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Features of set expressions containing words “black” and “white” in english and “đen” and “trắng” in vietnamese from the cultural perspectives

MINISTRY OF EDUCATION AND TRAINING
HANOI OPEN UNIVERSITY

M.A. THESIS

FEATURE OF SET EXPRESSIONS CONTAINING WORDS
“BLACK” AND “WHITE” IN ENGLISH AND “ĐEN” AND
“TRẮNG” IN VIETNAMESE FROM THE CULTURAL
PERSPECTIVES
(ĐẶC ĐIỂM CỦA NHỮNG CỤM TỪ CỐ ĐỊNH CÓ CHỨA TỪ “BLACK”
VÀ “WHITE” TRONG TIẾNG ANH VÀ “ĐEN” VÀ “TRẮNG” TRONG
TIẾNG VIỆT NHÌN TỪ GÓC ĐỘ VĂN HÓA)

VŨ THỊ BÌNH

Hanoi, 2016
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Front hard cover
Back hard cover


VŨ THỊ BÌNH

ENGLISH LANGUAGE

2014 - 2016

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MINISTRY OF EDUCATION AND TRAINING
HANOI OPEN UNIVERSITY

M.A. THESIS

FEATURE OF SET EXPRESSIONS CONTAINING WORDS
“BLACK” AND “WHITE” IN ENGLISH AND “ĐEN” AND
“TRẮNG” IN VIETNAMESE FROM THE CULTURAL
PERSPECTIVES
(ĐẶC ĐIỂM CỦA NHỮNG CỤM TỪ CỐ ĐỊNH CÓ CHỨA TỪ “BLACK”
VÀ “WHITE” TRONG TIẾNG ANH VÀ “ĐEN” VÀ “TRẮNG” TRONG
TIẾNG VIỆT NHÌN TỪ GÓC ĐỘ VĂN HÓA)

VŨ THỊ BÌNH

Field: English Language
Code: 60220201

Supervisor: Assoc. Prof. Dr. Hoàng Tuyết Minh

Hanoi, 2016
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TABLE OF CONTENTS
Certificate of originality

i

Acknowledgements



ii

Abstract

iii

Chapter 1. INTRODUCTION

1

1.1.

Rationale

1

1.2.

Aims of the study

2

1.3.

Objectives of the study

2

1.4.

Scope of the study

3

1.5.

Significance of the study

4

1.6.

Design of the study

4

Chapter 2. LITERATURE REVIEW

6

2.1.

History of the study

6

2.2.

Concepts of set expressions

7

2.2.1. Definition of set expressions

7

2.2.2. Types of set expressions

8

2.2.2.1. Idioms

8

2.2.2.2. Proverbs

11

2.3. Cultural and language

13

2.3.1. Definition of culture

13

2.3.2. Characteristics of culture

16

2.3.3. The relationship between language and culture

21

2.3.4. Characteristics of English culture

23

2.3.5. Characteristics of Vietnamese culture

24

2.4. Concepts of color

27

2.4.1. Colors in language

27

2.4.2. Colors in culture

28

2.4.3. The meaning of color black and white

29

2.4.4. Black and White in English culture

31
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2.4.5. Đen and trắng in Vietnamese culture

34

2.5. Summary

37

Chapter 3. METHODOLOGY

39

3.1.

39

Research orientations

3.1.1. Research questions

39

3.1.2. Research approaches

39

3.1.3. Principles/criteria for intended data collection and data analysis

41

3.2. Research methods

41

3.2.1. Major methods and supporting methods

41

3.2.2. Data collecting techniques

41

3.2.3. Data analysis techniques

41

3.3. Summary

43

Chapter 4. FINDINGS AND DISCUSSION

44

4.1. Cultural features of set expressions containing words black and
white in English
4.2. Cultural features of set expressions containing words đen and

44
51

trắng in Vietnamese
4.3. A comparison cultural features of set expressions containing words

61

black and white in English and đen and trắng in Vietnamese
4.4. Implications and suggestions for teaching and learning set

