Hedging in Invitation Declining: A Vietnamese - American Cross cultural Study

An emphasis on language as a communication system is really necessary in an age of globalization. Not only does it help uncover principles underlying social interactions, but it also enables us to gain an access to ways of thinking, belief systems, and world views of people from various cultural backgrounds and thus enhances empathy and mutual understanding. Investigating issues concerning cross-cultural communication is especially momentous in today’s time, when national boundariesare becoming less visible, and more and more people are engaging in intercultural communication. Understanding social conventions and attention to such concepts as politeness, and face, which are important to members in a particular culture, will certainly enable us to better comprehend the different ways of speaking by people from different cultures, thus helping eliminate ethnic stereotypes and misunderstandings. There have been so far plenty of researches on the field of politeness from various perspectives. Yet, hedging in language is still an area available for more exploration. This research, therefore, has chosen hedging as a potential subject. The study is done not only to see the similarities and dissimilarities between the two cultures. Another goal of this research is to raise the awareness of both teachers and learners of English about the necessity of hedging in language, and to give teachers several suggestions in teaching this language phenomenon to their students. Nevertheless, hedging is a very broad area, and within the limit of the study, it is impossible to discuss all aspects of hedging in language. As declining an invitation is an act with high risk of making the hearers lose face,it requires different supplementary steps to reduce the weightiness of the utterance. This iswhere hedging can mostly be seen. That is the reason why hedging in invitation declining is chosen for the project.

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             1    1. Rationale An emphasis on language as a communication system is really necessary in an age of globalization. Not only does it help uncover principles underlying social interactions, but it also enables us to gain an access to ways of thinking, belief systems, and world views of people from various cultural backgrounds and thus enhances empathy and mutual understanding. Investigating issues concerning cross-cultural communication is especially momentous in today’s time, when national boundaries are becoming less visible, and more and more people are engaging in intercultural communication. Understanding social conventions and attention to such concepts as politeness, and face, which are important to members in a particular culture, will certainly enable us to better comprehend the different ways of speaking by people from different cultures, thus helping eliminate ethnic stereotypes and misunderstandings. There have been so far plenty of researches on the field of politeness from various perspectives. Yet, hedging in language is still an area available for more exploration. This research, therefore, has chosen hedging as a potential subject. The study is done not only to see the similarities and dissimilarities between the two cultures. Another goal of this research is to raise the awareness of both teachers and learners of English about the necessity of hedging in language, and to give teachers several suggestions in teaching this language phenomenon to their students. Nevertheless, hedging is a very broad area, and within the limit of the study, it is impossible to discuss all aspects of hedging in language. As declining an invitation is an act with high risk of making the hearers lose face, it requires different supplementary steps to reduce the weightiness of the utterance. This is where hedging can mostly be seen. That is the reason why hedging in invitation declining is chosen for the project. The study has also derived from the need for improvement in English teaching process in Thang Long University, where American-English course books The New Interchange 1, 2, 3 are employed. This study, therefore, has focused on comparing American and              2 Vietnamese cultures, with the hope to pay a humble contribution to the people who the thesis author has owed so much for their love and support: colleagues and students. For any of those purposes, the study promises to make itself meaningful, reliable and applicable to the reality. 