What would one do if they were the black sheep?


  • Alexandru Cornel Selyem “1 Decembrie 1918” University in Alba Iulia, Romania 




idioms, black, figurative language, meaning


The purpose of this paper is to present how Romanian learners of English process a specific idiom related to color. In order to do this, I carried out an experiment with three groups of students from the school where I teach English as a foreign language. The experiment was just a small fraction of several others which as a whole made my Ph.D. Thesis. My research thesis is concerned with how non-native speakers of English process idioms related to weather, anger, and color. To understand their way of processing figurative language I carried out several experiments for each set of idioms. Each experiment consisted of two distinct parts: during the first part I gave my students the idioms in a context-free version and asked them to offer translations, whereas, during the second part, I gave them the same idioms but in a contextualized instance. I assumed that some of my students would be influenced by their linguistic background, their knowledge of English, and their mother tongue – Romanian. Many of my assumptions proved to be right. However, there were instances when students were able to provide proper translations of some idioms even from the context-free encounter of them. For others, contexts proved valuable instances of vocabulary that actually helped them grasp the figurative meaning. The choice of this specific idiom – black sheep – was taken bearing in mind the existence of a similar idiom in Romanian – oaia neagra. Both in Romanian and English this expression is mainly used with its figurative meaning despite the fact that the literal meaning makes sense as well.