64

expressions containing words black and white
4.5. Summary

68

Chapter 5. CONCLUSION

69

5.1. Summary and concluding remarks

69

5.2. Limitations of the study

71

5.3. Suggestions for further study

71

REFERENCES

73

APPENDIX

78

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CERTIFICATE OF ORIGINALITY
I, the undersigned, hereby certify my authority of the study project report
entitled FEATURES OF SET EXPRESSIONS CONTAINING WORDS
“BLACK” AND “WHITE” IN ENGLISH AND “ĐEN” AND “TRẮNG” IN
VIETNAMESE FROM THE CULTURAL PERSPECTIVES 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, 2016

Vũ Thị Bình

Approved by
SUPERVISOR

Assoc. Prof. Dr. Hoàng Tuyết Minh
Date:……………………

i


ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
This thesis could not have been completed without the help and support from
a number of people.
First and foremost, I would like to express my sincere gratitude to Assoc.
Prof. Dr. Hoang Tuyet Minh, 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.
A special word of thanks goes to my friends and many others, without whose
support and encouragement it would never have been possible for me to have this
thesis accomplished.
Last but not least, I am greatly indebted to my family, my husband for the
sacrifice they have devoted to the fulfillment of this academic work.

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ABSTRACT
Language and culture are intimately connected to each other. Language
generally reflects culture and vice versa, culture has a strong influence on language.
Two countries with different cultures will surely have many dissimilarities in
language and that does not except idioms, especially idioms of comparison, which
play a crucial part in language. The aim of this paper is to point out the similarities
and differences between English culture and Vietnamese culture in using set
expressions containing words black and white. This study helps to strongly
corroborate the inextricable and dialectical relationship between culture and
language, ameliorate knowledge of idioms proverbs that contains words black and
white and enhance cultural understanding of Vietnamese culture and English
culture to a great extent. Two basic colours black and white denote meaning
different things. They represent feelings, people, countries, cultures; as a result,
different cultures have different interpretations of black and white colors. Language
users should be aware of this to avoid misunderstanding and cultural crash when
communicating and using black and white in idioms and proverbs. This study
compares and points out the differences, similarities in using idioms and proverbs
containing words black and white in English culture and Vietnamese culture, then
focuses on its implication and suggestions for teaching and learning set expressions
containing words black and white.

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Chapter 1
INTRODUCTION
1.1.

Rationale
Nowadays, the globalization has been changing and developing very

quickly; therefore, communication with high requirements has become an urgent
than ever more. Among which English is the most popular and flexible language in
the world. However, in spite of the fact that English has been the most common
one, there stand challenges existing for foreign learners to overcome. Those
difficulties derived from special factors such as culture, context or even speaker’s
implication. They affect to foreign learners’ understanding as much as possible.
In studying English, especially for the Vietnamese, it is really a
shortcoming if we do not take into consideration of set expressions in English,
especially set expressions contaning words colour. English expressions are not only
a part of language, but also one of the components creating traditional culture of
each nation. Through expressions, we can learn more clearly and deeply about
English people, their country as well as their culture. As we know, because of
specific characteristics of culture, so each colour English expression has its own
features. It lies in the fact that, colours have taken an important role in the living
and each colour also has its own meaning.
Colors are always interesting and challenging topic for linguists to explore,
color results from the way in which things reflect light. It not only makes us see but
also makes us feel and think. Colors also vary in the way that appears to reflect
specific cultural differences, especially with white and black color. They are two
opposite colors, and the most basic color in the color table. It is clear that set
expressions related to black and white have a variety of meanings that make
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foreigners learning Vietnamese meet many difficulties and they are not sure how to
make similarities and differences when using set expressions related to black and
white in English and in Vietnamese. So, clarifying these cultural perspectives will
help learners of English and Vietnamese to understand them effectively in order to
achieve their communication goals. So far, many relevant studies on colors in
English and Vietnamese have been carried out. However, researches on crosscultural with set expressions containing words black and white in English and
Vietnamese have not been done.
For these reasons, we decided to choose the topic “Features of set
expressions containing words “black” and “white” in English and “đen” and
“trắng” in Vietnamese from the cultural perspectives”.
1.2. Aims of the study
This study is aimed at investigating cultural features of set expressions
containing words black and white in English and cultural features of set expressions
containing words đen and trắng inVietnamese. At the same time, the study also
helps Vietnamese learners learn English better and supplies them with a deeper
understanding of set expressions containing words black and white, đen and trắng
in particular in terms of their cultural features.
1.3. Objectives of the study
- Identify and describe cultural features of set expressions containing words
black and white in English, đen and trắng inVietnamese.
- Find out the similarities and differences in English culture and Vietnamese
culture in using set expressions containing words black and white.

