Khóa luận: A Study On Idioms Used In Some Famous English

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1. Rationale of the study

Nowadays, English is the most widely used in the world. Although ranking still 2nd in terms of the number of users after Chinese, English is still the language we can use most widely in most countries. Outside of the UK, 60 out of 196 countries consider English as the official language. It is estimated that about 1,5 billion people are speaking globally, and about 1 billion other are in process of learning it. This is the reason why English has more benefits than the languages with less chance to use.

One of the most interesting ways to learn English is reading literature which provides a method of learning about vocabulary, cultures and beliefs other than our own. It allows you to understand and experience these other systems of living and other worlds. We get a view of the inside looking out a personal view and insight into the minds and reasoning of someone else.

There are many types of literature such as novel, poem, prose, drama… But short story is the shortest way to approach English. Reading short story can help you get a feel for pacing and plot development. You can see how the writers weave together complete characters in such small spaces. A good way to think about short stories is to view them as snapshots of what a writer can do. You get a brief taste of that writers’ abilities and style. (Khóa luận: A Study On Idioms Used In Some Famous English)

But it is not easy to read and understand short stories because of differences in culture between two languages, so we cannot understand all the meaning of short story when we see idioms in them.

Nattinger, De Carrico, (1992) cited in Tajali&Tehrani (2009) considers idioms as most important subcategory of lexical phenomenon of formulaic language). The argument here is that, ability to use formulaic language (including idioms) appropriately is a key to native like fluency. In fact, according to Fernando (1996), “No translator or language teacher can afford to ignore idioms or idiomaticity if a natural use of the target language is an aim” (p.234). Wray supported Fernando’s claim adds that the absence of formulaic sequence in learners’ speech results in unidiomatic sounding speech.

Crick, Pawley and Syder (1983) cited in Tajali&Tehrani (2009) argued that native speakers’ fluency not only depends on vocabulary which is stored as individual words , but also as part of phrases and larger chunks , which can be retrieved from memory as a whole, reducing processing difficulties. On the other hand, ESL learners who only learn individual words will need a lot more time and effort to express themselves. Consequently, it is essential to make students aware of chunks and their usage in language production.

There is a common assumption that the more words a learner knows, the larger the learner’s vocabulary knowledge. However, there is another dimension to vocabulary knowledge that should be considered, namely how far a learner knows the combinatory possibilities of a word. Some linguists call them ‘lexical phrases’ or ‘ lexical items’, others prefer the term ‘multi-word chunks’ or just ‘chunks’ of language (Moon, 2001). Miller (1956) cited in Ellis (2001) coined the term ‘chunking’. It is the development of permanent sets of associative connections in long term memory and is the process which underlines the attainment of automaticity and fluency in language. Whatever the term, they are an important feature both in language use and language acquisition. These multi – word chunks or expressions are namely: idioms, proverbs, sayings, phrasal verbs and collocations. This aspect of vocabulary knowledge has until recently been largely ignored. (Khóa luận: A Study On Idioms Used In Some Famous English)

Idioms understanding and comprehension are really challenging in every conversations let alone in literature appreciation. However, it is still really necessary for learners and researchers to pay more attention to this.

This study of English idioms in some famous short stories is expected to shed light on the understanding of idioms in general and the comprehension and interpretation of idioms in short stories in particular. A good understanding of how idioms are used in literature is not only important for students of English to increase their vocabulary, but also to understand new and original idioms when we hear and see them. Most language users make use of idioms but the way individual words used varies from one language to another and each language has its own system and that they cannot always transfer the metaphorical use of a word from one language to another.

2. Aims and Objectives of the study (Khóa luận: A Study On Idioms Used In Some Famous English)


The study is aimed at investigating the grammatical and semantic features of idioms in some famous English short stories.


In order to achieve the aforementioned aim, the researcher has set the following specific objectives:

  • to describe the grammatical and semantics features of idioms.
  • to find out the difficulties encountered by students in reading idioms in short stories
  • to offer some suggestions for learning idioms in English short stories.

