analyzed and their meanings are at least partly motivated. For example, the
idiom “kéo áo người đắp bụng mình” meaning “one who is greedy and only think
about his/her benifits”.|
In a word, the psychological experiments conducted by Gibbs (1990/1995)
prove that the figurative meanings of most idioms are not arbitrary. Sharing the
same points with the authors above, in the present study we once again suppose that
most idioms in both English and Vietnamese are analyzable and have meanings
which are at least partly motivated through the component parts forming idioms.
2.1.3. Functions of Idioms
Idioms may play different roles. They are used to name objects, actions or
describe situations. They may express certain generalizations, advice, make
evaluation, emphasize…
Traditionally, from the point of view of the function of idioms, we can refer
to the following basic groups:

idioms with a nominative function - express concepts and name objects,
states, processes, actions, qualities, etc. They have the structure of a phrase.
Examples: while elephant, pull somebody 's leg, cool as a cucumber, body
and soul.


idioms with a communicative function - describe situations and express
independent statements. They have the structure of a sentence, e.g. all that
glitters is not gold, the coast is clear.


idioms with both nominative and communicative functions (including idioms
with a mixed, limited variable structure), e.g. break the ice - the ice is
broken, close the door on - the door is closed, lead somebody by the nose somebody is led by nose.


idioms without any distinctive nominative and communicative function linguists usually include here modal and interjectional idioms, or idioms
which have a cohesive function, e.g. like hell, what on earth, on the other
hand, as well as, by the way.


In relation to words, within the group of idioms with a nominative function
(lexemic idioms), we can refer to idioms equivalent to single words, i.e. they may
be replaced by a single word (of course = certainly, kick the bucket = die, in the
family way = pregnant). They may also correspond to non-idiomatic phrases
(collocations: a big fish = an important person, as red as a turkey cock = very
angry), or they may be correlated with approximate (free) description, e.g. have
green fingers = have natural ability in growing plants.
Nominative idioms correlate with word classes (parts of speech). They may
be divided into: noun, verbal, adjectival and adverbial idioms, etc., for example: a
dark horse (noun), make give up (verbal), as white as a sheet (adjectival), once in a
blue moon, tooth and nail (adverbial). Their function is not completely identical
with that of single words, since their meaning usually includes a higher degree of
both expressiveness and evaluation.
From the pragmatic point of view and discourse, some linguists, including
Fernando (l996) speak about:

"ideational" idioms ("the state and way of the world" idioms, expressing
namely: actions, events, situation, people, things, attitudes, emotions, etc.):
red herring, bury the hatchet, as white as a sheet


"interpersonal" idioms (expressing greetings, agreement, rejections, etc.): so
long, never mind.


"relational” idioms (ensuring cohesion, etc): by the way, in addition to, last
but not least
Other linguists give more detailed categorization of idioms. Some idioms

may have more than one function. Moon (1998), for example, distinguishes the
following groups of idioms:

informational (conveying information of different kind: in the red, rub
shoulders with, one’s kith and kin)


evaluative (giving the speaker‟s attitude to the situation: works wonders,
wash one’s hands off something, a different kettle of fish.


situational (expressing conventions, clauses, exclamation, relating to
extralingual context: walls have ears, so long, talk of the devil, long time no



modalizing (expressing modality, truth values, advice, request: mark my
words, more or less, at all, in effect)


organizational (organizing the text, signaling discourse structure: by the way,
all in all, let alone, in the light, on the other hand, in other words)

