Directness in conversations in american english and vietnamese - a comparative study

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i MINISTRY OF EDUCATION AND TRAINING DONG THAP UNIVERSITY LE THU HA DIRECTNESS IN CONVERSATIONS IN AMERICAN ENGLISH AND VIETNAMESE – A COMPARATIVE STUDY Branch: English Pedagogy Degree: Higher education BA THESIS Supervisor: Phan Ngoc Thach M.A. DONG THAP, 2012 i DECLARATION I confirm that the thesis entitled “Directness in conversations in American English and Vietnamese - A comparative study” has been performed and interpreted exclusively by myself. I clarify that the work is submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirement of the BA degree and has not been submitted elsewhere in any other form for the fulfillment of any degree or qualification. The author Le Thu Ha ii ACKNOWLEGMENTS I would first and foremost like to thank my supervisor, Phan Ngoc Thach M.A. for giving me support, guideline, and feedback when I carried out my thesis. I would also like to extend my gratefulness to all of the teachers in Foreign Language Department who provide me with necessary help as well as good suggestions whenever I get into trouble. Last but not least, my special thanks are sincerely sent to my parents, my friends and so many others who continuously offer spiritual support and encouragement during the process of doing this thesis. Le Thu Ha iii ABSTRACT Students of English in Vietnam need a general consciousness of directness and indirectness since they will benefit in many aspects. First, knowing how and when to use directness and indirectness for communicating purposes is a way serving politeness and face saving. That good point is for social interaction. In the field of teaching, directness and indirectness can be used by the teacher to balance the quality and quantity of work- share between the teacher and the students and improve the teacher-student relationship. Vietnamese students of English have difficulties in adjusting the degree of directness and indirectness in their conversations. Evidently, various cross- cultural values build up diverse language styles. Directness and indirectness in conversations do not except and the cultural gap between Eastern and Western countries unintentionally causes difficulties for the students. Moreover, the condition for students to sharpen their flexibility in choosing appropriate degrees of directness and indirectness is still limited because their sensitivity to directness and indirectness is not put in the adequate attention. The thesis “Directness in conversations in English and Vietnamese- A comparative study” is carried out with four specific purposes. The first purpose is to remind students of English of the values of directness and indirectness in aspects of life and career as discussing about the importance of directness and indirectness. Secondly, a general summary about directness and indirectness is given to provide people with a firm foundation about directness and indirectness. Thirdly, directness in English as well as indirectness in Vietnamese is investigated to find out similarities and differences between the two. Lastly, hopefully, this research can give some indications for directness and indirectness to teachers and students of English. 1 CONTENT DECLARATION ..................................................................................................... i ACKNOWLEGMENTS .......................................................................................... ii ABSTRACT ........................................................................................................... iii CONTENT ...............................................................................................................1 Chapter 1 ..................................................................................................................4 INTRODUCTION ....................................................................................................4 1.1Motivation ...........................................................................................................4 1.2 Aims of the study................................................................................................5 1.3 The research questions ........................................................................................5 1.4 Significance of the study.....................................................................................6 1.5 Related previous study ........................................................................................7 1.6 Organization of the thesis ...................................................................................8 Chapter 2 ..................................................................................................................9 LITERATURE REVIEW .........................................................................................9 2.1 Related theory ....................................................................................................9 2.1.1 A successful conversation ................................................................................9 2.1.2 Cooperation in conversation .......................................................................... 10 2.1.3 Speech acts ....................................................................................................11 2.2 Directness in conversations ............................................................................... 13 2.2.1 Definition of directness in conversations........................................................ 13 2.2.2 The significance of directness in conversations .............................................. 14 2.2.3 The influences on directness usage ................................................................ 14 2.2.4 Indirectness versus directness ........................................................................ 