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- Supply some suggested implications for teaching and learning how to use
set expressions containing words black and white in English, đen and trắng
Vietnamese.
1.4. Scope of the study
Words denoting color is a very large topic, so this study only focuses on set
expressions containing words black and white in English and đen and trắng
Vietnamese to find out their features from the cultural perspectives.
Set expression includes fixed phrases, sentences, proverbs and idioms which
contain words black and white in both languages, English and Vietnamese. But in
this study, we only study scope of set expression to be idioms and proverbs.
Amount set expressions containing words black and white in English and
đen, trắng in Vietnamese that we have found and researched on this study with
178 set expessions in English and 277 set expessions in Vietnamese. About scope
corpus sources, our study has based on the following documents:
- Thành ngữ, tục ngữ, ca dao Việt Nam (Việt Chương, 2003)
- Từ điển thành ngữ - tục ngữ Việt Nam (Nguyễn Lân, 1993)
- Từ điển thành ngữ tiếng Việt phổ thông (Nguyễn Như Ý, 2002)
- Tuyển chọn thành ngữ tục ngữ Việt Nam (Du Yên, 2004)
- Thành ngữ trong tiếng Anh (Lê Thành Tâm, Lê Ngọc Phương Tâm, 2004)
- Oxford dictionary of English idioms (Cowie A.P, Mackin R, Mc Caig
I.R, 1994)
- English idioms in use (Michael McCarthy, Felicity O&Dell, 2003)
This study focuses mainly on the cultural perspectives in English and
Vietnamese equally. Comparison and contrasting cultural features are to point out
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the similarities and differences between English culture in using set expressions
containing words black and white and Vietnamese culture in using set expressions
containing words đen and trắng.
1.5. Significance of the study
- Theoretically, the study supplies a deeper understanding of set expressions
containing words black and white in English, đen and trắng in Vietnamese in
particular in terms of their cultural features.
- Practically, the study points out the similarities and differences about the
cultural features of set expressions containing words black and white to learners to
improve their usage of language skills when using set expressions containing words
black and white, particularly communicative skills and avoid culture shocks.
1.6. Design of the study
The thesis consists of five chapters as below:
Chapter 1, Introductions, presents the overview of the thesis including
rationale, aims, objectives, scope, research methods, significance,

well as the

organization of the study.
Chapter 2, Literature review, overviews the previous studies and buils up
the theoretical background in the study.
Chapter 3, Methodology, focuses on presenting research questions, research
procedure, data collection, as well as methods of analysis.
Chapter 4, Findings and discussion, points out the cultural features in using
set expressions containing words black and white in English and Vietnamese;
discusses and shows the similarities and differences in English culture and
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Vietnamese culture in using set expression containing word black and white as
well as the influence of culture in using colors; provides some suggestions for
further research and gives implications on teaching and learning set expressions
containing words black and white.
Chapter 5, Conclusions, summaries the major findings recorded during the
making of the thesis presents the limitations of the study.
References and Appendix come at the end of the study.

