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Language is a combination of human-being’s history and culture, containing various aspects of social characteristics such as : national consciousness, historical culture, customs etc. And language serves as dress of thought, thoughts are always expressed by words, without thinking, words and language would be meaningless. Meanwhile, the different cultural background and cultural tradition make Chinese and Western in a different pattern of thinking. Vocabulary is the most basic and important materials of building language. So cultural diversity incarnate vocabulary as the most outstanding part. Most of the words do not have a literary meaning, but with a implied meaning, symbol meaning, figurative meaning and connotation meaning, and also endow a word with emotion color. Since ancient times, animals are closely related to human activities. Myths, fairy tales are often related to all kinds of animals in both western country and eastern country. In these literary works, animals are often endowed with human qualities and characteristics. Due to the different culture, the connotative meaning of these vocabulary is generally different. This article, from the angle of linguistic and lexicology side, compare and analysis the animal vocabulary in English and Chinese, in order to reveal the similarities and differences between Western and Chinese culture.
Key words: Animal vocabulary, culture, connotation
I. Absolute equivalents between English and Chinese.
What I called absolute equivalents is not only means the same basic or denotative meaning but also the roughly same cultural connotation and this is called culturaloverlaps. For example: “wolf”, an wild animal looks like a big dog. In English , “wolf” often used to describe a pervert man. We have the same meaning in Chinese. They both developed with the “greedy” characteristics of wolf .”Lamb” in English refers to a gentle, meek person, also Chinese have the same feeling when they say this world. Take another world “fox”, we often see” as cunning as a fox”, in Chinese, fox has also the same meaning of “cunning”, refers to a wily people.
Similarly: as cheerful as a lark; as busy as bee; as fat as a pig; as dull as an ass. All of these animal words express the same meaning no matter in Chinese or English. It reflect the common of the two cultures. People of different culture are living in the same earth. For most of them, the natural environment and some living conditions are similar, so there are a lot of words have the same meaning. These shows the similary of culture.
II. Partial equivalents between English and Chinese
Vocabulary between Chinese and English which have the different literary meaning, but can express the same connotation meaning, I called it partial equivalents vocabulary. That is to say, two different anima word share a same culture connotation. Eg: “cattle”(ox) ,plays an important role in Chinese life, cattle, the basis of farm work, plough in the form land and dedicate beaf, milk, people raise them, use them, like them, and respect them. So Chinese people often say “as strong as ox” to describe a man with strength, but in English we want to express the same meaning, we have to use “as strong as a horse”. It originated in eastern and western ancient farming methods. British us horses to cultivate land in early times. So they use “horse ” to share the same meaning while Chinese uses “cattle’. “Lion ” has a rich cultural connotation in English, the image of a lion is brave, imposing manner and majesty. And it is called the king of beasts, so there is “alionheart (warriors)”, “majesticasalion (as grand as a lion)”, “alterarylion (literary celebrity)” sayings. The British treat the lion as their symbol of the nation, “The British lion” which refers to the British. In the culture of the Chinese nation, the lion had not that much connotation, instead, the similar association is “tiger “. In the national opinion, the tiger is the king of beasts, it refers to prowess, majesty. In Chinese, the tiger replaced the lion’s position.
Similarly, English use “a black sheep” while Chinese use “horse” to describe a timid defenseless simpleton who is readily preyed upon; “as timid as a rabbit” (mouse instead in Chinese) to express a person who is timorous.
These kind of vocabulary reflects the difference between Chinese and Western culture. English and Chinese people created synonyms according to their own experiences, but each pair of synonyms were used different animal words, this is mainly due to differences such as mode of production, thinking habits and customs, etc between English and Chinese .Based on the same concept, they have different association, so they use different metaphors to refer to these words.
III. Conflict vocabulary between English and Chinese
Conflict vocabulary means the English and Chinese language share the same basic meaning, but the cultural connotation is different, even opposite praise or blame meaning of animal words in the two kinds of culture. The association of people would be totally different sometimes. “Dragon” has rich cultural meanings in Chinese. It symbolizes the Chinese nation. For Chinese people, a dragon is something sacred and has been referred to as the ancestor of the Chinese nation-that is why Chinese call themselves the descendents of dragon. In ancient time, people thought dragon is a mythical animal with great power. It symbolized the king in feudal society. so the king were called “sons of dragons”. Also parent would like their children to be like dragon, they often name their children with “dragon” because they hope their children can amount to something when grew up. So Chinese people are very respect to dragon .But in western culture, people think that dragon is an large animal that has wings and a long tail and can breathe fire. So they think dragon is a very dangerious and winged monster that will kills and eats people. In English, dragon symbolize evil or a woman who is fierce, unpleasant or has bad temper.
Similarly, “dog”, “phoenix” and so many other animal words have totally different connotation in English and Chinese . so these kinds of words make a big trouble for English learners or Chinese learners.
In conclusion, animal vocabulary in English and Chinese language have similar meaning but more different culture connotation .While the development of culture in Chinese and English, the vocabulary developed as well. The differences in culture connotation varies from many aspects of culture such as religion, customs, living habits, stories. So culture acts a very important role in animal vocabulary. When we learn a foreign vocabulary, do not only know its literary meaning, but find the relations and difference between the mother language and foreign one, and pay much attention to the culture background and culture connotation.
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