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A study of idioms by plants in english and vietnamese from component perspective

MINISTRY OF EDUCATION AND TRAINING
HANOI OPEN UNIVERSITY

M.A. THESIS

A STUDY OF IDIOMS BY PLANTS IN ENGLISH AND VIETNAMESE
FROM COMPONENT PERSPECTIVE
(NGHIÊN CỨU THÀNH NGỮ THUỘC CHỦ ĐỀ THỰC VẬT TRONG
TIẾNG ANH VÀ TIẾNG VIỆT TỪ BÌNH DIỆN HỢP PHẦN)

TRẦN THỊ NHUNG

Field:

English Language

Code:

60220201

Hanoi, 2017



MINISTRY OF EDUCATION AND TRAINING
HANOI OPEN UNIVERSITY

TRẦN THỊ NHUNG

A STUDY OF IDIOMS BY PLANTS IN ENGLISH AND VIETNAMESE
FROM COMPONENT PERSPECTIVE
(NGHIÊN CỨU THÀNH NGỮ THUỘC CHỦ ĐỀ THỰC VẬT TRONG
TIẾNG ANH VÀ TIẾNG VIỆT TỪ BÌNH DIỆN HỢP PHẦN)

Field:

English Language

Code:

60220201

M.A. THESIS

Supervisor: Dang Nguyen Giang, Ph. D.

Hanoi, 2017


CERTIFICATE OF ORIGINALITY
I, the undersigned, hereby certify my authority of the study project report
entitled A study of idioms by plants in English and Vietnamese from component
perspective 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.
Student’s Signature

Tran Thi Nhung

Approved by
SUPERVISOR



Dang Nguyen Giang, Ph. D.
Date:……………………

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ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
This thesis could not have been completed without the help and support
from several people.
First and foremost, I would like to express my sincere gratitude to Dang
Nguyen 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 colleague 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.

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ABSTRACT
Idioms are used to express ideas in figurative styles. They bring the
vividness and richness to the speakers' speeches. This is the reason why the
more skillfully a person use idioms in his conversations, the more effectively he
can establish his communicative relationship. One more important thing is that
the general present tendencies are towards idiomatic usage; therefore, knowing
how to use idioms effectively in the right situations is becoming essential.
Therefore, this thesis aims at analyzing the structural and semantic components
of idioms in English and Vietnamese. It is conducted with the hope of finding
out the similarities and differences between English and Vietnamese idioms by
plants in terms of structural and semantic components. 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. Data used for analysis in
this study are mainly collected from books and dictionaries. Componential
analysis, describing, comparing and contrasting, experimental research are
regarded as the main methods used in the present study.

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TABLE OF CONTENTS
CHAPTER 1 INTRODUCTION..................................................................................1
1.1. Rationale ..................................................................................................................1
1.2. Aims of the Study....................................................................................................2
1.3. Research Questions ................................................................................................2
1.4. Scope of the Study ..................................................................................................3
1.5. Significance of the Study ........................................................................................3
1.6. Methodology ............................................................................................................3
1.6.1. Major Methods ....................................................................................................3
1.7. Design of the Study .................................................................................................5
CHAPTER 2...................................................................................................................6
LITERATURE REVIEW .............................................................................................6
2.1. Previous Research ..................................................................................................6
2.1.1. Previous Research Works on Idioms in English ............................................6
2.1.2. Previous Research Works on Idioms in Vietnamese ......................................8
2.2. Theoretical Background ......................................................................................10
2.2.1. Definitions of Idioms......................................................................................10
2.2.2. Syntactic and Semantic Features of Idioms..................................................12
2.2.3. Classification of Idioms .................................................................................16
2.2.4. Idioms and Other Language Units ................................................................23
2.3. Summary ...............................................................................................................26
CHAPTER 3 STRUCTURAL AND SEMANTIC COMPONENTS OF IDIOMS
BY PLANTS IN ENGLISH AND VIETNAMESE ..................................................27
3.1. Structural Components of Idioms by Plants in English and Vietnamese .......27
3.1.1. Symmetrical Idioms by Plants .......................................................................27
3.1.2. Similized Idioms by Plants .............................................................................29
3.1.3. Non-symmetrical Idioms by Plants................................................................32
3.2. Semantic Components of idioms by Plants in English and Vietnamese..........36
3.2.1. Motivation Degrees of Symmetrical Idioms by Plants ..................................36
3.2.2. Motivation Degrees of Similized Idioms by Plants ....................................... 37
3.3. Comparison between English and Vietnamsese Idioms by Plants ..................39
3.3.1. In terms of Structural Components ...............................................................39