16 2 2.3 High-context versus low-context culture ........................................................... 17 Chapter 3 ................................................................................................................ 20 METHODOLOGY .................................................................................................20 3.1 Research questions ........................................................................................... 20 3.2 Research participants ........................................................................................ 20 3.2.1 The author .....................................................................................................20 3.2.2 The subjects ...................................................................................................20 3.3 Research procedure........................................................................................... 20 3.4 Research methods ............................................................................................. 21 3.4.1 Material analysis ............................................................................................ 21 3.4.2 Material generalization .................................................................................. 21 3.4.3 Comparison ...................................................................................................21 3.5 Summary .......................................................................................................... 21 Chapter 4 ................................................................................................................ 22 COMPARISION ....................................................................................................22 4.1 Similarities .......................................................................................................22 4.1.1 Both Vietnamese and American English involve some commonly general purposes of using directness and indirectness in conversations ............................... 22 4.1.2 Devices of indirectness are the same in Vietnamese and American English ...22 4.1.2.1 Rhetorical strategies and markers ................................................................ 22 4.1.2.2 Lexical and Referential Markers .................................................................24 4.1.2.3 Syntactic Markers and Structures ................................................................ 26 4.1.3 Both Vietnamese and American use directness and indirectness abiding the Cooperative principles ............................................................................................ 26 4.2 Differences .......................................................................................................27 3 4.2.1 Styles ............................................................................................................. 27 4.2.2 Degrees of directness ..................................................................................... 33 4.2.3 Reasons and purposes of using directness and indirectness ............................ 37 4.3 Conclusion about directness and indirectness in American English and Vietnamese ............................................................................................................. 41 Chapter five ............................................................................................................ 42 IMPLICATIONS ....................................................................................................42 5.1 What should people notice about directness and indirectness in conversations ..42 5.2 Some exceptions of directness and indirectness in Vietnamese and American English ................................................................................................................... 43 5.3 Implications for teachers ................................................................................... 44 5.4 Implications for students ................................................................................... 45 REFERENCES .......................................................................................................47 4 Chapter 1 INTRODUCTION 1.1Motivation Ochs states that humans learn norms and rules of social interaction through socialization in specific contexts (1986). Gayle (2002) also affirms that different contexts regulate people‟s interaction behaviors and perceptions of behavioral interactions of others in various ways. Therefore, people in different areas of the world behave differently. Their behaviors also vary from one group to another in the same nation. Differences also exist among various communities in terms of status, gender, and context. Inevitably, it causes culture shocks. According to Deena and Mara (1982), directness is one of the most necessary parts in the American English using. Meanwhile, Jeffrey and Chinh (1997) believe that in Asian cultures including Vietnamese one, directness is not a valued trait. Hence, there are significant differences in using directness between American English and Vietnamese, particularly in conversations. Certainly, these differences can cause certain cross-cultural problems for American and Vietnamese speakers. Approaching cross-culture seems to be one of the good ways to help students get used to diverse conducts and improve their communicative competence. Learning the use of directness in conversations in the two languages is a very essential part to promote interactive effectiveness. Cross-cultural study demands learner remarkable efforts. Therefore, doing research on the use of directness in conversations is believed to be one of the very first steps to approach it. Because of the limited time of exposure to crossculture, an absolute perception is obviously unconceivable to students of English at Dong Thap University. However, learners‟ capacity for understanding and interpreting communication styles and patterns will be widened once they work hard to deal with intercultural problems. They not only can use appropriate styles and patterns of communication, contact naturally but also can be more confident in their conversations with less misunderstanding, shocks, disappointment, anxiety, and unexpected events. 