Scope of the study

Due to the limitation of time and ability, the researcher just focuses on studying idioms and idiomatic expressions collected from 10 famous English short stories as listed in the appendix.

Design of the study

The study is divided into three parts:

Part I is the Introduction in which rationale, aim of the study, method of the study and design of the study are presented.

Part II is the Development that includes four chapters:

  • Chapter I is an overview of theoretical background which includes definition, formation and meaning of idioms; definition and some necessary factor affecting short story; and translation of short story.
  • Chapter II is a preparation of data collection procedures.
  • Chapter III is an investigating into the grammatical and semantic feature of idioms.
  • Chapter IV: finds out some difficulties faced and give suggestion to solve them.

Part III is Conclusion that indicates strengths and weaknesses of the study as well as some suggestions for further research.



===>>> Viết Thuê Khóa Luận Tốt Nghiệp

CHAPTER I: LITERATURE REVIEW (Khóa luận: A Study On Idioms Used In Some Famous English)

1.1. Idiom

1.1.1 What is idiom?

Idioms are widely known to be words which constitute the genesis of all languages, and learning any language either the first or any subsequent one is deemed pointless without learning words. Moreover, the coining of new words never stops, nor does the acquisition of words.

This process is evident even in our first language; we are continually learning new words and adding new meanings to the old ones we already know. However, there are some word categories like idioms, collocations, proverbs and fixed expressions which are neglected by language teachers. Idioms, collocations and proverbs are word expressions that have specific meaning (i.e cultural specific) and choice of words. Much of this lexis consists of sequences of words that have a strong tendency to occur together in discourse, including a wide and motley range of expressions such as phrasal verbs, compounds, idioms, and collocations referred to collectively as multiword lexical items, prefabricated units, prefabs, phraseological units, fixed phrases, formulaic sequences, etc. We find these expressions mostly in native speakers’ language. Among all above mentioned multiword expressions idioms are more neglected word expressions in language use and learning.

According to Sinclair (1991:172) idiom is “a group of two or more words which are chosen together in order to produce a specific meaning or effect in speech or writing”. In other words, an idiom is an expression, which is a term or a phrase whose meaning cannot be deduced from the literal definitions and the arrangement of its parts, but refers instead to a figurative meaning that is known only through common use. (Khóa luận: A Study On Idioms Used In Some Famous English)

In Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary of the English Language (1989) idiom refers to an institutionalized multiword construction; the meaning of this cannot be fully deduced from the meaning of its constituent words, and which may be regarded as a self contained lexical item.

From The Oxford English Dictionary (1933) idiom is known as a form of expression, grammatical construction, phrase, etc, peculiar to a language; a peculiarity of phraseology approved by the usage of a language, and having a signification other than its grammatical or logical one.

In this study idioms and idiomatic expressions are defined as a group of words in a fixed order that have a particular meaning that is different from the meaning of each word on its own. (Khóa luận: A Study On Idioms Used In Some Famous English)

1.1.2 Formation of idiom

According to Stathi (2006:27), the term ‘idiom’ can refer to two types of fixed expressions. First, in a narrow sense, idioms are ‘expressions whose idiomaticity is semantic; typical expressions are kick the bucket, spill the beans etc. Second, idiomaticity is a formal property of expressions and is more or less equated with the fixedness of form; for example, by and large. According to McCarthy& O’Dell (2008) idioms are connected with the themes of animals, the sea, sports, parts of the body, food and drink, colours, names of people and places, sight, hearing, taste, smell and touch. We use idioms to describe physical appearance, character and personality, work and success, health and illness. The origin of idiom as stated in different sources is as follows.

a) Idioms are formed from work and technology

In fact, a large number of idioms come from a time when far more people worked on the land, there are many idioms which refer to farm animals, for example, the black sheep of the family, take the bull by the horns, don’t count your chickens, etc.