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3.3.2. In terms of semantic components ..................................................................40
3.4. Chapter Summary ................................................................................................41
CHAPTER 4 IDIOM TEACHING AND LEARNING THROUGH
STRUCTURAL AND SEMANTIC COMPONENT ANALYSIS ..........................43
4.1. Idioms and their Importance for English Language Learners ........................43
4.2. Reality of Idiom Teaching and Learning at Hoang Van Thu High School ....45
4.3. Idiom Teaching and Learing through Componential Analysis .......................46
4.3.1. Participants .....................................................................................................46
4.3.2. Data Collection ...............................................................................................47
4.3.3. Findings and Discussions ..............................................................................49
4.4. Chapter Summary ................................................................................................51
CHAPTER 5 CONCLUSION ....................................................................................52
5.1. Recapitulation .......................................................................................................52
5.2. Concluding remarks .............................................................................................52
5.3. Limitations of the Study .......................................................................................53
5.4. Implications for Idiom Teaching and Learning Idioms by Plants...................53
5.5. Suggestions for Further Studies ..........................................................................56
REFERENCES ............................................................................................................57
APPENDIX 1: A CORPUS OF 63 IDIOMS BY PLANTS IN ENGLISH ............... I
APPENDIX 2: A CORPUS OF 53 IDIOMS BY PLANTS IN VIETNAMESE ... VI
APPENDIX 3: THE FIRST TEST.............................................................................. X
APPENDIX 4: THE SECOND TEST ....................................................................... XI
APPENDIX 5: FIRST TEST AND SECOND TEST RESULT OF THE
STUDENTS ................................................................................................................XII

