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Cultural and Linguistic Encounters

Arab EFL Learners Encoding and Decoding Idioms

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Anissa Daoudi

Idioms are universal to all languages, and figurative language is pervasive in everyday discourse. However, idiom studies rarely touch on the problems figurative language can present to non-native speakers. This book sets out to provide an original analysis of the issue, focusing on a number of languages, including Arabic, Berber, French and English. The author addresses the question of idiomaticity from linguistic, psycholinguistic and pedagogical perspectives, highlighting in particular the strategies used by Arab learners (primarily Saudis and Algerians) to decode and encode idioms.
The book explores in detail the process of identifying idioms and the factors that affect comprehension. The author also analyses the current state of bilingual Arabic-English-Arabic dictionaries and asks to what extent learners can rely on them as a source for decoding idioms.

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Chapter ThreeLanguage Transfer and Semantic Analysis 67

Extract

CHAPTER THREE Language Transfer and Semantic Analysis Comedienne Sandi Toksvig1 recounted a story about the problems her father, a senior Danish politician, had with translators. On one particular occasion he said in English: ‘the spirit is willing, but the f lesh is weak’. Unfortunately, that was translated into Danish as: ‘the vodka is good, but the meat is of f ’. This comical example demonstrates the dif ficulties and misunderstandings which can occur when idioms are translated from one language into another. Not only do such misunderstandings lead to confus‑ ing and sometimes farcical exchanges, but participants in such a dialogue will often fail to convey or understand the subtle cultural and contextual meanings which the idioms express. Sometimes foreign language speak‑ ers/learners might come across idioms in English which are dif ficult to understand, despite their high proficiency level and may not be able to find an equivalent or cognate term in Arabic for idioms such as kick the bucket, ship shape and Bristol fashion or to queer someone’s pitch. In fact, the latter belongs to the category of colloquial idioms which the EFL learner might come across in his or her daily life and is expected to dif ferentiate from the standard idioms. This is also true of Arabic expressions such as / raja‘a bi-khufai Hunain/ (meaning ‘to be unsuccessful’), /halaba al-dahru ashturahu/ (meaning ‘someone who has acquired experiences from life’), and /ja‘ala al-layla athmada/ (meaning ‘to stay up late’) (lit. ‘to use the night as...

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