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Chapter 2
LITERATURE REVIEW
2.1. History of the study
In English, there have been many authors carrying out studies on color, culture
in using of colors. However, their approaches are different in some ways.
Kay and McDaniel (1978) presents the existence of biologically based
semantic universals about color terms. Wierzbicka (1996) and Goddard (1998)
maintain that visual and environmental things should be referred to as common
reference points for color meanings. Guimei He (2009) mentions the cultural
connotation in the color words between Chinese and English languages is very
abundant. Francis M. Adams and Charles E. Osgood (2011), also studies the
affective meanings of color in cross cultural. It is also another study, Huei-ling Lai
and Shu-chen Lu (2012), mentions and shows the similarities and variations in the
meaning extensions of black and white, and further to find the cultural factors
behind them but it only mentions in in Taiwanese Languages. Hui-Chih Yu (2014),
shows the differences and similarities of symbolic meanings of colour in English
and Chinese in his study.
In Vietnamese, there have also been many authors carrying out studies on
color, culture in using of colors, set experession such as: Trương Thanh Ngọc
(2003), she mentions semantic features of word denoting colors in English and
Vietnamese: black, white, green, red, yellow, blue, brown, grey, orange, pink and
purple. However, in other study by Nguyễn Mai Diệu Khoa (2003), she focuses her
attention on the study of metaphoric meaning of words denoting colour which
includes six main colours. Nguyễn Thị Diệu Hảo (2005) finds that people tend to
use idioms denoting colour words in daily communication. Lê Thị Thanh Thủy
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(2009), points out connotation meanings of white, red, blue in both languges
English and Vietnamese. Phan Lê Thị Huyền (2011) bases on new trend with
contrastive analysis on both semantic and pragmatic features of the adjective Black
in English and Đen in Vietnamese in compound words, collocation and idiomatic
phrases. Bùi Thị Thanh Hiền (2011), studies the metaphor related to Red in English
and Vietnamese in her study. Phạm Thị Kim Chuyên (2012), shows similarities
and differences of semantic features of the word Green in English and Xanh (lá
cây) in Vietnamese.
However, there has not been so far a study on cultural perspectives of two
colors black and white in English and Vietnamese. Therefore, it is necessary to do a
research on this matter to hit the target.
2.2. Concepts of set expressions
2.2.1. Definition of set expressions
As many languages English and Vietnamese, set expressions are own phrases
and sentences that used daily in communication, in speech as well as in writing. Set
expressions required of fixed phrases, sentences, idioms and proverbs.
According to Nguyễn Hòa (2001), Set expressions are word-groups
consisting of two or more words whose combinations are integrated as a
specialized meaning of the whole such as to see the red light, to give one a big
hand, …etc.
Set expressions have been sometimes called word equivalents, and they
have been postulated that the vocabulary of a language consists of words and word
equivalents (word group), similar to word in so far as they are not created in speech
but introduced into the act of communication ready-made. If substitution is only
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pronominal, or restricted to a few synonyms for one of the only, or impossible, i.e.
If the elements of the phrase are always the same and make a fixed context for each
other, the word-group is a set expression.
In this study, set expressions include proverbs and idioms.
2.2.2. Types of set expressions
2.2.2.1. Idioms
According to in English, Hornby (1995) states in his Oxford Advanced
Learner’s Dictionary that 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”. In Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary (2006), Hornby changes the
definition a little bit, noting that an idiom is “a group of words whose meaning is
different from the meanings of the individual words”
J. Seidl and W. McMordie (1998) concept "An idioms can be defined as a
number of words which, when taken together, have a different meaning from the
individual meanings of each ".
The number of idioms in English is considerable. Some interesting examples
are: It was for the birds (means: It’s is really meaningless and uninteresting), or to
bury the hatchet (to make peace), to call it a day (to stop doing something), to paint
the town red (to carouse and have a good time), ...
For the Vietnamese, it also carries the same basic point English particular
idioms and idiomatic language of the world in general. Hồ Lê (1976) refers an
idiom is a word combination which has stable structure and figurative meaning and
is used to describe an image, a phenomenon, a characteristic, or a state. Đái Xuân