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CHAPTER 1
INTRODUCTION
1.1. Rationale
English is now an effective medium of international communication. In
Vietnam, English has long been considered as a tool of international
communication, and together with its rising importance, the need of learning
English is becoming more and more urgent. It can't be denied that all foreign
learners in general and Vietnamese learners in particular desire to master
English as the native speakers; however, they usually face a lot of difficulties
that prevent them from gaining successful conversations. One of the reasons for
these problems lies in the way people perceive and use idioms.
Idioms can be considered as an attractive and popular phenomenon of
every language. They are able to be used to indicate the speakers’ intention more
interestingly and more persuasively than individual words do. It is the reason
why idioms, a special part of a language, seem to be the familiar elements which
occur not only in daily conversations but also in literature works. People are
likely familiar with idioms which are used to express ideas in an attractive and
figurative way. Therefore, understanding the meanings of idiomatic expressions
are essential and useful for English users. Traditionally, the meanings of idioms
are quite implicit, and they usually derive from unusual forms, stylistic devices
and conventional knowledge. From cognitive view, the meanings of idioms can
be analyzable or at least motivated from its component parts.
Although idioms are not easy to comprehend, it is necessary for learners
not to disregard idioms in studying languages because idioms are an unseperated
element of a language and so common in daily use. In the process of
communication, we sometimes come cross some expressions that we can’t
understand although we can comprehend the meaning of their every single word.
It seems that the main reason why we cannot understand what these sentences
are about lies in the low level of linguistic competence of idioms and the way
we analyze the components of idioms.
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Several linguists have given a lot of definitions about an idiom basing on
its fixed characteristics. For example, "An idiom is a fixed group of words with a
special different meaning from the meaning of several words" (Dictionary of
English Idioms, 1979). Sharing the same point of view, Hoàng Văn Hành (2002)
considered an idiom as 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.
In fact, there have been many studies on idioms containing such topics as
food, weather, animals, colors, etc. However, as a teacher of English, the need of
improving my English idiom teaching and learning urges me to conduct the
thesis entitled A study of idioms by plants in English and Vietnamese from
component perspective to find out the similarities and differences between
English and Vietnamese in terms of idioms containing the words denoting plants
from the component perspective.
1.2. Aims of the Study
The study is conducted to improve the 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 plants.
In order to achieve the aim, the study is expected to reach the following
objectives:
- to uncover how the components of idioms by plants are organized
structurally and semantically in English and Vietnamese;
- to find out the similarities and differences between English and
Vietnamese idioms by plants in terms of structural and semantic components;
- to give some implications for idiom teaching and learning from the main
findings.
1.3. Research Questions
The objectives of the study can be elaborated into the research questions
as follows:
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- How are the components of idioms by plants organized structurally and
semantically in English and Vietnamese?
- What are the similarities and differences between English and
Vietnamese idioms by plants in terms of structural and semantic components?
- What is the effectiveness of the main findings applied to idiom teaching
and learning at Hoang Van Thu High School?
1.4. Scope of the Study
I myself have found idioms such an interesting English aspect that is
chosen as the topic of the study. Idioms in both English and Vietnamese have
been investigated from several different points of view. However, due to the
limited time and knowledge, the author only focuses on English and Vietnamese
idioms by plants from component perspective. The idioms in the present study
are collected from dictionaries, books available in English and Vietnamese.
1.5. Significance of the Study
Theoretically, the findings of the study, to some extent, prove that the
components forming idioms can be analyzed from both structural and semantic
perspectives. The idioms by plants are quite popular in both English and
Vietnamese; therefore, the investigation is highly reliable in terms of theoretical
framework suggested.
Practically, with the purpose of making a study on the components of
idioms by plants in English and Vietnamese, the study will be able to provide
Vietnamese learners of English with better mastering how to apply this kind of
idioms in sensible ways and how to understand the meanings of idioms
thoroughly, effectively and naturally.
1.6. Methodology
1.6.1. Major Methods
Due to the main aims and objectives of the study, description,
componential analysis, contrastive exploitation and experimental method would
be mainly carried out throughout the process. Also, the thesis makes use of the

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English language as the target and the Vietnamese one as the source language
(the base language).
1.6.2. Data Collection Techniques
During the process of investigating materials from various sources, the
structural and semantic components of idioms by plants in English and
Vietnamese are described and analyzed. Then, techniques such as comparison,
transformation, and contrastive analysis are applied in a quick-minded and
active way to find out a general picture about the idioms by plants in both
languages. Due to the results achieved, the author takes a careful contrastive
analysis to find out the similarities and differences between English and
Vietnamese idioms by plants in terms of structural and semantic components.
Basing on the main findings, an experimental investigation is carried out in
order to find out how effective the componential analysis apply to idiom
teaching and learning.
The sources for the analysis are from materials and references written by
linguists in English and in Vietnamese as well as some bilingual reference books
available in Vietnam. This will help to make clear both the similarities and the
differences between English and Vietnamese in terms of idioms by plants.
1.6.3. Data Analysis Techniques
English and Vietnamese idioms by plants are investigated in two aspects:
structural and semantic components. Due to this, the author tries to find out the
similarities and differences between English and Vietnamese in terms of idioms
by plants.
Description and comparison are carried in the order of different groups of
subjects by using some techniques such as contrastive analysis, componential
analysis, transformable analysis and statistics.
Moreover, frequent talks with the supervisor, lecturers and experts on the
field have proved to be a very useful method for the completion of the study.
Also, the study is carried out on the basis of the author's personal experience.