2. Scope of the study • Within the limit of a minor thesis, the research has been carried out in the office setting. Participants selected are people who are currently working in offices. The reasons for choosing this setting are: (1) it is suitable with the size of a minor thesis; (2) it includes various common kinds of relationship, which promises a meaningful research. • The study has been done from the perspective of pragmatics where Vietnamese and American hedging in invitation declining is analyzed as speech acts in particular contexts. However, semantic and syntactic theories are employed at times to help better analyze different hedging strategies. • Hedging is known available in both spoken and written language. Yet, in this research, the focus will be paid on hedging in spoken language only. • Though paralinguistic and extra-linguistic factors play a very important part in communication, the study is restricted to verbal aspect of hedging in invitation declining. 3. Aims of the study The main aims of the study are to: • find out the similarities and differences in the way Vietnamese and American people hedge when declining an invitation. • help avoid potential cross-cultural conflicts between Vietnamese and American speakers, with focus on the proper use of hedging in invitation declining.              3 • provide language teachers and learners with an insight into hedging in invitation declining employed by Vietnamese and American speakers to avoid hurting their partners. • give some suggestions on teaching hedging in the situations of invitation declining. 4. Methodology This is mainly a quantitative method, specifically, a survey research. Survey research is the method of gathering data from respondents supposed to be representative of some population, using an instrument composed of closed structure or open-ended items (questions). In a survey, researchers sample a population. Since populations can be quite large, researchers directly question only a sample (i.e. a small proportion) of the population. That is why survey research is a suitable choice for a cross-cultural study. The questionnaire is designed carefully basing on some hypothesis with both close-ended and open-ended questions. The data collected will then be analyzed to find out the similarities and differences in hedging an invitation decline between the American and the Vietnamese from different perspectives, age, gender, power, distance, and circumstance. The evaluations and comments on the results, hence, are made inductively. In addition, personal observation and some small interviews with the participants play a very significant part in the study, especially in setting up the hypothesis and making interpretation for the statistics. 5. Comments on the participants The survey questionnaires were sent to thirty American and thirty Vietnamese participants. As the scope of the research is to investigate hedging in invitation declining in office setting, the participants are those who are currently working in offices, mean age is 28.33. The numbers of males and females are equal in each group, i.e., 15 males and 15 females for each party. These are Native American and Vietnamese people, not immigrants, so that the results of the survey will hopefully be reliable.              4    1. Theoretical Background 1.1. Hedging There have been so far two main approaches about hedging. The term ‘hedge’/ ‘hedging’ itself was introduced first by G. Lakoff (1972) in his article ‘Hedges: A Study in Meaning Criteria and the Logic of Fuzzy Concepts’. Lakoff argues that the logic of hedges requires serious semantic analysis for all predicates. He defines hedges as follows: For me, some of the most interesting questions are raised by the study of words whose meaning implicitly involves fuzziness - words whose job it is to make things fuzzier or less fuzzy. I will refer to such words as 'hedges' (1972:195) In his article "Fuzzy-Set - Theoretic Interpretation of Linguistic Hedges", Zadeh (1972) followed Lakoff in using the new designation ‘hedge’ and analyzed English hedges (such as simple ones like ‘very’, ‘much’, ‘more or less’, ‘essentially’, and ‘slightly’ and more complex ones like ‘technically’ and ‘practically’) from the point of view of semantics and logics. The author assumes that hedges are operators that act on the fuzzy set representing the meaning of their operands. Hedges vary in their dependency on context. Later on, hedging has been viewed from the perspective of pragmatics. The concept of hedge/ hedging is understood in different ways in the literarture. Hedges have been referred to as compromisers (James,1983), downtoners (Quirk at all, 1972,1985), understatements (Hubler, 1983), weakeners (Brown and Levinson, 1987), downgraders (House and Kasper, 1981), softeners (Crystal & Davy, 1975), backgrounding terms (Low, 1996), approximators and shields (Prince at all.1982) and pragmatic devices (Subble & Homes, 1995), mitigators (Labov and Fanshel 1977, Stubbs, 1983), tentativeness (Homes, 1983,1995) and vagueness (Channell 1994).              