AbstractEuphemisms are expressions used by different speakers in a lighter tone to avoid offending others with whom they have social interactions. It is a common linguistic practice across culture. In using it people are able to express themselves politely, without having to offend or make their audience unpleasant. As a pragmatic expression it also mirrors the culture of the one using it. This paper explores euphemism pragmatic functions including politeness, avoiding taboo and disguise. A contrast between Chinese and English euphemism is used to explore the cultural influence in use of euphemism. Across the two cultures there is convergence in use of euphemism to avoid taboos, disguise, and for politeness purposes. However, differences also exist because of the cultural values.
Table of Contents
TOC o “1-3” h z u Abstract PAGEREF _Toc380781036 h 1Introduction PAGEREF _Toc380781037 h 1Classification of Euphemism PAGEREF _Toc380781038 h 2Use of Euphemism PAGEREF _Toc380781039 h 3Similarities between Chinese and English Euphemisms PAGEREF _Toc380781040 h 4Dissimilarities PAGEREF _Toc380781041 h 5Conclusion PAGEREF _Toc380781042 h 6
IntroductionIt is misleading to believe that the words used by different people have similar meaning. Researchers in different disciplines appreciate the complex nature of choices of words and the dynamism of their meaning. This is even more common in the use of figurative language. This is because meaning is hardly derived from the dictionary, but instead depends on the context. This type of communication comes in different forms and is applied for varied reasons. This may be in the form of metaphors meant to entertain or surprise, political correctness whose aim is to avoid hurting others, or roundabout expressions, mostly used to uphold politeness and avoid disrespect.
Euphemisms are very important part of the language and are so engrossed in our everyday communication that it is difficult to avoid them. We use euphemism booth for emotional and social reasons, because so doing allow us to discuss sensitive or taboo issues like personal appearances, sex, or religion without causing anger, upsetting others and it acts as a control in ensuring politeness in communication (Linfoot-Ham, 2005).
Similarities have also been pointed out in some cultures because of the need to maintain politeness. This is particular between use of euphemism in Chinese and English. However, difference does exist because like it was highlighted euphemism largely depends on the culture. By conducting a pragmatic research on use of euphemism it is possible to have a deeper understanding of euphemism features in both Chinese and English. This can help us to understand how euphemism can be applied across different cultures. Therefore, this paper seeks to look at how societal traditions and values inform their pattern of euphamizing. To achieve this goal we shall explore use of euphemism in Chinese and in English.
Classification of EuphemismAccording to Qi, (2010) euphemism can be categorized into stylistic and traditional euphemism, conscious and unconscious euphemism, and sustained and Nonce euphemisms. The first one is a semantic classification of euphemism. It is broken into traditional euphemism, which encompasses indirect linguistic taboos expression. The purpose of these expressions is to discuss issues related to death, life, disease, secretions, and sex which were forbidden from being mentioned directly in certain cultures. People refrained from talking about these issues to maintain pleasantness and instead employed refined expressions giving way to euphemism. In both Chinese and English language the use of secretion for instance, was a taboo that gave in to a number of euphemistic terms such as ‘feel/answer to a call of nature’, ‘spend a penny’, ‘go to the bathroom’ among others (Qi, 2010). The use of this kind of euphemism reflects human desire to act like civilized beings and steer from being labeled as barbaric. Stylistic euphemism, on the other hand, refers to use of euphemism as a polite expression or for flattery. When people communicate they feel that addressing their audience directly is likely to hurt them or make them unease. To avert this people employ exaggerated or attractive connotations. For instance under-developed nations have been described as less developed nations.
Depending on whether people understand their original motivations either of the above classification can further be subdivided into unconscious or conscious euphemism. When words are used without understanding their original meanings this is unconscious euphemism. On the other hand people may use certain words which they understand have a different meaning to mean completely different thing. This is conscious euphemism. The last classification encompasses euphemisms that are both used on impulse and hardly repeated and those that are developed and reused for many years by people (Qi, 2010).
Use of EuphemismEuphemism has been defined as replacement for expressions that may offend or be unpleasant with an inoffensive or agreeable one (Hojati, 2012). Considered in a pragmatic perspective it is an important linguistic tool to maintain personal and social affairs among people (Lu, 2007). Euphemism is common in most of the world languages and fulfills particular functions. It is commonly used for politeness, taboo, and beautifying.