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1.7. Design of the Study
The study consists of five chapters, in addition to the appendices and the
references.
Chapter 1, introduction, contains the rationale, the aims and objectives,
the research questions, the scope, the contributions, the methodology, and the
design of the study.
Chapter 2, literature review, is formed by two main parts: a review of
previous research works, and a review of theoretical background.
Chapter 3, structural and semantic components of idioms by plants in
English and in Vietnamese, is divided into two main parts: structural
components of idioms by plants in English and in Vietnamese, and semantic
components of idioms by plants in English and in Vietnamese.
Chapter 4, applying the findings to idiom teaching and learning, includes
reality of idiom teaching and learning, idiom teaching and learning through
structural and semantic component explanations, implications for idiom
teaching and learning.
Chapter 5, the last part, is the conclusion which includes the
recapitulation of the study as well as the concluding remarks and some
suggestions for further studies

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CHAPTER 2
LITERATURE REVIEW
The literature review is divided into two main parts. The first part
presents and discusses the previous research works on idioms in English and in
Vietnamese. The second one gives a review of theoretical background of
idioms in English and in Vietnamese on which the whole research has been
based.
2.1. Previous Research
2.1.1. Previous Research Works on Idioms in English
Idioms not only bring the beauty of language but also deeply contribute
to successful daily communications. Idioms make colour for language. Idioms
carry a large amount of nationally or culturally specific information. It can be
said that idioms are an interesting and popular phenomenon of every language.
Up to now, there have been a number of researchers making
investigations into English and Vietnamese idioms. For example, in English,
there have been many books and dictionaries such as “Oxford Dictionary of
English Idioms” by Cowie (1994), “Idioms and Idiomaticity ” by Fernando
(1996), “Idiom Structure in English” by Makkai (1972), “Words and Idioms”
by Smith (1925), “Problems in the Analysis of Idioms” by Weinreich (1969),
etc. In addition, there are some more collections of idioms such as “American
Idioms and Some Phrases Just for Fun” by Swick (1994). In fact, idiomaticity
is not a new subject in linguistic study. There has been plenty of work on it
such as “Essential Idioms in English” by Dixon (1983), or “Idioms for Every
day Use” by Broukai (2001).
Structurally, 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. Cowie (1994), Mackin & McCaig (1993) mention the
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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 plants 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 perspective. 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 non-correlative in its
syntax and therefore non-literal in terms of its constituents. The most
satisfying and 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 nonliteralness, homonymity and institutionalization.
From cognitive view, Nunberg et al. (1994) divide 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 into three categories:
pure

idioms,

semi-idioms

and

literal

idioms. Grammatically, Taylor

(2002) mentions the interrelated topics of idioms and constructions. The topics
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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.
2.1.2. Previous Research Works on Idioms in Vietnamese
There are a lot of books and dictionaries which have brought us with
great benefits of idioms. It can be seen that idioms are carefully collected and
categorized into alphabetical arrangement.

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In Vietnam, Vietnamese researchers have so far paid a great attention to
idioms. There have been many authors who have carried out their studies on
idioms (Nguyễn Công Đức (1995), Hoàng Văn Hành (2008), Đặng Nguyên
Giang (2013)…). At University of Danang there are several research papers
that have relationship with various aspects of idioms (Phạm Thị Tố Như
(1998), Nguyễn Hoàng Trà My (2011), Nguyễn Thị Phương Thư (2008), and
many books written by typical author such as Nguyễn Như Ý (1992), Nguyễn
Lực & Lương Văn Đang (2009), etc.
Some studies directly relate to the field of the study such as:
Simile in English and Vietnamese - A contrastive analysis (Lê Thị Thu
Hà (2001))
In this paper, the author presented a contrastive analysis on the concept,
formulation, cultural traditional function, syntactic function and classification
of simile in English and its Vietnamese equivalents. She also pointed out some
common mistakes made by Vietnamese learners of English and some solutions
as well as suggestions for translating simile from English into Vietnamese.
A study on comparative idioms from cultural perspective (Đỗ Thị Thu
Trang (2006))
In this study, the author analyzed and discussed English and Vietnamese
comparative idioms in the light of culture and she found out some similarities
and differences in the way and the reason why people from the two cultures
convey their comparative idioms.
A Study on Vietnamese Idioms (Hoàng Văn Hành (2004))
Hoàng Văn Hành is a well-known Vietnamese linguist who had spent a
lot of time and energy on this research. This study specialized in the objectives,
the aims, the tasks, the problems, etc. of Vietnamese idioms. The author
analyzed idioms based on different aspects, synchronically and diachronically,
on the view of functional and structural system as well as from cultural, social