b) Idioms are formed from rural life or transport

Many idioms originate from the daily life in rural area or from the daily routine of taking a certain means of transport, for example, strike while the iron is hot, put somebody through the mill, eat like a horse, put the cart before the horse, etc.

c) Idioms are formed in science and technology

Many idioms came into existence from science and technology, for example, she has a short fuse, we are on the same wave length, I need to recharge my batteries etc. (Khóa luận: A Study On Idioms Used In Some Famous English)

d) Idioms are formed from sports and entertainment world

Every year many idioms enter into the English language from the world of sports and entertainment, for example, have a good innings, dice with death, behind the scenes, play the second fiddle, etc.

e) Idioms are formed from literature and history

Many idioms have entered English from literature and history, for example, sour grapes, the goose that laid the golden eggs, the streets are paved with gold, etc. 6) Idioms came from the Bible, Shakespeare’s works, for example, the salt of the earth, fall by the way side, your pound of flesh, ships that pass in the night, etc.

f) Idioms are formed from the meaning of human parts

There are a large number of idioms in which a part of the body represents particular quality or ability, for example, use your head, the idea never entered my head, she broke his heart, he opened his heart, I speak from the bottom of my heart, the news finally reached her ears, keep your mouth shut, etc.

g) Idioms are formed from human emotions

Many idioms come from feelings and emotions, for example, give him a black look, lose your bearings, in seventh heaven, in high spirits, it was love at first sight, come out of your shell.

1.1.3. Grammar and meaning of idioms (Khóa luận: A Study On Idioms Used In Some Famous English) Grammar of idioms

Many idioms have unusual grammar. In some cases a word that is usually a verb, adjective, conjunction or preposition appears as a noun:

a) Adjectives as nouns, for example, all of a sudden, through thick and thin,

  1. Verbs as nouns, for example, the do’s and don’ts, on the make
  2. Conjunctions and prepositions as nouns, for example, ifs and buts, on the up and up, the ins and outs,
  3. Uncountable nouns seeming to be countable, for example, the living daylights and in all weathers.

According to Stathi (2006) Idiom is “a phrase which doesn’t mean anything literally by itself, but can be used in a sentence to mean something indirectly. It is specific kind of vocabulary or jargon which is used in specific contexts.” (Gumpel, 1974: 12 as cited in Fernando & Flavell, 1981;28-28) . For example, a blessing in disguise (to be something which has a good effect, although at first it seemed that it would be bad or not lucky), Blood is thicker than water ( which means family relations are closest) , Once in a blue moon ( which indicates rare occurrences ) , Break a Leg( wishing good luck), Dry Run ( rehearse).

Idioms are thought to be relatively frozen and to have severe grammatical restriction’ (Moon, 1997:47), and so it might be generally taken that they do not permit any lexical or syntactic modification, but they have greater possibilities of modification than might be expected (Mostafa, 2010)

Most of the Scholars discussed above- conclude that:

  • The meaning of an idiom is not the result of the compositional function of its constituents; If the idioms meaning predictable from constituent words, then it is decomposable idioms (e.g., pop the question, spill the beans) if meaning is not predictable from idioms constituent parts, such idioms are non – decomposable idioms ( Gibbs et al 1999)
  • An idiom is a unit that either has a homonymous literal counterpart or at least individual constituents that are literal, though the expression as a whole word need not be interpreted literally;
  • Idioms constitute set expressions in a given language, these set expressions are fixed in a language, here, set expressions are peculiar to particular language but we may see similar idioms in other language.
  • Idioms are institutionalized (specific to culture or language). Meaning of idioms

If we classify idioms in meaning, there are 2 type of idiom:

  • Idiomatic meaning: readers can’t guess the meaning of the idiom from the words around. They must learn by heart the meaning, otherwise they will find it impossible to understand this idiom.
  • Non-Idiomatic meaning means the reader can easily guess the meaning of one idiom while they read in the short story. They just needs to depend on the preceding or the following words around this idiom.