“Philosophy and Humanities “(2010) suggests that English euphemism has five main functions. These include evasive purposes, indirect function, politeness function, defensive function, and cosmetic function. It also has four main characteristics namely cultural specificity, universality, diachrony, and obscurity. It should also observe three basic principle namely Cooperative principle, Face theory, and Politeness Principle. The cooperative principle dictates that people should speak with relevance, sincerity, and clarity and provide the necessary information. However, English euphemism violates these occasionally, to send indirect meanings and achieve its intended communication. The second principle is that of politeness, which goes together with the cooperative principle. The reason for people to negate some of the cooperative principle is to fulfill the need to be polite. It can thus be argued that euphemism results from deliberate violation of the cooperative principle and subsequent observation of the principle of being polite. However, overuse of euphemism may lead to communication breakdown. Therefore, to deriver intended meaning euphemism requires that people employ its strategies appropriately depending on the context. Accordingly, euphemism reflects people’s history, developments in economy and politics as well as changes in consciousness and culture.
Similarities between Chinese and English EuphemismsFrom the onset, euphemism reflects the social influences regardless of origin either Chinese or English. Many social influences determine euphemizing across culture. The most basic among these include disguising, avoiding taboos, and being polite. The basic principal for creating euphemism is to avoid taboos. In Chinese, taboo is one of the major reasons for using euphemism (“Taboos and Euphemism in Chinese”, n.d). In many incidents people try to avoid using these taboos. However, circumstances compel them to speak about these issues and they have to do it by employing round about or implicit ways. In so doing, people from different cultures revert to use of euphemism (China Papers, 2010). Euphemisms exist to be used in the place of the words that cannot be uttered in communication (Lee, 2011).
Secondly, euphemizing stems and cascades from politeness. People try not to hurt others or appear impolite in social interactions. This act of saving the face is considered an important element that maintains communication. This means that people must maintain their own self mage and that of the person they are interacting with. However, it is not possible to maintain the face because of the threat in many verbal interactions. As a result, interactors try to maintain the face by deploying a number of techniques including euphemism. This is common in certain career for instance instead of using undertaker euphemism expression like funeral director is employed. The purpose is to make those holding such positions in the society feel albeit respected.
Political euphemism on the other hand is meant to disguise. Its application in politics is to conceal the cruelty of truth and minimize thought precision in audience (Alhusseini, 2013). For instance, politicians prefer to use the words rescue mission as opposed to invasion when it comes to occupying a foreign territory with their military. Many academicians prefer to call these types of word cosmetic expressions. They merely refer to concealment of the truth (Qi, 2010).
Chinese and English Euphemism are also similar in their manner of formation. The linguistic patterns within which they are formed have certain similarities like understatement or use of foreign terms. Euphemizing in terms of the foreign words refers to use of distance in use of words. Since people are mostly unfamiliar with foreign language they use them in the place of native words to create euphemism. The word loo instead of lavatory for instance, is used in English, but it is borrowed from French and means a place of convenience (Qi, 2010). People also avoid stating words fully for politeness sake. For instance mad people are euphemized as soft in the head.
DissimilaritiesDissimilarities also exist between Chinese and English language which is as a result of the economic and geographic variations that precipitates different ways of dealing with things. For instance, in both the use of euphemism on old is common, but Chinese use of the term is honorific as contrasted with English who use it in a derogatory manner. In the west people do not like to be addressed as old and they take offense in it because they see something old as outdated, but Chinese are not offended. Therefore, this word is used differently in the two cultures.
The other field where euphemism is commonly used in is speaking about death. In both culture, death is a taboo and many words are used in its place. However, difference can be noted in the way they use euphemism in case of death of different people. In China, the clan system has a major impact in euphemizing death of ruling class as compared to the rest of the community. An emperor’s death is said to be a fall down of a big mountain, while that of ordinary people is plainly called death. In contrast, English do not have these obvious social stratifications of deaths, but instead they categorize them depending on the career. Take for instance ‘buying-a one way ticket’, which is euphemism derived from air travel (Qi, 2010).
Euphemism is also used in the West to conceal private matters as compared to China. The Westerners value privacy including income, age, political tendency, and religious beliefs and they do not like others to know about them. In contrast Chinese often speak openly in regard to these issues (Xialong, Meng, & Hailin, 2012).
ConclusionEuphemisms are a set of expression used by people of the same cultural backgrounds to replace others that may be offensive or unpleasant in verbal interactions. People are social being and they need each other. One way of interaction is to communicate. People from the same cultural background have a particular language which they use to communicate. However, there are certain words that cannot be said in these verbal interactions because they are taboos, impolite or likely to offend others. Euphemism acts as pragmatics in such context by offering ways through which people can avoid these taboo, disguise, or act in a polite manner. Euphemism in these principles share similarities across culture, but there are certain differences due to geographic and economic variations.
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