A Vietnamese-English cross-cultural study of the use of
hedging before giving bad news
1. Rationale It goes without saying that language plays an important part not only in recording and understanding culture but also in communication among people who share or do not share the same nationality, social or ethnic origin, gender, age, occupation. What is more, “language is closely related to the way we think and to the way we behave and influence the behavior of others” (Karmic 1998:79). Hence, culture can be well-understood or grasped with the help of language and culture exchanges (i.e. cross-cultural or intercultural communication). To support this point of view, Durant (1997: 332) claims that “to have a culture means to have communication and to have communication means to have access to a language.” Although well aware of the ultimate objective of learning a foreign language toward successful communication, many Vietnamese learners of English hold that a good command of a foreign language or success in foreign language learning lies only in mastering grammar rules and accumulating as much vocabulary as possible. As a result, even possibly producing grammatically well-formed utterances, they may experience unwanted culture shock, and communication breakdown when running into a real and particular context of situation. This unexpected incidence occurs due to their insufficient knowledge and awareness of social norms and values, roles and relationships between individuals, especially those from the target culture. It is worth noting that different languages and cultures have different expressions of behavior and different realizations of speech acts by language users. This has suggested a considerable number of researchers, both local and foreign to conduct their studies on cross-cultural pragmatics and/ or communication such as thanking, requesting, complementing, etc. However, little attention has been paid to the speech act of giving bad news using hedges. In daily life, no one likes to give their relatives or friends bad news because rarely does he/ she find it easy to reduce listeners’ feeling of sadness, to lessen the hurt, but sometimes even the best, brightest and most talented, the informers are left with no choice. Nevertheless, to convey bad news such as informing the death of the husband in an accident to his wife if the speaker goes straight to the point with: “Your husband died in the accident.” he/ she may cause such a sudden shock to the wife (the hearer) that she can hardly stand it. Conversely, the wife in the above case will feel less painful if the news is given this way: “As you know, among 212 passengers, only two survived. And I regret to inform you that your husband is not among the lucky two” Needless to say, hedges such as “as you know”, “I regret to inform” have been resorted to for the effect of minimizing the shock. Hedging is used in a certain context for specific communicative intent such as: one strategy of politeness, vagueness, and mitigation. Therefore, a desire to have a further insight into major similarities and differences in using hedges before giving bad news by native speakers of VNSs and ENSs has inspired the writer to develop her research entitled “A Vietnamese-English cross-cultural study of the use of hedging before giving bad news” . It is hoped that this study can provide the increase of some socio-cultural knowledge and awareness needed for better cross-cultural communication and foreign language learning and teaching in Vietnam. The significance of the study is two-fold: First, giving bad news is one of highly sensitive acts since this type of acts happens in everyday social interaction, and is obviously face threatening. Second, how to employ hedges/ hedging appropriately in order not to hurt the other in the act of giving bad news is essential to achieve successful communication. As there is a culture gap between Vietnamese and English, inappropriate language use may cause misinterpretation, miscommunication and communication breakdown among cross-cultural communicators.
2. Scope of the study - Although natural communication always comes with paralinguistic (speed, tone, loudness, pitch.) and extra-linguistic factors (facial expressions, eye contact, postures, orientation, proximity, movement, clothing, artifacts.), the study is confined to the verbal aspects of the act of giving bad news with the use of politeness and hedging. In addition, adjacency pairs are beyond the scope of this paper. - The study strictly pertains to the perspective of pragmatics though the author realizes that syntactic theory and semantics apparently do explain the meaning of the spoken word. - The Northern Vietnamese dialect and the English spoken by Anglophone community of England, America, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada, are chosen for contrastive analysis. - The data are collected by conducting survey questionnaires to examine the ways VNSs and ENSs use hedges in conveying bad news.
3. Aims of the study - To find out the similarities and differences in the way VNSs and ENSs give bad news using hedges as a politeness strategy.
4. Research questions .What are the major similarities and differences in the ways VNSs and ENSs use hedges in conveying bad news?
5. Methodology - Quantitative method in the form of survey questionnaires is much resorted to. To collect data for analysis, both Metapragmatic Questionnaire (MPQ) and Discourse Completion Task (DCT) are designed. The collected data will be analyzed in comparing and contrasting techniques to find out the similarities and differences in the ways VNSs and ENSs perform the act of giving bad news using hedges as a politeness strategy. - The questionnaires were delivered to English-speaking people mostly living in Vietnam (working for Apollo, Language Links, British council) and some abroad (mostly in Australia, Singapore and Hong Kong). Based on English-speaking informants’ status parameters, the researcher looked for the Vietnamese subjects of similar parameters in order to have a symmetrical distribution of informants and data for the study. - Besides, discussion with the supervisor, colleagues, personal observations, recording from mass media and data collection from newspapers and magazines are also significant to the study.
6. Design of the study The study is composed of three parts. They are:
Part 1 (Introduction) presents the rationale, scope, aims, research questions, and methodology of the study
Part 2 (Development) consists of three chapters:
Chapter 1 (Theoretical lead-in): discusses the notions of language-culture relationship, speech act theory, directness-indirectness, face, politeness, and politeness strategies.
Chapter 2 (Hedging before giving bad news): explores different conceptualizations of hedging and gives hedging strategies, based on speech act and politeness theories
Chapter 3 (Data analysis and findings) analyses collected data to find out major cross-cultural similarities and differences in the choice of hedging strategies in given situations
Part 3 (Conclusion): summarizes the main findings of the study, provides some implications for TEFL, and offers suggestions for further research.
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