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Ninh (1978) defines an idiom is a set expression whose constituents lose their
independence to some extend and combine into a rather complete and stable units.
According to Nguyễn Thiện Giáp (1985), Idiom is a phrase whose meaning it
is not made up of the meaning of the words composing it. Even if the meaning of
all words which can not yet guess idiom meaning of that phrase. Idioms with
completeness of meaning but secluded nature of the elements in the structure, so it
activities in question as equivalent to an individual from.
Hoàng Văn Thành (1997), idiom is a combination of fixed and sustainability
of the morphology, structure, complete and polished on the meaning to be widely
used in daily communication, especially in the oral.
To build a foundational definition for the study, we base on the above
features as well as our own observation, then apply the following definition as the
mafor concept for our research working: An idiom is a fixed phrase which has
integrity of meaning, making a complete referential unit whose meaning is different
from the total meanings of its components, it is non-literal and works as a single
word or a phrase. We also possess a lot of idioms such as: Nghèo rớt mùng tơi;
Chọc gậy bánh xe; cao chạy xa bay; ném đá dấu tay; cao chạy xa bay ,..
There are many different definitions of idioms but we can find some
similarities between them. After survey and study, we found idioms have some
common features the following:
- An idiom is a multiword expression. Individual components of an idiom
can often be inflected in the same way individual words in a phrase can be
inflected. This inflection usually follows the same pattern of inflection as the
idiom's literal counterpart. For example: have a bee in one's bonnet = feeling
anxiously
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- An idiom behaves as a single semantic unit
- It tends to have some measure of internal cohesion such that a literal
counterpart that is made up of a single word can often replace it, for example: kick
the bucket = die
- It resists interruption by other words whether they are semantically
compatible or not, for example: do a bunk = do a bunk with sb or be sulky as a
bear = be as sulky as a bear
- It resists reordering of its component parts, for example: let the cat out of
the bag = the cat got left out the bag
- An idiom has a non-productive syntactic structure. Only single particular
lexemes can collocate in an idiomatic. Substituting other words from the same
generic lexical relation set will destroy the idiomatic meaning of the expression, for
example: eat one's words = eat one's sentence
- It is syntactic anomalous. It has unusual grammatical structure, for
example: by and large
2.2.2.2. Proverbs
According to Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary (Hornby, 2006) has
given a definition proverb is a well-known phrase or sentence that gives advice or
says something that is generally true, for example: Waste not, want not.
Or according to Linda and Roger Flavell (1993), proverb is a concise
sentence, often metaphorical or alliterative in form, which is held to express some
truth ascertained by experience or observation and familiar to all.

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Paul Hermadi and Francis Steen (1999) make it clearly by considering
proverbs brief, memorable, and intuitively convincing formulations of socially
sanctioned advice. The concept of proverb is, however, a bit different in
Vietnamese.
Alan Dundes (1978) standing on the concept defined structure: A proverb is
a traditional propositional statement consisting of at least one descriptive element, a
descriptive element consisting of a topic and a comment.
However, in Vietnamese, the concept of proverb is a bit different.
Vietnamese dictionary defines proverb as short statements, often expressed with
rhythm, which sum up knowledge, life experience and moral lessons of people.
According to Phạm Văn Bình (1993), A proverb is a complete sentence expressing
an idea of comment, of experience, of morality, of justice or of criticism draw from
the human life.
Vũ Ngọc Phan (2000), particularly considered a proverb as a complete
saying expressing one idea of comment, experience, morality, justice or
criticism.
Nguyễn Thái Hòa (2009) was conceived: A proverb is the mouthpiece
formed in everyday speech. Those are the words but units exist in the memories of
the community as a unit of language.
For example: Ngọt mật chết ruồi, con có cha như nhà có nóc, phép vua thua
lệ làng, no nên bụt, đói ra ma,…
In short, in the opinion of many researchers, although few short way, proverb
is also a sentence express a full meaning, the meaning of the proverb is that a
combination of each of its constituent. The meaning of the proverb may be a
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comment, an experience, a moral, or a word of advice, a word of judgment,
criticism.
We also can indicate some following common features of proverb according
to Obeng (1996):
- Proverbs are passed down through time with little change in form.
- Proverbs are often used metaphorically and it is understanding their
metaphorical nature that we can unravel their meaning.
For example: a stitch in time saves nine, don't count your chickens before
they've hatched, don't throw the baby out with the bathwater.
- Proverbs often make use of grammatical and theoretical devices that help
to make them memorable, including alliteration, rhyme, parallel structure,
repetition of key words or phrases, and strong imagery.
2.3. Cultural and language
2.3.1. Definition of culture
Culture is an integral part of every society. It is a learned pattern of behavior
and ways in which a person lives his or her life. Culture is essential for the
existence of a society, because it blinds people together. In the explicit sense of the
term, culture constitutes the music, food, art and literature of a society. However,
these are only the products of culture followed by the society and cannot be defined
as culture. Various definitions of cultures have been given by scholars from
different points of view.