1.2. Short story (Khóa luận: A Study On Idioms Used In Some Famous English)

1.2.1. What is short story?

From the most common website – the Wikipedia: “A short story is a piece of prose fiction that typically can be read in one sitting and focuses on a self-contained incident or series of linked incidents, with the intent of evoking a “single effect” or mood, however there are many exceptions to this.

A dictionary definition is “an invented prose narrative shorter than a novel usually dealing with a few characters and aiming at unity of effect and often concentrating on the creation of mood rather than plot.”

The short story is a crafted form in its own right. Short stories make use of plot, resonance, and other dynamic components as in a novel, but typically to a lesser degree. While the short story is largely distinct from the novel or novella (a shorter novel), authors generally draw from a common pool of literary techniques.

Short story writers may define their works as part of the artistic and personal expression of the form. They may also attempt to resist categorization by genre and fixed formation.

Short stories have deep roots and the power of short fiction has been recognized in modern society for hundreds of years. The short form is, conceivably, more natural to us than longer forms. We are drawn to short stories as the well-told story, and as William Boyd, the award-winning British author and short story writer has said:

“[short stories] seem to answer something very deep in our nature as if, for the duration of its telling, something special has been created, some essence of our experience extrapolated, some temporary sense has been made of our common, turbulent journey towards the grave and oblivion”. (Khóa luận: A Study On Idioms Used In Some Famous English)

In terms of length, word count is typically anywhere from 1,000 to 4,000 for short stories, however some have 20,000 words and are still classed as short stories. Stories of fewer than 1,000 words are sometimes referred to as “short short stories”, or “flash fiction”.

William Trevor believes that “If the novel is like an intricate Renaissance painting, the short story is an impressionist painting. It should be an explosion of truth. Its strength lies in what it leaves out just as much as what it puts in, if not more. It is concerned with the total exclusion of meaninglessness. Life, on the other hand, is meaningless most of the time. The novel imitates life, where the short story is bony, and cannot wander. It is essential art.”

(William Trevor, 1989)

Raymond Carver writes: “My stories and my poems are both short. (Laughs) I write them the same way, and I’d say the effects are similar. There’s a compression of language, of emotion, that isn’t to be found in the novel. The short story and the poem, I’ve often said, are closer to each other than the short story and the novel.”

(Raymond Carver, 1986)

According to Lorris Moore “The short story needs to get to the point or the question of the point or the question of its several points and then flip things upside down. It makes skepticism into an art form. It has a deeper but narrower mission than longer narratives, one that requires drilling down rather than lighting out. Like poetry, it takes care with every line. Like a play, it moves in a deliberate fashion, scene by scene. Although a story may want to be pungent and real and sizzling, still there should be as little fat as possible.” (Khóa luận: A Study On Idioms Used In Some Famous English)

(Lorris Moore, 2015)

Flannery O’Connor assumes that “Perhaps the central question to be considered in any discussion of the short story is what do we mean by short. Being short does not mean being slight. A short story should be long in depth and should give us an experience of meaning…A story is a way to say something that can’t be said any other way, and it takes every word in the story to say what the meaning is. You tell a story because a statement would be inadequate. When anybody asks what a story is about, the only proper thing is to tell him to read the story. The meaning of fiction is not abstract meaning but experienced meaning, and the purpose of making statement about the meaning of a story is only to help you to experience that meaning more fully.”

(Flannery O’Connor, 1962)

Russ Hills, however, emphasizes the chain of events in a short story, highlighting that “Something happens, however slight it may be—and it isn’t something that happened over and over before and is going to happen again and again in the future. It is assumed that the events of a story take place only once, that whatever “happens” to the character as a result of the action of the story alters or “moves” him in such a way, again however slight it may be, that he would never experience or do the same thing in exactly the same way.” (Khóa luận: A Study On Idioms Used In Some Famous English)

(Russ Hills, 1977)

In his selected short stories, Alice Munro writes “a story is not like a road to follow … it’s more like a house. You go inside and stay there for a while, wandering back and forth and settling where you like and discovering how the room and corridors relate to each other, how the world outside is altered by being viewed from these windows. And you, the visitor, the reader, are altered as well by being in this enclosed space, whether it is ample and easy or full of crooked turns, or sparsely or opulently furnished. You can go back again and again, and the house, the story, always contains more than you saw the last time. It also has a sturdy sense of itself of being built out of its own necessity, not just to shelter or beguile you.”

