“Long, long ago, in the winter-time, when the snowflakes were falling like little white feathers from the sky, a beautiful Queen sat beside her window, which was framed in black ebony, and stitched. As she worked, she looked sometimes at the falling snow, and so it happened that she pricked her finger with her needle, so that three drops of blood fell upon the snow. How pretty the red blood looked upon the dazzling white! The Queen said to herself as she saw it, ‘Ah me! If only I had a dear little child as white as the snow, as rosy as the blood, and with hair as black as the ebony window-frame.’”
Sounds familiar to you? I’m sure it does because this is the beginning of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, one of the most famous fairy tales of Brothers Grimm. The description of Snow White is so famous that almost every child in the world knows who it is about when they hear it: “Soon afterwards a little daughter came to her, who was as white as snow, rosy as the blood, and whose hair was as black as ebony.
Perhaps there’s no way better than describing the beauty of a woman by comparing her with something which has similar gorgeous characteristics. By comparing like this, we can give our listeners a vivid image of the thing we’re talking about without using too many words. We’ve seen this being used in almost every work of literature and also everyday discourse. It’s called simile.
This paper deals with some features of similarities as well as differences in similes between Vietnamese and English, specifically their meaning and language features.
Similes are so powerful that they are used in every language in the world. By using similes, especially in proverbs, we can easily describe something or someone with very few words.
What is simile? According to Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary, simile is a word or phrase that compare something to something else, using the words like or as, for example a face like a mask or as white as snow. However, this is just a very brief definition of simile. There is a more exhaustive definition of simile. Pierini (2007) defines simile as the statement of a similarity relation between two entities that are basically different but thought to be alike in one or more attributes, or a non-similarity relation. Simile consists of four elements (Fromilhague, 1995, pp. 73-74): the first entity which is a thing or a person that is described by the simile, the second entity to which the first entity is compared, comparison markers such as like or as, and similar attribute(s) which can be expressed explicitly or left out. For instance:
His skin was
Comparison marker (first pair)
Comparison marker (second pair)
Table 1.1: Structure of simile in English
The structure of Vietnamese is essentially the same though the entities which are used to describe the main person or thing are sometimes different from those in English due to the unlikeness of the two cultures.
Tóc cô ấy
Table 1.2: Structure of simile in Vietnamese
Simile is a form of comparison, but it’s different from metaphor. “Similes indirectly compare the two ideas and allow them to remain distinct in spite of their similarities, whereas metaphors compare two things directly.” (“Simile,” n.d.)For instance, a simile that compares a woman with an angel would go as follows: “Diana was as beautiful as an angel.” A metaphor might read something like, “At the age of 18, Diana was an angel that melted every man’s heart.”
SIMILES IN ENGLISH
There are three common patterns in English (“Simile,” n.d.)
something [is*] AS adjective AS something
His skin was as cold as ice.
It felt as hard as rock.
She looked as gentle as a lamb.
something [is*] LIKE something
My love is like a red, red rose.
These cookies taste like garbage.
He had a temper (that was) like a volcano.
something [does**] LIKE something
He eats like a pig.
He smokes like a chimney.
They fought like cats and dogs.
These are the most common patterns of simile in which the most basic comparison markers are used. In English, there are still a lot more comparison markers which are categorized based on parts of speech (Pierini, 2007, pp. 7-8):
d) prepositions (in comparative phrases): like, as;
e) conjunctions (in comparative clauses): as if/though, as when.
Those markers above are not interchangeable. They require different linguistic structures and have different meanings, e.g. be like expresses a clear similarity, while be a sort of a loose similarity.
SIMILES IN VIETNAMESE
Linguistically speaking, structure of Vietnamese similes is basically similar to that of English. However, it’s not easy to categorize Vietnamese similes based on comparison markers since they are various and pretty complicated. Here are some comparison markers in Vietnamese similes: như, như là, như thể, tựa, tựa thể, giống, giống như, tày, ngang, bằng, khác nào, khác chi, khác gì, chẳng khác, na ná, dường như, chừng như…
Juozas Tininis (1971) suggested a categorization as follow:
a) Humans are subjects in simile:
Gái có chồng như sông có nước, gái không chồng như lược gãy răng.