5 Conversations are very important in researches as well as in daily life. People can raise communication effectiveness when they know the right way of exchange either directly or indirectly in daily language. However, the number of communication styles is uncountable, which cause problems for students of English at Dong Thap University, especially students who work in Englishspeaking environment and communicate with English-speaking people. Consequently, it is more and more essential for them to know how to use conversations effectively to promote their communication skills. Actually, suitable directness in conversations and teaching support more flourishing communication, improved achievements, better relationships, and successful teaching. Such complexity and problems mentioned above, it makes the necessity of this thesis “Directness in conversations in American English and Vietnamese - A comparative study”. The research needs to be done. A desire to enrich knowledge of English is indispensible. In addition, if the research is exact and becomes a factual science one, it will be an adding reference about directness in conversations for students of English at Dong Thap University. 1.2 Aims of the study The research aims to: - Realize similarities and differences between American English and Vietnamese directness in conversations - Indicate implications of learning and using directness in conversations for students. - Support students in using conversations‟ directness in both English and Vietnamese more effectively in order to avoid culture shocks. 1.3 The research questions Are there any similarities and differences in using directness in conversations between American English and Vietnamese? What are some implications for learning and using directness in conversations? 6 1.4 Significance of the study Directness plays a very essential role in daily life of American people as Deena and Mara say, “American English strongly emphasizes directness in verbal interaction” (2002, p. 20). They need brief and straight dialogues. Deborah (2007) supposes that sometimes telling the complete truth can actually get communicators into trouble. When people converse daily, unpredicted situations may occur with their directness. In addition, Gayle asserts, “The more direct the refusal, the more the threat to the person‟s face.” (2002, p. 3). Brown and Levinson (1987) affirm “some degree of indirectness usually exists‟‟ (p. 56). To balance directness and indirectness in conversations is not easy. Conversing used in the right way brings about a lot of advantages. It gives people chances to develop their personality and emotion, spend time more effectively, and improve relationships and confidence. Appropriate directness in conversations helps people understand and support each other. They could recognize what the partner needs and what they should do. Also, they could acknowledge their strong points and weak points from which they could get lessons and experiences through frank advice. Apposite conversations are good for community‟s sake because it could increase the solidarity. Clever and straight conversations have positive psychological effects on students. In teaching, the teacher evaluates his students constructively and gives them advice in a frank way, which could support students to know their strengths and shortcomings. They may learn from the mistakes. Teacher‟s advice shows students exactly what they need to do to perfect themselves. Sincere and straight comments from the teacher could inspire students. This makes the students feel that they are well-treated and cared. In addition, the teacher offers them positive points of view. Clear and honest conversations can be the motivation for students. They become interested in their study. They want to overcome their shortcomings. Furthermore, students can give their idea straight, which helps the teacher know what they need so that the 7 teacher can adjust the way of teaching. Moreover, open and practical conversations can improve the relationship between teacher and students. In general, appropriate directness in conversations helps teaching and studying more successful. In conclusion, appropriate directness helps people to avoid unexpected troubles and struggles appearing in daily conversations, as well it supports teacher to be helpful and reliable consultant. This thesis “Directness in conversations in American English and Vietnamese - A comparative study” intentionally recommends directness in daily life talk and in teaching to students. Furthermore, an exciting point is that directness in conversations between American English and Vietnamese are compared, which support students more cross cultural knowledge and appropriate way of using directness in conversations. 