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and psychological perspectives. The research also introduced a systematic
collection of Vietnamese idioms in forms of three main types.
These books and research papers provide many idioms and explanations
of meaning with illustrative examples. It makes the reader have a lot more
aware of the meaning of each idiom. From there, they can apply flexibly and
skillfully to communication.
In short, in Vietnamese, although there exist several studies on
idioms, most of the scholars focus on the forms and meanings of idioms
from traditional view. It means that studies on idioms in general and idioms by
animals from cognitive view have not been paid much attention.
2.2. Theoretical Background
2.2.1. Definitions of Idioms
Words have their own meanings. They, however, do not just come
individually; they also come in expressions or in groups. Idioms are among the
most common of these expressions. And it is impossible to master a language
without learning idioms – a very important part of the language. What is an
idiom? The question may have several answers.
Many linguists such as Robins (1989), Palmer (1981) and others regard
idioms as a special kind of collocation. The meaning of an idiom, however, can
not 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
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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 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 cành vàng lá ngọc (descendants of kings,
aristocrats) is considered as an idiom because its idiomatic meaning cannot be
infered from the meanings of its constituents (cành, vàng, lá and ngọc).
Another definition of idiom from Hoàng Văn Hành (2008: 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.
Here are some more definitions of idioms:
“An expression which functions as a single unit and whose meaning
cannot be worked out from its separate parts”.
(Longman Dictionary of Language Teaching and Applied Linguistics,
1992)
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“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”
(Hoàng Văn Hành, 1994: 21)
“An idiom is a fixed group of words with a special different meaning
from the meaning of several words”
(Dictionary of English Idioms, 1979)
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 that an
idiom is a fixed expression whose meaning can not be worked out by looking
at the meaning of its individual words
However, what is given below is regarded as a summary of the defining
features of an idiom used in the present study. Such an idiom: (i) is a fixed unit
whose components cannot be varied or varied under definable control; (ii) is
regarded as a complex scene with a bipartite semantic structure: a literal
reading and an idiomatic meaning; (iii) has the meaning which is usually
different from the meanings of the combination of its components;
(iv)expresses a pure concept.
2.2.2. Syntactic and Semantic Features of Idioms
i) Syntactic and Semantic Features of Idioms in English
It is very easy to realize that idiom is a fixed phrase whose meaning
cannot be construed from the meaning of the individual words of which it is
composed (Katz & Postal, 1963; Weinreich, 1969). There are no changes in
structure, word order and lexicology. We can take the idiom black and blue (of
bruises) as an example. It would sound uncanny if we changed it into blue and
black. It means that it wouldn’t make sense. Moreover, when an idiom is used
in a complete sentence, it is hardly change into passive voice. Let us consider
the idiom to stuff one’s face in the sentence She is stuffing her face with