(Alice Munro, 1996)

Sharing a similar point of view, Meg Wolitzer confirms that “in short stories, I don’t think characters or their situation or their surrounding change as frequently as they turn.”

(Meg Wolitzer, 2017)

1.2.2. Necessary factors for a successful short story

  • The first factor that influences the success of a short story is Subtext. In fact, each story has their own subtext–the sense of the “untold” in a story–the sense that there is more beneath the surface. But beyond just that sense, the story also needs to offer solid hints, solid questions that can guide readers to using their own imaginations to fill in some of those blanks. In short, you have to create depth–and then take advantage of it.
  • The second factor that decides the success of a short story is Passage of Time. Not that you can’t tell a powerful story in a very short amount of time, but as a general rule, the more time in which you have to develop the plot, the more significant the character development will seem. Although it’s possible for people to be transformed quickly, most evolutions are the process of much time, if only because we need more than one catalyst to prompt the change. Consider how much more weight you gain from sticking a character in prison for a year versus imprisoning him for only a week or two.
  • The third factor which helps to make sure that a short story will become successful is Multiple Settings. It’s totally possible to tell a powerful and meaningful story that remains primarily in just one setting. But you can often create a more impressive sense of depth and importance by making sure your plot will affect your characters in more than just one place.
  • Subplot is another key factor that decides the success. Facts indicate that Big stories are just that: big. As such, they’re about more than just one thing. (Khóa luận: A Study On Idioms Used In Some Famous English)

The character’s primary conflict will be supported and contrasted by other concerns–just as our own major problems in real life usually spawn smaller problems. When we reduce a story to a single issue, we eliminate its context– and therefore its subtext. Subplots allow us to explore multiple facets of our characters’ lives and struggles. Every subplot needs to be pertinent to the main plot, but don’t feel that a small amount of divergence, for th e sake of thematic exploration, is something to be avoided.

The last factor to be mentioned in this study is Emotional and Intellectual Sequel Scenes. Every scene in your story is made of two halves: scene (action) and sequel (reaction). The action in the scene is what moves the plot. But the reaction in the sequel is where the character development and the thematic depth will almost always be found. Never neglect your sequels. For every important event in your story, you must take the time to demonstrate your character’s reactions–both intellectually and emotionally. If readers don’t know how your characters feel about events, they won’t be able to properly draw their own conclusions about what to think.

If you can implement just these five factors in your story–whatever your theme or subject–you’ll be able to bring instant weight to your plot. The result will be a story that is much more likely to matter to your readers than the vast majority of what they read.

In conclusion, to understand the meaning of short story, readers should have enough vocabulary, especially know the meaning of idioms in its. Authors like to use idioms because idioms will make the story be more interesting than using usual words. But if the readers want to understand idioms is not easy. They have to have little knowledge about culture and background of the story.

1.3. Translation of short story (Khóa luận: A Study On Idioms Used In Some Famous English)

The definition of translation varies upon linguists all around the world.

There are some typical concepts as follow:

  • Translation can be defined as the result of a linguistic – textual operation in which a text in one language is re-contextualized in another language. As a linguistic-textual operation, translation is, however, subject to, and substantially influenced by, a variety of extra-linguistic factors and conditions. It is this interaction between ‘inner’ linguistic-textual and ‘outer’ extra-linguistic, contextual factors that makes translation such a complex phenomenon (House.J, 2015).
  • Translation is the replacement of the textual material in one language (SL) by equivalent textual material in another language (TL) (Catford, 1965).
  • Translation is made possible by an equivalent of thought that lies behind its different verbal expressions (Savory, 1968).
  • Translation is to be understood as the process whereby a message expressed in a specific source language is linguistically transformed in order to be understood by readers of the target language (Houbert, 1998).
  • Translation is the transformation of a text originally in one language into an equivalent in the content of the message and the formal features and the roles of the original (Bell, 1991). (Khóa luận: A Study On Idioms Used In Some Famous English)
  • Translation is the interpretation of the meaning of a text in one language (the source text) and the production, in another language of an equivalent text (the target text) that communicates the same message (Nida,E.A, 1959).