1.5 Related previous study Many scholars have been done researches on “directness”. Arthur (2001) performs “Directness in the Use of African-American English”. He presented the form, meaning and function of directness. Nevertheless, his work is not a comparative study and it is about African-American English only. Gayle, Mahmoud, and Waguida (2002) are also successful with their thesis “Directness vs. Indirectness: Egyptian Arabic and US English communication style”. They make clear communication style, directness and indirectness in term of refusals. Their results were analyzed according to the frequency of strategy usage and directness as related to country, gender, and status. However, their study is a comparative study on Egyptian Arabic and American English. Both of the works above are not related to Vietnamese language. In Vietnam, there are studies on indirectness in Vietnamese such as “Meandering speeches of Vietnamese” (2007) by Nguyen Dang Khanh and “Synonymous sentences using meandering speeches” (2010) by Nguyen Huu Chuong. Also, some contrastive researches on directness in Vietnamese and American English are carried out. Nguyen Thi My Ngan did a research named “Refusing and offer in English and Vietnamese- A contrastive analysis” in 2010. Besides, “Some 8 differences in requesting strategies in English-Vietnamese” was accomplished by Do Thi Mai Thanh and Tran Thi Le Quynh in 2011. However, all the researches mentioned above do not determine popularly same points and different points between the two languages. This thesis, a comparative study on directness in conversations in both American English and Vietnamese, will demonstrate some common similarities and differences between them, indicate implications of learning and using directness in conversations for students, and support them in using conversations‟ directness in both English and Vietnamese more effectively in order to avoid culture shocks. 1.6 Organization of the thesis The thesis comprises five main parts as introduction, literature review, methodology, comparative study and implications. The first chapter, introduction, includes motivation, aims of the study, research questions, significance of the study, previous related studies, and organization of the thesis. The literature review chapter gives information about directness in conversations with three sections. The first one is about related theories, the second is about directness in conversations, and the last one is about low-context and high-context cultures. The third chapter, methodical chapter, composes of research questions, research participants, research procedures, research methods, and summary. Comparative study chapter will show similarities and differences between directness in conversations in American English and Vietnamese. The last chapter is implications, in which some approaches to master the knowledge and advance the competence in using directness in conversations will be presented. 9 Chapter 2 LITERATURE REVIEW 2.1 Related theory 2.1.1 A successful conversation Effective communication requires many things. One of the requirements is the level of directness. To make a successful conversation, people need to adjust the level of directness and indirectness in it. But first of all, a successful conversation must be defined. Joan (2002) defined “Conversation is discourse mutually constructed and negotiated in time between speakers; it is usually informal and unplanned” (p. 28). She also affirms that conversations usually occur in strings of related and combined utterances. It means that each speaker is affected by what the previous speaker said, and what speaker says affects what the next speaker says. According to Joan (2002), a real conversation must perform required standards which are exchange structure, turn-taking, adjacency pairs, and sequences. Firstly, the exchange structure must be carried out in a fixed order of moves. There are three basic moves: the initiation, the response, and the follow-up which is abbreviated into IRF (Initiation-Response-Follow-up). In other words, participants start up a conversation, response, and then follow up it. Secondly, turn-taking helps participants show their cooperation in conversations. Next, adjacency pairs are known as frequently occurring patterns in pairs of utterances. Particularly, the utterance of one speaker makes a certain response of the next speaker. Lastly, certain sequences, which are stretches of utterances or turns, emerge in conversations. These can be pre-sequences, insertion sequences, opening and closing sequences. Pre-sequences prepare the ground for a further sequence and signal the type of utterance to follow. Insertion sequences allow pairs to occur 10 embedded within other adjacency pairs. Openings tend to contain a greeting, an enquiry after health and past reference. Pre-closing can be drawn out on occasions and it can be long in British and North American conversations (Joan, 2002). A successful conversation brings people a lot of benefits such as widening and deepening people‟s relationship “Even the most casual of conversations have an interactional function. Casual conversations in parties can have the practical task of ascertaining whether the future social cohesion is possible or desirable and, for some, whether establishing an intimate relationship is going to be feasible” said Joan in 2002 (p.28). 2.1.2 Cooperation in conversation Cooperation in conversations is also expressed through the way people talk direct or indirect. Use directness in a right way can reduce “face-threatening” and show communicators‟ collaboration. Therefore, cooperation theory provides a basic knowledge for directness researching. Conversations are carried on efficiently with cooperation. Cooperation also helps participants focus on the already identified items and use simple language to mention the items in their own way. It makes sure that the participants can get their partner‟s ideas. Cooperation in conversation is nurtured by the cooperative principles, which are frequently mentioned many books such as “Pragmatics and Discourse” by Joan Cutting or “Studies in the Way of Words” by Paul Grice. According to Paul Grice (1991), there are four maxims of the principles including maxims of quantity, quality, relation, and manner which ensure a successful conversation. The first maxim of the cooperative principles is the maxim of quantity “which says that speaker should be as informative as required” (Joan, 2002, p. 35). It means that maxim of quantity shoes people what should be included in their conversations. 