2.1.4. Idioms and other Language Units
That idioms share some common syntactic and semantic features with other
phraseology units in the language makes it difficult for learners to distinguish. The
confusion often occurs between idioms and words, idioms and proverbs or idioms
and slangs.
i) Idioms versus Words
“Words are the smallest language units having their own meanings and fixed
forms, and are used to build sentences” (Institute of linguistics, 2004). According to
this definition, words have the following features:
- Words are independent language units and have their own meanings.
- Words are available language units and have their own fixed forms.
- Words usually have nominative functions. It means that they are the names
of things, phenomena, activities, properties, states, etc.
- Words are basic language units used to build sentences.
The biggest difference between idioms and words is that they are compared
with single words: The smallest idioms consist of at least two single words.
Moreover, the determination of words closely connects concepts. For example, hẻo
lánh (out of the way) is a word and khỉ ho cò gáy (out of the way) is an idiom. Both
of these semantically express the same meaning. However, hẻo lánh (out of the
way) has literal meaning which is quite objective and neutral; khỉ ho cò gáy (out of
the way) has figurative meaning containing the speaker‟s emotional colorings and
comments: It is a boring hard place to live and work.
Words are the smallest language units which are independent and have their
own meanings. The meanings of compound words such as rain coat, coffee table
and pocket dictionary are usually clear and easy to deduce by looking at the literal
sense of their components. However, it is impossible to understand the meanings of
idioms by doing like that (except comparative idioms in Vietnamese) because
idioms have figurative meanings.


ii) Idioms versus Proverbs
According to Hornby (1995), a proverb is defined as „a short well-known
sentence or phrase that states a general truth about life or gives advice, e.g. Better
safe than sorry or Don’t put all your eggs in one basket‟. More particularly, Vũ
Ngọc Phan (2000, p. 39) regards a proverb as „a complete saying expressing one
idea of comment, experience, morality, justice or criticism‟.
It is obvious that idioms and proverbs share some common features and it is
necessary to put them side by side to distinguish. First of all, both idioms and
proverbs are ready-made units which are mainly orally transmitted from generation
to generation and naturally accepted in daily life. Secondly, both of them are setexpressions whose components are stable and not able to be substituted. It is nearly
impossible to add, omit or replace any components of an idiom or a proverb because
it will make them lose their figurative meanings. In addition, the meaning of most
idioms and proverbs is understood metaphorically rather than literally. This is the
reason why it is arduous to discover their true meaning just by looking up the
individual words in a normal dictionary. Finally, some proverbs originate from
idioms. An example of this is the proverb keep something under your hat (a person
who always keep someone‟s secrets) which contains the idiom under your hat (keep
secrets in someone‟s mind).
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 terms of syntactic structures, idioms are phrases which
are parts of sentences; thus, they are equivalent to words. In contrast, proverbs are
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. The Congolese proverb A pretty face and fine
clothes do not make character illustrates this point clearly. Its perceptive function is
to make people aware that clothes is not much effect to sb‟s character. 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; give 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 cannot be considered as a literature work, but as
a language unit only. The idiom eat my hat illustrates that a person saying this when
he doesn‟t belive that something is going to happen.
iii) Idioms versus Slang
Slang, as defined in Oxford Advanced Learner‟s Dictionary (1995), is “very
informal words and expressions that are more common in spoken language,
especially used by a particular group of people, for example, children, criminals,
soldiers, etc.” Slang is firstly created only to satisfy the need of secret-keeping, or it
can be the signs to recognize people of the same group. Slang can appear as a brand
new word, a new meaning for an existing word, an abbreviation for a word, or a
word that becomes more generalized than its former, narrow meaning. Though both
idioms and slangs are almost fixed in structure and meaning, they differ from each
other in some aspects.
It can be inferred from the definition that slang is used by only some specific
communities whereas idioms are used more commonly. In other words, other group
people may find it difficult to understand the slang and slang is a means of
identifying and reinforcing certain sub-groups in society which can be divided
according to age, occupation, criminals, etc. However, there is a close relationship
between slang and idiom. It can be said that idiom is yesterday‟s slang and slang is
tomorrow‟s idiom. In other words, idiom is slang that has through use and over time,
become acceptable to use in informal language. Slangs are words that are usually
made up and stand alone on their own, often used as euphemisms - but not always.
They are typically used in informal language, and are very often tied to locale,
profession or cultural cliques. For example: Pants the American default word for
the article of clothing that covers the legs and pelvic region seems pretty general
and innocuous to English speakers in the U.S. To the actual English, however,
„pants‟ is the primary word they use for „underwear.‟ And while American cinema
and television typically writes the word „knickers‟ for underwear into the
vocabulary of British characters that‟s probably just for comedic effect since „pants‟


