12 Mar 2012, 3:12am
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  • Why are ‘áo ấm’ and ‘áo lạnh’ the same in Vietnamese language?

    I get acquainted with an American friend, Jesse. He has lived in Vietnam for over 10 years. He speaks Vietnamese fluently and his Southern accent is extremely precise. He often dresses simply but elegantly. I admire Jesse for his understanding of the language and culture of Vietnam. We often discuss some issues of Vietnamese language with each other when going out to eat snack foods such as snails, half-hatched duck eggs, etc.

    aoamaolanh Why are ‘áo ấm’ and ‘áo lạnh’ the same in Vietnamese language?

    He often shook his head and said: “Vietnamese language is very complicated. Although I’ve been learning Vietnamese for a long time, I’m still afraid of talking Vietnamese and my tongue runs riot when speaking with Vietnamese people.” He said he could not understand the contradiction in Vietnamese such as “áo ấm” and “áo lạnh”. He could not explain why ‘áo lạnh’ (sweater) is the synonym of ‘áo ấm’ (sweater) though ‘lạnh’ (cold) is the opposite of ‘ấm’ (warm). In addition, there are many similar contradictions such as ‘đánh thắng kẻ thù’ and ‘đánh bại kẻ thù’ (defeat an enemy). Despite of the opposite meaning of ‘thắng’ (win) and ‘bại’ (lose), ‘đánh thắng’ is another word of ‘đánh bại’

    To explain this phenomenon, it is said that Vietnamese grammar is a kind of sentimental grammar. There was a linguist who said, ‘European grammar is formal grammar, but Vietnamese grammar is sentimental grammar.’ ‘Áo ấm’ and ‘áo lạnh’ are two different processes of thinking of Vietnamese people. ‘Áo ấm’ means ‘áo mặc để giữ ấm’ (clothes used to keep warm), and ‘áo lạnh’ means ‘áo mặc để chống lạnh’ (clothes used to prevent cold). Therefore, ‘áo ấm’ is the short form of ‘áo mặc để giữ ấm’, ‘áo lạnh’ is the short form of ‘áo mặc để chống lạnh’. That is also the reason why ‘đánh thắng’ is the synonym of ‘đánh bại’.