5 Brown & Levinson (1978, 1987), dealing with politeness in verbal interaction from the point of view of pragmatics, viewed hedges as a device to avoid disagreement. Brown and Levinson (1987: 145) define ‘hedges’ as: …a particle, word or phrase that modifies the degree of membership of a predicate or noun phrase in a set; it says of that membership that it is partial, or true only in certain respects, or that it is more true and complete than might be expected' (1987:146) Vietnamese linguists such as Nguyn Thin Giáp (2000), Hoàng Phê (2002), Nguyn Quang (2003) also view hedging as a pragmatic phenomenon. Hoàng Phê in his Vietnamese Dictionary states that ‘hedges are expressions which are preventive from [unexpected] misunderstanding and reaction/responses to what is said’. According to Nguyn Quang (2003), hedging is a strategy used simply to hedge the propositional content. In this paper, we mainly view hedging from pragmatic perspective. In pragmatics, the concept of hedging is mainly linked to the concept of speech act and politeness phenomena. A hedge is either defined as one or more lexico-syntactical elements that are used to modify a proposition, or else, as a strategy that modifies a proposition. A hedge can appear before or after a proposition. The term ‘hedging’ is used to refer to the textual strategies of using linguistic means as hedges in a certain context for specific communicative purposes. 1.2. Hedges and Speech Acts Hedging, when being viewed from pragmatic perspective, is surely linked to a very common pragmatic perception: speech act, as speech act is ‘one of the central phenomena that any general pragmatic theory must account for’ (S.C Levinson 1983:226). So what is a speech act? In fact, speech act theory is built on the foundation laid by Wittgenstein and Austin. In his book Philosophical Investigations (1958), Ludwig Wittgenstein set forth with an idea called ‘ordinary language philosophy’. He believed that the meaning of language depends on its actual use. Language, as used in ordinary life, is a              6 kind of ‘language games’ because it consists of rules. In other words, people follow rules to do things with the language. It was in this same period that Austin launched his theory of speech acts. He insisted that ‘the total speech act in the total speech situation is the only actual phenomenon which, in the last resort, we engaged in elucidating’ (1962:147) John Searle (1965) is also one of the linguists much concerned with the theory. According to Searle, to communicate is to express a certain attitude, and the type of speech act being performed corresponds to the type of attitude being expressed. For example, a statement expresses a belief, a request expresses a desire, and an apology expresses regret. As an act of communication, a speech act succeeds if the audience identifies, in accordance with the speaker's intention, the attitude being expressed. That is why to understand language one must understand the speaker’s intention. Since language is intentional behavior, it should be treated like a form of action. Thus Searle refers to statements as speech acts. The speech act is the basic unit of language used to express meaning, an utterance that expresses an intention. Normally, the speech act is a sentence, but it can be a word or phrase as long as it follows the rules necessary to accomplish the intention. When one speaks, one performs an act. Speech is not just used to predicate something, but it actually does something. Though making a statement may be the paradigmatic use of language, there are all sorts of other things we can do with words. We can make requests, ask questions, give orders, make promises, give thanks, offer apologies, and so on. Speech act stresses the intent of the act as a whole. According to Searle, understanding the speaker’s intention is essential to capture the meaning. Without the speaker’s intention, it is impossible to understand the words as a speech act. Hedging, therefore, can be treated as speech acts, as hedging is set up to perform intentions and to express the attitudes of the speakers, for examples: to make an excuse, a question, to give thanks, apologies, promises etc. The act of hedging can consist of different means, including hedging devices (or hedges).              7 1.3. Invitation Decline and Hedges in Invitation Declining. It is noticed that normally, an invitation decline is a set of speech acts. According to Murphy and Neu (1996), a speech act set is a combination of individual speech acts that, when produced together, comprise a complete speech act. Often more than one discrete speech act is necessary for a speaker to develop the overarching communicative purpose – or illocutionary force – desired. When declining an invitation we commit an act of refusal, as the word decline itself, according to the Longman Dictionary, means ‘refuse to accept’. However, declining an invitation sometimes is not simply saying no to an invitation. When declining an invitation, speakers might produce different individual speech acts, for example, (1) an expression of regret, ‘I’m so sorry’, followed by (2) an excuse ‘I’m out of town on business next week’, followed by (3) a direct refusal, ‘I can’t come to your wedding party’. In this case, to perform one communicative purpose of declining an invitation, the speaker is employing a speech act set, which consists of many other individual