wouldn‟t induce any response the most common British word for underwear really
is „pants.‟ Americans tend not to notice how often they refer to their so-called pants
until someone from the U.K. joins their ranks. Once that happens they begin to
notice restrained snickering every time „pants‟ are referenced in a polite
In summary, have many things in common with words, proverbs and slangs
that remind learners to take them into parallel consideration when studying
language. Despite these similarities among them, they are still distinguishable.
2.2. Previous Research
2.2.1. Previous Research Works on Idioms in English
According to Makkai (1972) divides idioms into two main kinds: encoding
and decoding. Then, decoding idioms are subdivided into lexemic and semantic.
Semantic idioms consist of six categories: phrasal verbs, tournures, irreversible
binomials, phrasal compounds, incorporating verbs and pseudo-idioms. Seidl and
McMordie (1988), Cowie, Mackin & McCaig (1993) mention the categories of
idioms based on their topics and grammatical patterns. From transformational
grammar, Fraser (1970) regards an idiom as a constituent or a series of constituents
whose meaning does not come from the meanings of individual parts. He also
mentions six level scales of idioms: unrestricted, reconstitution, extraction,
permutation, insertion, adjunction and completely frozen. Semantically, Quirk
(1996) investigates idioms and proverbs having constituents of animals in English.
In this study, typical cultural properties conveyed by this type of idioms and
proverbs are established. This is regarded as an initial research investigating
English idioms and proverbs in terms of their semantic properties from component
Fernando & Flavell (1981) are the linguists who realize the limitations of
the previous scholars. They suppose that idiom and idiomaticity are not the same.
They focus on the nature of idioms such as morpho-syntacite composition,
semantic properties, homonymity, syntactic properties, etc. They also examine
several issues which focus attention on the idiom as a single lexeme that is noncorrelative in its syntax and therefore non-literal in terms of its constituents.
The most



sensitive criterion to establish idiomaticity is


undoubtedly the semantic one. Semantically, Fernando & Flavell (1981) establish
the transparent - opaque axis for analyzing idioms. In defining idiom, they stress
three features in particular: a non-correlative syntax resulting in non-literalness,
homonymity and institutionalization.
From cognitive view, Nunberg et al.

(1994) divides idioms into two

categories (i) idiomatically combining expressions whose constituent parts carry
identifiable parts of their idiomatic meanings, and (ii) idiomatic phrases whose
idiomatic meanings cannot be derived from their parts (see Section 1.1.3).
Fernando (1996) also divides English idioms





idioms, semi-idioms and literal idioms. Grammatically, Taylor (2002) mentions
the interrelated topics of idioms and constructions. The topics are interrelated in
that both idioms and constructions are possibly considered as symbolic units,
which associate a phonological (or „formal‟) representation with a semantic
reading. According to his points of view, constructions are usually specified at a
high level of schematicity and likely to sanction an open set of expressions.
Nevertheless, a construction‟s usage range may not be fully predictable:
constructions, in other words, display varying degrees of idiomaticity. Idioms
generally need to be specified at a lower level of schematicity. Taylor (2002) also
points out that the difference between idioms and constructions turns out to be a
gradient distinction, having to do, essentially, with the schematicity at which a unit
is specified. Langlotz (2006) explores alternative types of adnominal modification
in occasional variants of English verbal idioms. Following the cognitive-linguistic
framework, he states that the dimensions of idiom-transparency result from the
language user‟s ability to remotivate the bipartite semantic structure by conceptual
metaphors and metonymies.
In short, idioms in English are studied in terms of several aspects such as
grammar, semantics, rhetoric, pragmatics, etc which are investigated from different
views. However, the majority of scholars pay their attention to the two approaches.
Scholars who adopt the first approach are more structurally orientated. They
describe the idioms and their idiomaticity in terms of one or more structural
properties. The idiomatologists who adopt the second approach study idiomaticity