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chocolates (She is eating a lot of chocolates); It would be unnatural to say Her
face is stuffed with chocolates.
However, some other idioms are more flexible; we can make some
changes if they don’t lose their idiomatic meaning. This means that idioms are
only fixed in some of their parts but not all. The alteration of component words
can help to form a different idiom of the same or different meaning. Appearing
on the mass media is in this way of using. They no longer keep the full form of
the idiom but add some more components to make it more vivid, particularly
effective when writing articles. We can change the tense of the verb in the
idiom to give someone the cold shoulder (to treat someone in a cold or
unfriendly way), or the verb in to have one’s finger with to get one’s finger.
In addition, idioms may take many different forms or structures. Some
idioms are noun phrases such as tender age, a black sheep, forty winks, etc.
Some are verb phrases such as to spare one’s blushes, to do someone proud, to
cut one’s coat according to one’s cloth, etc. The most important thing is that an
idiom can have its own regular, irregular or even incorrect grammatical
structure. to be at large is an example of grammatical irregularity. The idiom is
formed by verb + preposition + adjective. In English, no structure like this is
normally accepted because an adjective doesn’t usually come after a
preposition singly. However, this can be considered as an exception in
language.
When mentioning the semantic features of an idiom, we often talk about
its meaning. A linguist said “the meaning of an idiom is the special chemical
mixture of all components’ meaning, which is completely new in quality”. This
means that it is very important to understand idioms metaphorically. We can
not usually discover the meanings by looking up the individual words in a
dictionary when studying idioms; most of the idioms are metaphorical rather
than literal. For example, in order to understand the idiom (to feel) like fish out