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The term “culture” derives from the Latin cultura. The original meaning is
agriculture, referring to the practice of tilling the soil, growing crops and raising
animals.
Until 1871, in his enormously influential and classic book PrimitiveCulture
,British anthropologist Edward Taylor became the first to give a full definition of
culture which is widely quoted: “Culture…is that complex whole which includes
knowledge, beliefs, arts, morals, law, custom and any other capacities and habits
acquired by man as a member of society.”
In book “Intercultural communication” Nguyễn Quang also claims that:
Culture is a shared background (for example, national, ethnic, religious)
resulting from a common language and communication style, customs, beliefs,
attitudes, and values.” The nature of culture is aptly compared to an iceberg, most
of which is hidden under water. Just as an iceberg has a visible section above the
waterline, and a larger, invisible section below the waterline, culture has some
aspects that are observable such as literature, gestures, foods and eating habits
and others that can onlybe suspected, existing only in the realms of thought,
feeling, and belief. “Like the iceberg most of the influence of culture on an
individual cannot beseen. The part of culture that is exposed is not always that
which creates ross-cultural difficulties; the hidden aspects of culture have
significant effects on behavior and on interactions with others.
(Nguyễn Quang, 1996)
In 2000, a Japanese anthropologist, Matsumoto, delivered another definition
of culture as many characteristics of a group of people, including attitudes,
behaviors, customs and values that are transmitted from one generation to the next.
His point is supported by Edward T. Hall, who wrote that “culture is a way of life
of a people, the sum of their learned behavior patterns, attitudes, and materials
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things”. In this definition, he mentioned three elements of human life; they are:
learned behavior patterns (referring to what people do), attitudes (referring to what
they think and believe), and material things (referring to their property).
UNESCO also provides a definition of culture in which it is noted that
Culture comprises the whole complex of distinctive spiritual, material, intellectual
and emotional features that characterize a society or socialgroup. It includes not
only the arts and letters, but also modes of life, thefundamental rights of the human
being, value systems, traditions and beliefs.
Taking a glimpse at all the definitions above, we can see that culture is
studied from various perspectives. Some treated culture superficially as aset of
specific artifacts, man-made environment, patterns of social organization and overt
forms of behavior. Others treated culture in a more abstract way as the shared
knowledge of members of social communities like world views, value
orientations, norms, manners, customs, preferred styles of thinking and arguing.
Being taken as “socially acquired knowledge” (Hudson, 1980) culture is
classified by some scholars into cultural knowledge information and cultural
communication information. The former refers to the factual information which
does not exert a direct influence on the cross-cultural communication, including
a nations history, geography and so on. The later points to the socio-pragmatic rules
in daily communication which entail notonly ways of greeting, thanking,
apologizing and addressing, but alsoattention to taboos, euphemism, modesty and
polite formula in use, and soforth.
Culture is something that a person learns from his family and surroundings,
and is not ingrained in him from birth. It does not have any biological connection
because even if a person is brought up in a culture different from that in which he
was born, he imbibes the culture of the society where he grows up. It is also not a
14