speech acts. In the example above (1) and (2) are hedges which combine with the direct refusal to make up a speech act set. They play as individual speech acts in the whole set. Within the larger act of communicating something, Austin (1965) identifies three component speech acts: the locutionary act - the act of saying something as might be reported in direct or indirect discourse, the illocutionary act as would be performed in saying something—acts of proposing, promising, apologizing, etc., and the perlocutionary act identified primarily in terms of the outcome or consequences of a communicative effort. Of these three classes, the illocutionary act counts as Austin’s great discovery. These three acts are ultimately related because normally, in a meaningful utterance, ‘Speakers (S) says something to Hearer(H); in saying something to H, S does something; and by doing something, S affects H.’ (Bach & Harnish, 1979:3) Searl (1965), basing on the speakers’ intention, presents one of the most influential and widely used classifications of speech acts. Searl’s classification consists of five broad types, namely:              8 • Assertives : They commit the speaker to something being the case. The different kinds are: informing, suggesting, putting forward, swearing, boasting, and concluding. Example: ‘No one makes a better cake than me’. • Directives : They try to make the addressee perform an action. The different kinds are: asking, ordering, requesting, inviting, advising, and begging. Example: ‘Could you close the window?’ • Commisives : They commit the speaker to doing something in the future. The different kinds are: promising, planning, vowing, betting, opposing. Example: ‘I bet I win’. • Expressives : They express how the speaker feels about the situation. The different kinds are: thanking, apologizing, welcoming, deploring. Example: ‘I am sorry that I lied to you’. • Declarations : They change the state of the world in an immediate way. Example: ‘You are fired’. Beside the five categories set by Searl, speakers also employ more specific acts such as apologies, requests, complaints, and refusals (Kasper and Rose, 2001). Basing on the five categories set by Searl, it can be said that hedges in invitation declining belong to different types of speech acts. It can be assertive when the speaker is giving an excuse ‘My daughter is ill today.’, or ‘I am busy.’ If the speaker is asking about the invitation or giving some suggestions, for examples: ‘When is the wedding party?’ / ‘Why not tomorrow?’ it can be considered Directives. Hedges are Commissivse if speaker is talking about his plans or arrangements, or making promises: ‘I have to work in the evevning’/‘I will give you a hand in preparing the wedding’. In the case when speaker express their feelings about the invitation, such as appreciation, regret, confusion etc., hedges are Expressive. Declarations hardly appear among hedges in invitation declining.              9 1.4. Politeness and Hedging in Invitation Declining Politeness is one of the most important aspects of human communication: human beings can only exist in peace together if certain basic conventions of politeness are observed. Hedging in invitation refusals is employed to avoid conflicts in communication. Hence, it is also a politeness phenomenon. Brown and Levinson (1987) produced the most comprehensive theory of politeness to date, the basis of which is used for analytical purposes in this thesis. They argue that polite linguistic behavior shows up as a deviation against the rational and efficient nature of talk, but through a consideration of linguistic politeness, the hearer finds reasons for the speaker’s apparent irrationality or inefficiency. Brown and Levinson (1987) base their theory on the concept of face (Goffman 1967). Face is defined as the public self image that all rational adult members have when engaged in spoken interaction, and it must be constantly adhered to. Face consists of two related aspects: positive face and negative face. Positive face refers to ‘the positive self-image that people have and want to be appreciated and approved by at least some people’ (1987:61). In other words, positive face is seen as the desire that others like, admire, value or approve of one’s wants (material or non- material), or the need to be accepted and liked by others, treated as a member of the group, and to know one’s wants are shared by others. (Cutting 2002:45) Brown and Levinson define negative face as ‘basic claim to territories, personal preserves, right to non-distraction –i.e. freedom of action and freedom from imposition’. The negative face, therefore, ‘is reflected in the desire not to be impeded or put upon, to have the freedom to act as one chooses’ (Thomas 1995: 169), ‘the wants that one’s action be unimpeded by others’ (Eelen 2001:3) and the need to be independent, to have freedom of action, and not to be imposed on by others. (Yule 1996:61) In general, part
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