A contrastive analysis of negative questions in English and Vietnamese

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Negative questions in Enlish and Vietnamese

Lê Thị Ánh Dung

A contrastive analysis of negative questions in English and Vietnamese

University of Education

English department

Instructor: Nguyễn Ngọc Vũ

Student: Lê Thị Ánh Dung

English is not the most widely spoken language in the world in terms of the number of native speakers - there are many more Chinese speakers than native English speakers. However, it cannot be denied that English is the most widespread language in the world. The importance of English is not just in how many people speak it but in what it is used for. English is the major language of news and information in the world. It is the language of business and government even in some countries where it is a minority language.

In communicative process in English as well as in other languages, questions play an important role in our daily life. We are not able to keep communicating going on well without asking questions. We ask in order to learn new things, exchange information, ideas, feeling and knowledge. On the other hand, we sometimes ask questions not only for the above purposes but for confirmation, refusal irony or reply avoidance. It is undeniable that questions can not be missed in communication. There are a lot of types of question in English but in this paper I would like to go deep into negative questions in order to get more understanding of this type of questions inorder to use it flexibly and fluently. The contrastive analysis of English and Vietnamese negative questions also reveals the similarities and differences in both languages. At the end of this paper, I try to draw out some implications for learning and teaching English in a hope to help those who are interested in this subject.

  1. Negative forms in English and Vietnamese and non-assertive forms in English

    1. Negative forms in English and Vietnamese:

      1. In English:

* Negative determiner:

In English, besides inserting not, there are other words which have a negative meaning such as no+phrase; pronoun: no one, nobody, nothing

E.g.: There’s no money in my pocket. ≈ (There is not any money in my pocket).

Here, we have no as negative determiner and it is one of the negative items in English with different function.

  • No as a pronoun:

E.g.: I saw no one in the room ≈ (I didn’t see anyone in the room).

  • No as a determiner: (happens both singular and plural).

E.g.1: There are no students in the class ≈ (There are not any students in the class).

E.g.2: There is no money in my pocket ≈ (There is not any money in my pocket).

We also use none and neither (of) to replace for pronouns and determiners:

E.g.1: None of them was absent.

E.g.2: We wanted to meet them, but there were none arrived.

E.g.3: Neither of them are dentists.

E.g.4: Neither class is opened.

Furthermore, negative words are various. Except for words above, there are some negative items such as: nowhere (adverb of place); never (adverb of time); no longer/ no more; neither….nor.

E.g.1: I have never seen such a tall man.

E.g.2: She is no longer a good student.

E.g.3: Jack neither arrived nor phoned me.

* Words with negative meaning:

In English, there are some adverbs bearing the negative in meaning and behaviour such as: seldom, rarely, barely, scarcely, although they do not appear negative in form. Like “never”, an adverb of frequency, when they are put at initial position, the subject-operator inversion is required for the emphasis.

E.g.1: I have never seen such a tall man → Never have I seen such a tall man.

E.g.2: He hardly travels anymore → Hardly has he travel anymore.

In addition, some verbs have negative meaning and make up negative sentences without using negative words, which is used to distinguish other verbs having negative meaning by adding negative prefixes, namely dis, in, im, un, etc. These verbs are perceived as containing “negator” in it, including, “fail”, “stop”, “prevent”, “abstain from”, “avoid”, “deny”, “hesitate”, etc…

E.g.1: I have failed to sign a long-term contract.

≈ (We haven’t signed a long term contract)

E.g.2: The bad weather prevented us from going out.

≈ (We couldn’t go out because of the bad weather)

Apart form it, some verbs imply negative meaning because they are antonyms of the positive verbs.

E.g.: forget = not remember; refuse = not accept; prohibit = not allow; oppose = not support

Like negative verb, there are some prepositions related to position and direction, expressing negative meaning. They include: away from, off, out of, etc. Preposition phrases have implied negative meaning which requires non-assertive forms including: without, against, instead of, beyond, etc. There are also adjectives that have negative meaning like: hard, difficult (not easy), etc.

English negation is various and copious, it integrates into every aspect of language-negative items, negative pronouns, determiners or implied-negative of notional words. The structure of negative clause is made by many negative elements other negator “not”.

      1. In Vietnamese:

“Not” is equivalent to “không” in Vietnamese, both show their negative when used. The position of “not” and “không” in English and Vietnamese negative sentence is often similar, they are both placed before the verbs. However, in negative questions, they are different. “Không” in Vietnamese is not placed before the subject meanwhile “not” can be place before or after subject (negative full form and negative short form) in English.

E.g.1: Cô ấy không xinh à? (Isn’t she beautiful?)

E.g.2: Bạn không nhớ họ sao? (Do you not remember them?)

E.g.3: Tại sao cậu lại không mở cửa sổ ra nhỉ? (Why don’t you open the windows?)

Vietnamese speakers never use “không” before subject as English. “Không” can be only placed before verbs in Yes/ No questions when it has to go with “phải là”.

E.g.: Không phải là mày đã yêu hắn ta đấy chứ? (Didn’t you love him?)

In English “not” can be contracted to “n’t” and added to the operators but “không” in Vietnamese is not contracted at all. In Vietnamese negative questions, “không” usually go with “à/ ư/ sao/ hả/ hử/ chứ/ gì/ hay sao/ chớ/ chứ gì/ được sao/ được ư/ đấy chứ/ phải không” which occur in final position to form questions. Sometimes “không” can also combine with “phải/ phải là” in presubject position is used on with “à/ sao/ hay sao/ là gì/ đó sao” in final position.

E.g.1: Cậu không uống cà phê phải không? (Don’t you drink coffee?)

So, in Vietnamese we have to use “không” with other particles to form questions but it is not necessary in English. However, to some extend “không” differ from “not” when it used in negative polarity question.

E.g.1: Họ biết cô ta không? (neutral polarity) Do they know her?

E.g.2: Họ không biết cô ta à? (negative polarity) Don’t they know her?

In the (e.g.1), “không” is a negative particle used for Yes/ No question.

The most common marker of lexical or sentential negation in Vietnamese is “không”, when it appears in final position, where it indicates a question, other negative elements with near-parallel distribution and function include (more literary) “chẳng” “chả” (‘no, not’) and “chưa” (‘not yet’). Sometimes in order to emphasize the negative aspects, the word “hề” is added after “không”, “chẳng”, “chả”, “chưa” However, there are some differences between “không” and “chưa”. According to Diep Quang Ban (1987), “chưa”, is related to time and regarded as “incompleted negation” while “không” refers to “completed negation”. Besides, in conversational language some negative words that imply impoliteness like “đếch”, “cóc” are also used.

E.g.1: Cô ấy chưa đến à? (Hasn’t she come yet?)

E.g.2: Tại sao em không làm bài tập? (Why haven’t you done your homework?)

E.g.3: Tại sao em lại chưa làm bài tập? (Why didn’t you do your homework?)

In (e.g.1) we must use “chưa”, but in (e.g.2 and e.g.3) “không” is acceptable in both situations.

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