1.3.1. Semantic losses

The reason behind the semantic loss in translation is that when a single word is attached in a sentence or phrase, it commutates a different meaning according to the context, in which the word may have more than one meaning (Almasaeid, 2013). In other words, there are two types of meaning; denotative meaning, which is the direct dictionary meaning disposed of any overtones or emotions (Elewa, 2015), and the connotative meaning, according to Lyons (1977: 176), is “the connotation of a word is thought of as emotive or effective component additional to its central meaning”.

To identify the semantic loss in the translation of the story, the researcher will follow Baker’s typology of equivalence between Arabic and English. This theory has been chosen because it discusses in detail the non-equivalence problem at different levels, especially at the word level. Additionally, it sheds the light on the equivalence problems between English and Arabic. Baker (1992) believes that the concept of equivalence is relative because it is affected by many linguistic and cultural factors. She classifies non -equivalence of the word level into 11 types, but this study will focus on four types. The semantic loss in the translation of the story will be addressed under these types: (Khóa luận: A Study On Idioms Used In Some Famous English)

  • Culture – Specific terms in two languages; after analyzing the story in both languages, there are some word culturally bound, there are no equivalent words in the target language.
  • The terms that are not lexicalized in the target language like

These words can’t be represented by using a single word in the target language, but by using a phrase. Yet, this phrase can’t be convey the implicit meaning of the word

  • English lacks a specific term (hyponym).
  • The target language lacks a super-ordinate.

1.3.2. Syntactic losses

The syntactic loss that occurs in the translating from Vietnamese to English and vice versa and this could be attributed to the syntactic complexity. Al-Jabr, (2006) stated that this complexity occurs in accordance to the inherent linguistic features of the given language(s).

In analyzing the inherent linguistic features of the source language and the target language, the order of sentence in Vietnamese language is different from the order of sentence in the target language.

For example, in an English idiom, the order of its element is not the same as the one in Vietnamese when being translated.

  • English: Fell in love, as if truck by a pistol shot.
  • Vietnamese: Phải long em như thể bị bắn bởi khẩu súng. (Literal translation)
  • Vietnamese: Yêu em như thể tôi vừa bị trúng phải tiếng sét ái tình.

(Communicative translation) (Khóa luận: A Study On Idioms Used In Some Famous English)

The difference in syntactic features causes syntactic loss.

1.3.3. Cultural losses

The cultural loss in translation could occur when there are culture – specific idiomatic expressions, or metaphors, which are culturally bound. Nida (1964: 130) points out “differences between cultures may cause more severe complications for the translator than do differences in language structure.”

In translating the metaphor or the idiomatic expression in the story from English into Vietnamese, it can be seen that translation fails to convey the meaning, and the reader in target language cannot get the intended meaning. The following two examples highlight these cultural losses.

For example

  • English: Jack Frost.
  • Vietnamese: Tên của người hoặc nhân vật là Jack Frost.
  • Vietnamese:  Nhân vật biểu tượng cho mùa đông ở các nước phương Tây.

The difference in cultural features causes cultural loss.

In both examples above, the literal translation of the metaphor, or the idiomatic expression do not convey the intended meaning because they are culturally bound expressions, hence, this may prevent the reader from understanding the true meaning of the context as a whole. Consequently, these issues cause cultural losses in the translation. However; the intended meaning in the both examples is to imply that the girl is so thin and poor. (Khóa luận: A Study On Idioms Used In Some Famous English)

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