as manifesting hidden conceptual design of the language. Such an approach leads to
the nature of cognition itself and accordingly has valid psycholinguistic.
2.2.2. Previous Research Works on Idioms in Vietnamese
In the vocabulary system of Vietnamese, idioms which are usually placed
in a certain position can define themselves with other linguistic units such as
compounds, collocations and proverbs. Due to this direction, it can be seen that
several studies on vocabulary and grammar or the boundary issues among lexical
units have been carried out (Đỗ Hữu Châu ( 1981), Nguyễn Văn Mệnh ( 1986),
Nguyễn Thiện Giáp ( 1985), Hồ Lê ( 1976), etc). Some other Vietnamese authors
such as Trương Đông San (1974), Hoàng Văn Hành (1976) study the forms and
meanings of similized idiom. Nguyễn Công Đức (1995) studies Vietnamese
idioms from formal-semantic perspectives. It is a research investigating idioms
quite systematically from both structural and semantic perspectives. Based on the
forms, he divides Vietnamese idioms into three categories: idioms with
symmetrical structure, idioms with comparison structure and idioms with nonsymmetrical structure. For idioms with symmetrical structure, the most important
characteristic is the reciprocal or contrast of meaning of the two parts of idioms,
i.e. it is the relation of symmetrical contents. From this relation, these idioms form
other relations such as the relation of symmetrical words, i.e. symmetry or
repetition between components. Like other linguists, he supposes that idioms with
comparison structure are formed according to a general formula A như B (e.g. trắng
như bông (very white). Idioms with non- symmetrical structure are generally
formed by phrases, especially verb phrases: vén tay áo sô đốt nhà táng giấy (show
a person who always waste money). The meaning formation process of idioms
consists of three stages: creating constituent parts including explicit and implicit
components, establishing the meanings through the internal relations among
components, generalizing and identifying the idiomatic meanings with things
and concepts in everyday life. He also comments that the meanings of idioms are
generally formed according to symmetrical, contrastive, harmonious, convergent
and random relations.
Like other linguists, Hoàng Văn Hành (2008) regards idioms as fixed groups
of words having stable forms and fully figurative meanings. The stable


particularity of idiom forms is the stability of vocabulary components (It is
normally so fixed that they cannot be replaced by any synonyms). This stable
characteristic is the result of dimming or forgetting the relationship between
grammar and semantics. However, he also notes that the stability of idioms in the
standard system and their flexibility in usage are not two contradict aspects and
don‟t exclude each other. The full particularity of idiomatic meanings is also
explained from nominal senses. Differing from other normal parts of speech,
idioms are considered as the nominal units of the second class. From this point of
view, he emphasizes that idioms have bipartite meanings: literal (base, origin);
figurative (used in reality and formed by the emblematized process). The
emblematized process of idiom meanings is expressed by two forms: comparative
and figurative. Due to this, Hoàng Văn Hành (2008) classifies Vietnamese idioms
as follows:
i) Based on the formation of meanings, there are two kinds of idioms:
similized and figurative. Figurative idioms can be sub-classified into symmetrical
figurative and non-symmetrical figurative.
ii) Due to the structures, idioms can be classified into symmetrical and nonsymmetrical. Non-symmetrical idioms can be sub-classified into non-symmetrical
The differences in classification above are only in view, or rather in
selecting the criteria for each level of classification. Due to that thought, Hoàng
Văn Hành (2008) considers each sub-category as an issue for investigation. And,
basing on this way, he continually divides each sub-category into smaller subcategories. For example, symmetrical figurative idioms can be classified into two
types: coordination - meeting of meanings and no meeting of meanings.
Symmetrical figurative idioms with non-coordination - meeting of meanings can
be further divided into balance, focus and alternative.
Hoàng Văn Hành (2008) also states that the general pattern of similized
idioms (A như B) given by the previous authors is right but very reduced. It does
not reflect the nature of comparison in terms of both logic and language.
According to him, in any case the logical structure of comparison is At1 như Bt2
(t1 is the attribute of A; t2 is the attribute of B). Based on that general model, he


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