11 The second maxim is the maxim of quality. Joan (2002) affirms that maxim of quality says people to be genuine and truthful. It encourages partakers to say true things The maxim of relation is the third one of cooperative principles. It says participants in conversation to say something relevant to what they have heard or what they have been said. The last one is the maxim of manner which says people to be brief and orderly, and avoid obscurity and ambiguity (Joan, 2002) Those principles are also described clearly by Paul Grice in 1991 (p. 26, 27): Quantity: 1. Make your contribution as informative as is required (for the current purposes of the exchange). 2. Do not make your contribution more informative than is required. Quality: Try to make your contribution one that is true 1. Do not say what you believe to be false. 2. Do not say that for which you lack adequate evidence. Relation: Be relevant Manner: Be perspicuous 1. Avoid obscurity of expression. 2. Avoid ambiguity 3. Be brief (avoid unnecessary prolixity). 4. Be orderly. 2.1.3 Speech acts Austin (as cited by Joan Cutting, 2002) defines speech acts as the actions performed in saying something. Joan (2002) said, “the action performed when an utterance is produced can be analyzed on three different levels” (p. 15). It was analyzed in an example 12 Three students are sitting at the “bun-lunch”, the social occasion at which the university lays on filled rolls and fruit juice on the first day of the course, to welcome the students and help them get to know each other. MM I think I might go and have another bun. AM I was going to get another one. BM Could you get me a tuna and sweetcorn one please? AM Me as well? (Joan, 2002, p. 15) The first level of the analysis is locutionary act which is the form of the words uttered. The second one is illocutionary force or the function of the words, the specific purpose of the speaker. The last one is perlocutionary effect known as the effect on the hearer, the hearer‟s reaction. Searle (as cited by Joan, 2002, p. 16) classifies speech acts into five macroclasses which are declarations, representatives, commissives, directives, and expressives. The first class is declaration including words and expressions such as “I beg”, “I declare”, and “I resign”. The second one is representatives which contain words of cases such as describing, claiming, hypothesizing, insisting, and predicting. The third class is commissives which excites the speaker‟s future action with promising, offering, threatening, refusing, vowing and volunteering. The fourth class is the directives which are known as forces making hearer do something such as commanding, requesting, inviting, forbidding, suggesting, etc. Expressives is the class in this analysis. It comprises speaker‟s feels like apologizing, praising, congratulating, deploring, and regretting. In addition, according to George (1996), there are two general types of speech acts. The first one is direct speech act and the second one is indirect speech act. We have a direct speech act when an easily recognized relationship between the three structural forms (declarative, interrogative, imperative) and the three general communicative functions (statement, question, command/ request). And whenever there is indirect relationship between structure and a function, we have an indirect speech act. Speech acts are mentioned in this chapter because they are main parts constructing conversations. Studying directness in conversations means studying 13 directness in some speech acts. Speech act theory provides the author of this study a firmer theoretical background to do the research. 2.2 Directness in conversations 2.2.1 Definition of directness in conversations Directness, the subject of this chapter, is a highly important aspect of American verbal culture. It involves speech events such as cussing out (cursing directed to a particular addressee), playing the dozens (a game of ritual insults), snapping, reading people (theatrically delivered negative criticism), verbally abusing people (see below), going off on someone (a sudden, often unexpected burst of negatively critical, vituperative speech), getting real (a fully candid appraisal of a person, situation, event, etc.), and trash talk (talk in competitive settings, notably athletic games, that is boastful and puts down opponents). (Arthur, 2001,p. 2) Moreover, directness can be characterized as a willingness to bring up certain topics in certain contexts, for example talking about someone's being fat, foolish, or ignorant, briefly or at length (Arthur, 2011). It is demonstrated in the example below When passing a professor‟s office, a students may say, “Excuse me, I‟d like to ask you a couple of questions.” Her professor may respond, “Sure, go right ahead. What‟s the problem?” In this interaction, the student stated her purpose and the professor responded immediately. (Deena & Mara, 1982, p. 20, 21) Directness is also showed at a dinner party Host. Would you like some more dessert? Guest. No, thank you. It‟s delicious, but I‟ve really had enough. Host. OK, why don‟t we leave the table and sit in the living room? (Deena and Mara, 1982, p. 21) In addition, Marcyliena (1998) defines directness in conversations as the absence of indirection and audience collaboration and a disregard for social context. His definition makes the notion of directness more superior. 