Idioms: Language Through Culture’s Eyes

Idioms: Language Through Culture’s Eyes

Language Through Culture´s Eyes

Idioms: How do they portray culture?

For those of you who are interested not only in languages but also in culture, we bring you the fascinating topic of Idioms.

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, an idiom is an expression that cannot be understood from the meanings of its separate words but that has a separate meaning of its own. In other words, idioms are composed of words that should not be taken literally. Idioms are phrases or expressions that help people communicate their thoughts and feelings in a different way from what they do with everyday words and phrases. To understand idioms you have to know the culture that is behind them, or at least their origin. We can say that understanding idioms is like being “in over one’s head”, meaning it is something difficult to do.


Do you get it?

Xiao Geng, in his 2009 paper An Analysis of the Cultural Phenomena explains:

Idioms reflect the environment, life, history and culture of the native speakers, closely associated with their innermost spirit and feelings. Idioms have so close relationship with historical background, economy, geographical environment, custom, etc. of the nation concerned that they more typically represent the cultural characteristics of a language than words.

As you can see, the use of idioms brings cultural aspects to the language. When learning or improving a new language, idioms help you understand the culture behind the words. If you understand the context of use well, then you will be closer to speaking the language fluidly.

For example, if you travel to Venezuela you will get to know the idiom, “al mal tiempo, buena cara” which can be literally translated to “during bad times, put on a good face”. The English idiom equivalent would be “seeing through rose-tinted glasses”. Another one is, “esto no es soplar y hacer botellas”, which means “this is not like blowing and making bottles”. The English idiom equivalent would be “to be in over one’s head”.

Idioms are useful in everyday life and in plenty of situations. The examples above shows you something about the playful nature of the Venezuelan people! Also, you can see that the words used in Spanish are not even close to what we use in English, however the meaning is the same. This is because the “equivalence” in idioms is not measured literally, it is measured figuratively.

Here are some other examples of Canadian English idioms and their equivalence in Venezuelan Spanish:

To play it by ear. <————————> Mientras vamos yendo vamos viendo.

To get cold feet. <———————–> Echarse para atrás.

To stick over one’s neck. <—————-> Arriesgar el pellejo por alguien o por algo.

In some ways, idioms can connect people by exposing one’s culture and sharing it with the other. Looking for equivalent idioms in other languages is challenging, but certainly fun, useful and interesting!

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