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Language and Culture  

2009-12-13 14:42:52|  分类: 花中李的英语毕业 |  标签: |举报 |字号 订阅

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Chapter 1

Does language shape culture or does culture shape language? In my view, language is a mirror, in front of which culture is reflected. As a student majoring in Chinese as a foreign language, I’d like to take this advantage to discuss the cultural differences between Chinese and English. In the following passage, I am going to elaborate on the cultural differences reflecting in colors.

The re are many color words in our language, such as red, white, black, yellow, purple and so forth, which are used frequently. In the first place, I’d like to introduce the common usages of the color words.

1.adj.+color word

(1)deep/dark+color words: indicating the strong color

e.g., deep blue deep green dark brown dark red.

(2)light/pale+color words: indicating the light color

e.g., light yellow light blue pale grey pale white.

(3) bright/rich/vivid+color words: indicating the bright color

e.g., bright/rich/vivid red bright/rich/vivid yellow.

(4) dull/dirty+color words:indicating the dark color

e.g., dull yellow dull gold dirty grey dirty white.

2. color words+-ish

This group indicates the different shades of the color. An adjective followed by -ish means slightly…

e.g., whitish sky, yellowish book leaves reddish face…

3. color words+color words

This pattern indicates the mixture of the color. The former stands for the main color, while the latter functions as modification.

e.g.,red green green yellow grey blue…

4. color words+and+color words

Two colors coexisting in something without being mixed form a design and color.

e.g., The dog is black and white.

She has a yellow and black car.

Chapter 2

English abounds with phrases containing color words. Colors may convey different messages to people of different cultures. Due to the respective cultural background and tradition, some phrases containing color words have far surpassed their original meanings, forming different connotations.

What does see red mean? If he is in a blue mood, what kind of mood is he in? Is he happy, sad, or what? Obviously, red and blue do not mean just the color. Each has additional meanings-certain cultural associations-that are hidden behind the word. The following part will be devoted to the discussion of cultural differences of certain color words.

2.1 Red

In both Chinese and English, red is usually associated with happy occasions. On calendar, we can find that holidays such as Spring Festival are printed in red, which is called “red-letter days”, while ordinary days are in black. Besides, “to paint the town red” is to celebrate wildly, to enjoy oneself to one’s heart’s content. Another example is to “roll out the red carpet for someone”, meaning to give a hospitable and formal reception.

Similarly,Chinese people traditionally cut red couplets and applique to celebrate occasions like wedding and New Year. Besides, We have a very famous trademark “double red happiness” (红双喜) which is symbolic of good fortune.

Red is also associated with certain emotions. Let us see a few examples.

He clenched his fist and went very red.

Her face turned red when bombarded with such an embarrassing question.

I can see that he is red with anger.

When he criticized my work, I really saw red.

The mere mention of his enemy’s name is like waving a red flag to him.

In the sentences above, we can guess the meaning of some, for there is an Chinese equivalent, while the others are not so easy to understand by Chinese. For instance, in English, her face turned red or to become red-faced shows one’s embarrassment, as it does in Chinese 脸红. But what is the meaning of see red and waving a red flag? Both suggest anger. The former means to become very angry while the latter means to cause quick anger in somebody by doing something offensive.

“Government policy in interest rates, and on finance generally, has been marked by vacillation, wishful thinking, electoral expediency of the most shameful type towards the end of last year, contortions and contradictions, all to accommodate the redneck economics of the National Country Party. (Harsard Aug.27 1981)”

In the example above, “redneck” is used as an adjective, meaning “reactionary”. “redneckery” deriving from “redneck” refers to “reactionary attitudes”. For instance, “...the redneckery of the Queenland government...(Garth Nettheim ABC Books and Writing Apr.21.1982)”

The literal meaning of “redneck” is red-neck. How is it related to “reactionary”? “redneck” originally meant (AmE) Southern farmers of U.S.A., usually carrying a derogatory meaning. Now “reactionary”, the extended meaning of “redneck”, has something to do with its special historical and geographical background.