14 2.2.2 The significance of directness in conversations Directness plays a very important role in conversations. Directness is available in educational, work, and legal contexts where formal communication is defined in relation to tasks and individual activities and where power relationships are extreme. In addition, direct conversations are often used to disambiguate a situation, determine truth, among other functions (Marcyliena, 1998). Therefore, directness used in conversations in a right way could help interlocutors elucidate a situation and reveal truth. According to Marcyliena (1998), directness is considered to be functional rather than truthful or dishonest. Because direct discourse is void of intent which can be co-constructed, it is often view suspiciously outside of institutional contexts. This is especially true for direct questions. Direct questions are institutional ways of knowing which are not based on the truth (intentionality) of the questioner or respondent. Arthur (2001) states that direct speech can be used to maintain propriety, teach, inform, aid in negotiating roles, role hierarchies, entertain, pass time, demonstrate verbal wit and creativity, express the speaker's emotional state, and define a social situation. The functions of directness are very numerous, which makes its importance in conversations larger and larger. 2.2.3 The influences on directness usage The deepest factor which concerns the usage of directness in conversations is the culture because the language always has relations to culture which has many dimensions such as ideas, customs, skills, arts, and tools in a given period of time. Henry (1961) affirms that “language is not only the product of culture, but also is the symbol of culture” (p.7). Larry, Richard, and Nemi (1981) state that culture and communication are attached because culture not only determines the participants, the issue, and the process of conversation but also helps to clarify how people encode messages, the conditions and circumstances under which diverse messages may or may not be sent, noticed, or interpreted. In other words, culture is the groundwork of communication. 15 In addition, directness in conversations is also influenced by high or low-context culture as stated by Benjamin (2005) “There is a difference in directness between high and low context cultures, with low context cultures relying on directness and high context cultures exhibiting a more indirect communicative style”(p. 15). Therefore, culture has a strong impact on directness usage. Together with this main factor, there are some more factors affecting on directness usage in conversations. Context where a conversation happens is an element influencing its directness. Directness is available in educational, work, and legal contexts where formal communication is defined in relation to tasks and individual activities and where power relationships are extreme (Marcyliena, 1998). Therefore, the more formal the context is, the more direct the conversation is. Arthur (2001) affirms that direct speech is normally multilayered in terms of meaning and function, both of which are mostly dependent on emotional states of interlocutors and audience response. He also asserts that the kinds of speech events associated with directness merit theoretical attention. In sum, the level of directness is various in different emotional states. Another factor that has much influence on directness is relationship. Depending on the association and the position of communicators, the conversation can be direct or indirect. Deena and Mara (1982, p. 21) say, “There are limits to the degree of directness a person allowed to express, especially with people of higher status such as teacher and employers.” Their theoretical point is illustrated in the example below A male student was surprised at the reaction of his female teacher when he said, “What has happened to you? You look like you gained a lot of weight!” When the teacher replied, “That‟s none of your business,” he answered in an embarrassed tone, “I was just being honest.” In this case, his honesty and directness were inappropriate because of the teacher-student relationship. (Deena & Mara, 1982, p. 21) In addition to the factors above, the consciousness of directness in conversations plays the role of the main cause. In other words, the more people know about 16 directness, the more levels of directness may be applied to the practical situation in real life. However, lessons on directness in conversations and their practice are not really available in Vietnam, for example students of English at Dong Thap University are introduced to directness in American English briefly when learning unit 2 “Verbal Patterns” of Cross Culture course by Deena and Mara (1982, p. 19-41). As a result, the students can hardly use directness in a right way in their conversations. To know about correct directness for different situations is essential for limiting unexpected misunderstandings from the listener and avoiding offence listener. “In sum, directness, in all social settings, comes in degrees, affected in complex ways by the many mental and material factors that come into play in any social situation.” (Arthur, 2001, p. 15) 2.2.4 Indirectness versus directness Besides directness, indirectness is also a very important definition to be discussed in this chapter. Indirectness, in fact, is opposed to directness. Directness is a method people use when they want to refer to something as Deborah defined, directness is “the way people mean what they don‟t exactly say” (2007, p. 55). Directness is demonstrated more clearly in the example below. B says, “Are you wearing that dress to the concert?” to conveys a non-question speech act, like a statement “I don‟t think you should wear that dress to the concert.” or even a command “Go put on another dress.” Thai (2007, p. 12) also asserts, “Indirectness in interpersonal communication exists in various cultures around the world; however, it occurs in greater frequencies in L2 writing than in Western composing. It can involve a circular discoursal style in which the communicative purpose is achieved strategically (by using such devices as hedges, rhetorical questions) or stated only after a number of remotely-related points have been presented. It can also be manifested in the unstated relationships between propositions or between propositions and the
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