DIFFERENCES BETWEEN ENGLISH AND VIETNAMESE SIMILES
Similes in English and Vietnamese have quite a few things in common, especially in linguistic respect such as structure and comparison markers. They are, however, different in some ways.
First, although sometimes we find some similes which are used in both Vietnamese and English due to the universally acknowledged features of the things used to describe the main subject, that occasion is not very common. In many cases, we Vietnamese cannot find an equivalent for an English simile because Vietnamese and English have different culture and ways of perceiving things. For instance, when English people want say someone is happy using simile, they would compare that person with a cricket due to its delighting song. Vietnamese people, however, would think of celebrations of holidays such as Tết, lễ hội… In the same way, different cultures and geographic features have led to difference in similes. Here are some examples:
Second, Vietnamese people give prominence to rhyme in similes to make them more artistic and easily adapted to songs and poems. For instance,
Một tiếng cười bằng mười thang thuốc bổ;
Chị em dâu như bầu nước lạnh;
Một giọt máu đào hơn ao nước lã.
This phenomenon is very limited in English.
IMPLICATION FOR TEACHING
First and foremost, there’s an undeniable truth that native speakers use idioms, slang, phrasal verbs and simile a lot in their daily life. Therefore, the immediate benefit of learning similes is that the students can speak and write more natural and native-like. By contrasting between English and Vietnamese similes, teacher can help students understand and remember them longer. Interestingly enough, many similes in English and Vietnamese are the same, for instance, as smooth as silk (mượt mà như lụa) or aggressive like a tiger (dữ như hổ). This may be the result of the long process of intercultural communication or perhaps it’s just because the things used to compare have some typical attributes that are universally acknowledged. So, by listing some English or Vietnamese similes and asking students to find their counterparts, teacher can make the lesson more captivating. Furthermore, students are not confined to any limits. Once they understand how similes work in both Vietnamese and English, they’re free to make any similes as they wish as long as they share the same knowledge about the things that are used to describe the main subjects with the listeners.
Second, by trying to understand the similarities and differences between English and Vietnamese similes, students have a great chance to know more about English cultures as well as reinforce their awareness of their motherland’s since there are myriad similes which have cultural origins. If the truth be told, there’s no better way to inspire students to learn a foreign language than letting them explore something new and interesting for themselves. Therefore, teacher can design a lesson in which he/she provide students with similes and lets them discuss or guess the origins of those similes. Or teacher may give students with similes with blanks and students’ job is to fill in the blank. That would be great fun.
Third, in translation class, knowing about the similarities and differences between English and Vietnamese similes would be a considerable advantage to students as they would translate from English similes into equivalent Vietnamese similes and vice versa to make it more natural. For instance, translating the phrase “as merry as a cricket” into “vui như dế” would sound unfamiliar to Vietnamese people and thus hinder understanding. Instead, we can use a Vietnamese equivalent for that phrase such as “vui như đi trẩy hội” or “vui như đi chơi Tết”.
Last but not least, students would have a wonderful opportunity to dig a bit deeper into how the language they’re learning works and to foster their awareness of linguistic similarities and differences between the two languages. By contrasting similes in English and Vietnamese, teacher may encourage students to go on comparing other respects of the two languages and therefore they would find learning English easier and more fun, not to say the chance they have to strengthen their mother tongue.
Contrasting English and Vietnamese similes is an interesting but serious thing to do. In this paper, I’ve tried to demonstrate some similarities and differences between them, specifically their structure and meaning. However, in a 10-page essay, with my limited knowledge, I obviously was not able to cover everything related to simile which is a very broad topic. I hope this modest essay would bring to you some new information about similes, the similarities and differences between English and Vietnamese similes and teaching implication which I hope that you, would-be teachers, would find something useful for your own.
The Story of Snow White. (n.d.). Retrieved December 25, at