Another example.

“Ironically, it was Red Nose Day, the day when millions of Australians donned red noses to support research into sudden infant death syndrome. (New Idea. Oct.7 1989)”

Red Nose Day refers to a day on which an appeal is made for donations for research into sudden infant death syndrome, marked by the distribution of plastic red noses to donors. In Chinese, however, there is no such connotation.

Some Westerners take “red” as an evil omen or red for danger, stemming from the spirits of bullfighters. So the red rag (or red flag) that bullfighters use to provocate bulls is considered annoying. According to the Random House Dictionary, red further develops to be the synonym for political radical.

Furthermore, red has some extended meanings, such as cruelty, disaster, trivial formalities, etc.

red alert&#0alarming in emergency

a red battle&#0a cruel battle in which a lot of lives have been lost

be caught red-handed&#0be caught on site

have red hands&#0commit a murder

red ideas&#0revolutionary concepts

red ruin&#0fire(as a disaster)

red tape&#0bureaucratic writings

in the red&#0in debt

don’t care a red cent&#0don’t care at all

2.2 White

To most Chinese and Westerners, white has some meanings in common. White suggests purity, innocence and honesty.

e.g.,Mary is a white girl. (pure and innocent)

Tom is a very white boy. He never tells lies. (honest)

But in this sense, what does the term a white lie mean? Can a lie be pure and innocent? Actually, a white lie is a harmless one, intended not to hurt someone. For example, your mother bought a dress for you that she was very satisfied with, and wanted to know if you liked it. Maybe in your mind, it was out of the fashion or the color was not to your taste. But you said, “Oh, I really like it” in order not to let her down. It was a lie, but a good-intentioned lie.

The connotation of white in Chinese also includes something unhappy. At funerals, Chinese pay respect to the dead and express their sorrow by wearing white and writing elegiac couplets in white paper. In the West, however, white is the traditional color for the brides at weddings, and to wear white at funerals would be offensive. So care should be taken in translating the phrase红白喜事. To avoid misunderstanding, we can put it simply as weddings and funerals. Talking about red and white, there is an interesting coincidence in Chinese and English. In Chinese, those who are popular and find favor with their bosses are called红人(red guy literally). But Irish people call them the white-headed boy. In this sense, red equals white in the two cultures.

We have a famous drama called《白毛女》. If we translate it literally as 《A White-haired Girl》, those Westerners will be confused and it will be very hard to see the profound meaning behind it&#0In old China, folks in general were made ghosts, while things have changed a lot in new China.

In addition, here is a collection of expressions containing the word white.

the white area&#0an anti-revolutionary area

a white day&#0a lucky day

white light district&#0ever-bright area

a white elephant&#0something burdensome and valueless huge burden

show the white feather&#0show fear

a white slave&#0someone who is forced to be a slave

days marked with a white stone&#0happy days

a white war&#0a war without bloodshed an economic competition

bleed white&#0extort every cent from someone

2.3 Black

In both Chinese and English, there are various terms indicating that black often carries a negative meaning: blackmail(勒索),blacklist(黑名单),black-hearted(黑心的),black market(黑市),etc. But in the following sentence, can you guess the meaning? Since he took over the business, the company has been in the black. In the example above, black has a good meaning&#0running the business profitably. The term in the black reminds me of the phrase in the red which is just opposite to the former one. Both terms come from the color of the ink used in keeping accounts. Interestingly, we have an appropriate equivalent in Chinese-赤字,probably bought from English.

Besides, black implies gloom, disgrace, misfortune, extreme anger, etc, as can be seen in the following examples. the black art&#0enchantment

black and blue&#0full of bruises

black day&#0unlucky day

black dog&#0unhappy

a black look&#0an angry look glare at somebody

in a black mood&#0in low spirits

black sheep&#0evil member of the herd

a black stranger&#0a stranger out and out

turn black white&#0confuse right and wrong

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