Cultural Differences between English and Chinese idioms
What are idioms? Webster’s New World Dictionary of the American Language said an idiom is an accepted phrase, construction, or expression contrary to the patterns of the language, or having a meaning different from the language or having a meaning different from the literal. Idioms are the important part of the language and a part of culture. The idioms from different languages reflect the discrepancy of cultural information. There are three main cultural points that separate the Chinese idioms from English idioms.
The first point is that the Geographical environment. China is a typical agricultural nation with a large population of farmers, who live on the land. Many Chinese idioms are related to the farming. So our Chinese will say 挥金如土 when we want to show somebody is too
luxurious. While the British would rather express it by “spend money
like water” for the reason that the Great Britain is an island nation surrounded by the water. Many of the English idioms are about navigation,
The second distinction is the historical allusion. China has a long history of more than two thousand years, and therefore the language is rich in idioms from Chinese historical events and ancient fables and fairy tales. For example: 风声鹤唳,草木皆兵(be in an extremely nervous
state in which one is frightened by the slightest sound) is from the defeat of Fu Jian’s(苻坚) army at Feishui River during the East Jin
Dynasty. Different from China, England has a comparative short history with few significant historical events. In addition, the English idioms have been greatly enriched by the Greek and Roman civilizations for the historical reason.
The last contradistinction is the religion. China is a multi-religious country. But comparatively speaking, Buddhism has a greater influence in Chinese culture and greatly stimulated the development of Chinese idioms. Take”放下屠刀;立地成佛”for example, it can be translated that a
butcher becomes a Buddha the moment he drops his cleaver, and it means a wrongdoer achieves salvation as soon as he gives up evil. In contrast, most of the westerners are Christians, who believe that the world was created by God, and that everything in the world is arranged and disposed of according to God's will.
All in all, the diversity of Geographical environment, historical allusion, and religion can result in the difference of the idioms. With a better understanding of the Chinese and English cultural difference, we can have a superior approach to the idioms,