13


of water, we have to consider its meaning metaphorically as to feel
uncomfortable because of unfamiliar surroundings.
Another feature concerning itself with semantics is that idioms can
range from positive, neutral to negative meaning. Some idioms have positive
meanings such as a willing horse (a keen worker), to get it into one’s head (to
deeply understand), or to warm the cockles of one’s heart (to make someone
feel pleased or happy). Some have neutral meanings as to watch the world go
by (to observe the others while doing nothing oneself), etc. And many other
idioms are negative. For instance, crocodile tears means insincere tears, to
waste one’s breath means to talk or give advice without having any effects, or
to wash one’s dirty linen in public means to discuss or argue about one’s
personal affairs in public, etc. All those examples show that the nuances of
idiomatic meanings are very complicated. They mainly depend on the nuances
of their key components.
ii) Syntactic and Semantic Features of Idioms in Vietnamese
Most of Vietnamese linguists have had the same point of view about the
forms of Vietnamese idioms. Nguyễn Văn Tu (1976) says “Idioms are fixed
expressions whose word components do not have their own individual
meanings and become a solid block”. He emphasizes the combination of the
components forming the meaning of idioms. Nguyễn Thiện Giáp (1975) does
consider an idiom as a fixed expression. Although Nguyễn Đức Dân (1986)
does not focus on the forms of Vietnamese idioms, he deals with the fixation of
idioms. He writes “Idioms are language units which have fixed forms”. Hoàng
Văn Hành (1987) attaches special importance to the components forming
idioms. He affirms that an idiom is a fixed group of words whose form is
unchanged.
It can be said that Vietnamese idioms are fixed groups of words whose
forms are unchanged: the fixed combination comes from settled words and
expressions such as bắt cá hai tay (to run after two hares), mèo mù vớ cá rán
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(The devil looks after his own), cá chậu chim lồng (behind prison bars), ăn
chắc mặc bền (solidity first), chuột sa chĩnh gạo (to get a windfall), etc. The
fixation shows that we can not change the order of words or use the synonyms
(similar words) to replace any components of an idiom in a casual way. This is
a basic feature helping us to realize idioms easily. However, in fact, there are
some fixed expressions which are not idioms such as bánh xe lịch sử (the
wheel of history), gia đình văn hóa (good family), khoa học kỹ thuật (sciences
and techniques) etc. Therefore, in order to realize an idiom correctly, we can
not only look at this feature but also other ones.
There have been a lot of different opinions about the semantic features
of Vietnamese idioms. According to Nguyễn Văn Mệnh (1972), an idiom
introduces an image, a phenomenon, a state, a personality, an attitude, etc. This
opinion is quite simple and general. In 1986, he gave his own new point of
view: Idioms have their own meanings and nominative functions, and are used
in daily speaking. Nguyễn Văn Tu (1976) says “The meaning of an idiom does
not come from individual components which may have their images or not. Its
meaning can be different from the meaning of each component or does come
from each original word”.
Nguyễn Thiện Giáp (1985) focused on the basic semantic features of
idioms: Being rich in imagery is a basic feature of idioms. Idioms express
concepts basing on specific images and symbols. The imagery of idioms is
made from its metaphor and comparison.
Although there have been different ideas about the semantic features of
idioms, Vietnamese linguists have all shared the same point of view as follows:
Firstly, the meaning of an idiom is a perfect whole which does not come
from the meanings of individual components added.
Secondly, the meaning of an idiom expresses the reflection of things or
concepts.
Thirdly, the meaning of an idiom is usually figurative and descriptive.
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Although many linguists affirm that idioms have their own figurative
and imaginary meanings, we shouldn’t consider this as an absolute fact. In
Vietnamese, there are also some idioms which have literal sense coming from
the meanings of their components. They may be comparative idioms such as
nát như tương (as pasty as soy), đen như cột nhà cháy (as black as a sweep)
and bám như đỉa đói (to stick like a limpet), whose imagery comes from the
images compared with activities or properties. Some Sino-Vietnamese idioms
such as nhất cử lưỡng tiện (to kill two birds with one stone), bán tín bán nghi
(half doubtful) and bách phát bách trúng (to hit the mark one hundred times
out of one hundred) also have literal sense basing on the meanings of their
components.
2.2.3. Classification of Idioms
In both English and Vietnamese there exist many different ways of
idiom classification among linguists who have based on different categories
such as motivation, function, origin, meaning and kind, etc. However, each
language has its own characteristics and the idiom classification is also based
on different points of view.
i) Classification of English Idioms
Some authors have classified English idioms into topic groups and
countries. They have also listed the amount of idioms belonging to each topic
or country.
Idioms by topic
- Animals: the birds and the bees
- Body and bodily functions: at arm’s length
- Buildings and construction: to drive someone up the wall
- Character and appearance: as cold as ice
- Children and babies: like a kid in a candy store
- Clothes: at the drop of a hat
- Colours: black and white
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- Death: at death’s door
- Drinking and pubs: to turn water in to wine
- Drugs: close but no cigar
- Food: as cool as a cucumber
- Furniture and household fittings: to cut a rug
- Gambling: to go for broke
- Law: to bring someone to book
- Men and women: man in the street
- Money: for my money
- Music: to call the tune
- Nationality and ethnicity: for England
- Nature: as cold as a stone
- Numbers: to feel like a million
- Person’s name: as rich as Croesus
- Place name: to set the Thames on fire
- Plants and flowers: to gild the lily
- Police and crime: to get away with murder
- Politics: on the stump
- Profession or work: all in a day’s work
- Religion: at the bottom of the totem pole
- Sex and sexuality: to play the field
- Sport: to drop the ball
- Technology and science: to hit the airwaves
- Time: behind the times
- Transport and travel: to hit the road
- War and conflict: war of words
- Weather: in a fog
Idioms by country
- American English: as mad as a wrongly shot hog
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- Australian English: to cut down the tall poppies
- British English: by a long chalk
- Canadian English: The Mountie always gets his man
- Indian English: to do the needful
- Irish English: Even the dogs in the street know
- New Zealand English: across the ditch
- Scottish English: to turn the crack
Basing on parts of speech, Jennifer Seidl – W. McMordie (1988) gave
eight groups of idioms as follows:
Key words with idiomatic uses
- Adjectives and adverbs: bad, good, long etc
- Nouns: end, line, thing etc
- Miscellaneous: all, how, too etc
Idioms with nouns and adjectives
- Noun phrases: a drop in the ocean
- Adjective + noun: a close shave
Idiomatic pairs
- Pairs of adjectives: cut and dried
- Pairs of nouns: wear and tear
- Pairs of adverbs: more or less
- Pairs of verbs: hit and miss
- Identical pairs: bit by bit
Idioms with prepositions: by, for, from etc
Phrasal verbs: act up, call something off, make something up to
someone etc
Verbal idioms: blow one’s own trumpet, call a spade a spade, do a
bunk etc
Idioms with key words from special categories
- Animals: bird, bee, bull etc
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