hidden fact that some people feel the need to follow the beliefs and traditions of
their own culture, even though they might be not subscribing to certain ideologies
within.
Culture is a complex tool which every individual has to learn to survive in a
society. It is the means through which people interact with others in the society. It
acts in a subconscious way and whatever we see and perceive, seems to be normal
and natural. Sometimes, other societies and people seem to be a little odd because
they have a different culture from ours. We must remember that every society has a
distinct culture that forms the backbone of the society. Culture does not remain
stagnant; on the other hand, it is evolving constantly and is in fact somewhat
influenced by the other cultures and societies. Every society has a different culture,
where people share a specific language, traditions, behavior, perceptions and
beliefs. Culture gives them an identity that makes them unique and different from
people of other cultures. When people of different cultures migrate and settle in
another society, the culture of that society becomes the dominant culture and those
of the immigrants form the subculture of the community. Usually, people who
settle in other nations imbibe the new culture; while at the same time strive to
preserve their own. Although every society has a specific culture, there are certain
elements of culture that are universal. They are known as cultural universals, in
which there are certain behavioral traits and patterns that are shared by all cultures
around the world. For instance, classifying relations based on blood relations and
marriage, differentiating between good and bad, having some form of art, use of
jewelry, classifying people according to gender and age, etc., are common in all
cultures of the world. Some people believe that humans are the only living beings
who have a culture. Nevertheless, there is a group of people who believe in the
existence of culture even in animals. It is said that animals have certain social rules
that they teach their young ones as a medium for survival.
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Culture is necessary to establish an order and discipline in the society. It is
not only a means of communication between people, but also creates a feeling of
belonging and togetherness among people in the society.
2.3.2. Characteristics of culture
Culture, argued by many anthropologists, most notably Clifford Geertz
(1973), is a symbolic meaning system. It is semiotic system in which symbols
function to communicate meaning from one mind to another. Cultural symbols
encode a connection between a signifying form and asignaled meaning. From the
standpoint of contemporary cultural anthropologists, culture is characterized by the
following four basic features:
- Culture is a kind of social inheritance instead of biological heritage.
- Culture is shared by the whole community, not belonging to anyparticular
individual.
- Culture is a symbolic meaning system in which language is one of the most
important ones.
- Culture is a unified system, the integral parts of which are closelyrelated to
one another.Above are four principal features of culture.
Added to this, culture ingeneral has some more important characteristics as
following:
Culture is not innate; it is learned
According to Porter and Samovar (1993), culture is learned; it means that
when we are born we are “culturally clean” human beings. Right after that, we
start receiving cultural information from our family that will teach us how to
behave. For example, a Vietnamese child is taught how to greet older people
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immediately when he or she begins learning to speak. Welearn the language, the
social norms, and adopt our own culture‟s values and beliefs first and foremost
from our parents and grandparents. In other words, our culture learning proceeds
through interaction, observation, and imitation. We start to learn the culture when
we are very young, and this process seemsto never finish.
Culture is transmissible
“Culture is described as a very large pool of information passed alongfrom
generation to generation, composed of “learned programs” for actionand
understanding” (RGD Andrade, 1981). The symbols of a culture enableus to pass
on the content and patterns of a culture. We can spread our culture through the
spoken words or written scripts. Vietnamese folklore, is a kind of culture vocally
handed down to present from the past. We also can use nonverbal actions as
symbols, for example, showing others that we usually shake hands to greet one
another. The portability of symbols allows us to package and store them as well as
transmits them. The mind, books, pictures, films, video, and so on, enables
a culture to preserve what is important and worthy of transmission. “Each
individual, regardless of his or her generation, is heir to a massive “library of
information” that has been collected in anticipation of his or her entry into the
culture” (RG D. Andrade,1981).
Culture is selective
Every culture represents a limited choice of behavior patterns from the
infinite patterns of human experience. “Culture is selective in that among the gamut
of human possibilities it chooses some options rather then others for its bearers”
(Charles Tabor - quoted by Dr. Curt Watke, 2003). This selection is made
according to the basic assumption and values that are meaningful to each culture.
Therefore, culture helps to defines the boundaries of different groups.
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