The Study on Comparison and Translation Between English and Chinese Euphemisms

1 January 2017

Euphemism is one kind of figures of speech and it refers to the substitution of mild or vague or roundabout expression for harsh or direct one. As an indispensable and natural part of language, euphemism has been arousing wide interest. Achievements in the study of euphemism from the perspectives of rhetoric, semantics, pragmatics and sociolinguists have been conspicuous. Thus, on the basis of others’ researches, this thesis attempts to do a comprehensive analysis of English euphemisms and Chinese euphemisms by comparatively analyzing their linguistic and cultural characteristics.

This paper will probe in the relationships between language, culture, taboo and euphemism. Moreover, this paper will compare English euphemism and Chinese euphemism from perspectives of formation, use range and culture. Through the contrastive study of English and Chinese euphemisms, we can learn about lots of both similarities and peculiarities of the two languages, which are of considerable value and guidance to our translation about euphemism, to study foreign language learning and cross-cultural communication.

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Key word: euphemism, contractive study, language, culture, translation

This type of language is defined as “euphemism” in linguistics. Euphemism is the lubricant of communication in our daily life, business and political talking, even in the international negotiations. Euphemisms are powerful linguistic devices which “are embedded so deeply in our language that few of us, even those who pride themselves on being plainspoken, ever get through a day without using them. ” (Rawson, 1981:1). However, every language has its own euphemism; it is closely related with the language, culture, and taboo, so does English, and Chinese as well.

For better studying these two languages and knowing more about these two countries, there is a great need for us to compare English and Chinese euphemisms, and find out ways to translation them, so we can learn both two language much better. 1. Basic study on euphemism 1. Definition of euphemism Euphemism is a hot research issues in the field of linguistics, scholars at home and broad have defined euphemism differently. The word “euphemism” comes from a Greek word, “eu-” meaning “good” and “-pheme” meaning “speech” or “saying”, and thus its literary meaning is “a good speech or good saying”.

Euphemism is a kind of polite and roundabout mode of expression. 3. Euphemism is used to soften or beautify the unpleasantness of reality. 1. 2 review of euphemism Much research has been done on euphemism because of its prominence in language. A lot of great works came into being during the study of euphemism, which lay a foundation for further research. In 1936, in his book The American Language, American linguist, Mencken, fully discussed why hundreds of euphemisms had been born and become popular on the basis of American history and social cultural background.

His book is a valuable legacy for euphemism study. In 1981, British linguist Hugh Rawson compiled A Dictionary of Euphemisms and Other Double talks, which embodies the achievements of research on euphemisms over the decades by many British and American linguists. More important, in its ten–page–long preface, Hugh Rawson not only traced the history of euphemism, but also widely accounted for characteristics of euphemism as well as its definition, classification, and scope of use.

Compared with those flourishing studies on euphemism in western countries, Chinese scholars’ theories on euphemism seem rare, although euphemism in China has quite a long history and we can find the earliest recordation in The Book of Songs(???? ). Scientific and systematic research had not been done in this field until several decades ago. In 1976, Chinese scholar Chen Wangdao (??? ,1976) published the book Introduction to Rhetoric. He gave a definition to euphemism and studied euphemism from the angle of rhetoric.

Euphemism study in terms of rhetoric is not restricted to the lexicon level, but is extended to the level of sentence and discourse. From the 70s to the 80s of the 20th century, western theories of linguistics were introduced into China in succession. Inspired by the newly introduced theories, some Chinese scholars expanded the scope of euphemism study into the perspective of social functions. The most famous ones among those scholars are Chen Yuan (?? ,1983),who published the book Sociolinguistics, which contributes a lot to the study and analysis of euphemism.

In the following years, a number of Chinese scholars published many articles to air their views on euphemism from different angles, such as Yu Yalun (??? ,1984), Li Guonan (??? ,1989), Shu Dingfang (??? ,1989), etc.. All of these papers have widened our vision and enriched the study of euphemism. 1. 3. Language and euphemism Hugh Rawson (1981:3) pointed out the close relation between language and euphemism, “Euphemisms are embedded so deeply in our language that few of us, even those who pride themselves on being plain-spoken, ever get through a day without using them.

The relation between language and euphemism is so intrinsically close that it is impossible to study one without an analysis of the other. Firstly, euphemism is one form of language; we can derive euphemism from family talks, official meetings, literary words, scribbles on walls, telephone talks, television programs, letters, cards, advertisements, E-mails, and so on. Secondly, language is the vehicle of euphemism. Euphemism exists in every language. To some extent, we can say that where there is language, there is euphemism. Thirdly, euphemism contributes to language usage.

It is the polite and indirect coverer of some unpleasant language. 2. Comparison between Chinese and English Euphemisms Though Chinese euphemism and English euphemism are both used to lubricate the languages for better understanding, they also have their respective means of formation, different use range and culture influents 2.. 1. in terms of formation As for their formation, by comparing them from phonetic, lexical, grammatical, and rhetorical angles, we can learn more about Chinese euphemism and English euphemism. 2. 1. 1. Phonetic device Phonetic distortion is the most popular way of euphemism both in Chinese and English.

Phonetic distortion refers to the changing of a sound in word for the purpose of euphemizing. In English Phonetic distortion includes abbreviation, reduplication, distortion of pronunciation, etc. There are abbreviations like “TB” for “tuberculosis”, “vamp” for “vampire”, “JC” for “Jesus Christ”, “WC” for “Water Closet”, “SOB” for “son-of-a-bitch”, “BS” for “bullshit”, and so on. There is reduplication like “Pee-pee” or “Wee-wee” for “piss”, and there are distortions of pronunciations like “Gripes” for “Christ”, “Gad” for “God” and so forth. In Chinese, the most common phonetic distortion is the homophone.

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