Negative politeness strategies in giving presentations in English and Vietnamese – A cross-cultural study

Abstract. This paper attempts to highlight some differences between English-Vietnamese language and culture when utilizing negative politeness strategies in giving presentations. The employment of negative politeness strategies is examined based on ten questions in three parts: Pre-presentation, During-presentation and Post-presentation. Sociocultural factors such as age, gender, marital status, occupation, living area and the acquisition of foreign language, factors that influence the choice of negative politeness strategies in giving presentations, are also taken into consideration. Finally, the paper presents implications in making presentations.

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JOURNAL OF SCIENCE OF HNUE 2013, Vol. 58, No. 6B, pp. 18-26 This paper is available online at NEGATIVE POLITENESS STRATEGIES IN GIVING PRESENTATIONS IN ENGLISH AND VIETNAMESE – A CROSS-CULTURAL STUDY Tran Thi Thanh Thuy Faculty of English, Hanoi National University of Education Abstract. This paper attempts to highlight some differences between English-Vietnamese language and culture when utilizing negative politeness strategies in giving presentations. The employment of negative politeness strategies is examined based on ten questions in three parts: Pre-presentation, During-presentation and Post-presentation. Sociocultural factors such as age, gender, marital status, occupation, living area and the acquisition of foreign language, factors that influence the choice of negative politeness strategies in giving presentations, are also taken into consideration. Finally, the paper presents implications in making presentations. Keywords: Politeness, negative politeness strategies, presentations, Vietnamese, Anglicist. 1. Introduction Language learning seems to occur most effectively when learners need to use the language for some real purpose. Purposeful activities help bridge the gap between an artificial classroom setting and the real world. The process of preparing and giving oral presentations is such a purposeful activity in that it entails finding information, reflecting upon that information, interpreting it and creating something new. The process culminates in the sharing of the created product with others, which serves as a springboard for meaningful interaction. Added to that, many university students find themselves uncomfortable and unsatisfied with their oral presentations in classes and students, in general, find themselves unprepared for the task of giving oral presentations on academic materials in their area of study. To fulfill this goal successfully and naturally, they need to acquire a range of skills and strategies, one of which is politeness strategies. Received July 30, 2013. Accepted September 15, 2013. Contact Tran Thi Thanh Thuy, e-mail address: thanhthuydhsp@gmail.com 18 Negative politeness strategies in giving presentations in English and Vietnamese... 2. Content 2.1. Politeness Politeness in Yule’s opinion is "the idea of polite social behavior or etiquette within a culture." More concretely, politeness is "a number of different general principles for being polite in social interaction within a particular culture" (G.Yule, 1996:60). Richards (2003:13) writes: “politeness is how languages express the social distance between speakers and their different role relationships and how face-work, that is, the attempt to establish, maintain, and save face during conversation, is carried out in a speech community.” 2.2. Face George Yule (1996:60) defines face as "the public self-image that every member wants to claim for himself", that is, emotional and social sense of self that everyone has and expects everyone else to recognize. Richards (2003: 120) also proposes "Iin communication between two or more persons, the positive image or impression of oneself that one shows or intends to show to the other participants is called face.". If a speaker says something that might be interpreted as a threat to another individual’s face, it is described as a face threatening act (FTA). And, if the speaker can say something to lessen the potential face threat in some action or speech, it is called a face saving act (FSA). There are two kinds of face: positive face and negative face corresponding to two types of politeness. Positive face establishes a person’s status as an autonomous, independent, free agent. This notion includes a person’s desire to be accepted and treated as a member of the same group and even to be liked or appreciated by others. Positive face is the want of approval. In contrast, negative face establishes a person’s immunity from outside interference and excessive external pressure. This includes the need to be independent, to have freedom of action and not to be imposed on by others. In other words, negative face is the want of self-determination. Simply speaking, negative face is the need to be independent and positive face is the need to be connected. 2.3. Politeness strategies According to Brown and Levinson, politeness strategies are developed in order to save the listener’s face. Brown and Levinson (1978) also propose five strategies (see Figure 1) to minimize risk of losing face corresponding to the degrees of face-threat. Brown and Levinson think that negative politeness strategies are more polite than positive ones. Therefore, they put negative politeness at a higher degree of politeness than positive politeness. In many Asian cultures, and this particularly includes Vietnamese culture, negative politeness is not considered to be more desirable than positive politeness, i.e. it is felt that showing concern to others strengthens the relationship and narrows the distance between the speaker and the hearer. Therefore, Nguyen Quang (2002) offers another figure (see 19 Tran Thi Thanh Thuy Figure 1 Figure 2). In his view, positive politeness and negative politeness are equally polite. Figure 2 2.4. Negative Politeness Strategies Negative politeness in Brown and Levinson (1987:129) is "redressive action that addresses the addressee’s negative face: his want to have his freedom of action unhindered and his attention unimpeded." Agreeing with Brown and Levinson on the definition of negative politeness, Nguyen Quang (2002) emphasizes that "negative politeness is any communicative act which is appropriately intended to show that the speaker does not want to impinge on the addressee’s privacy, thus enhancing the sense of distance between them." Brown and Levinson (1987:131) offer a rather complicated chart of strategies in their negative politeness strategies (Figure 3). In their opinion, there are ten negative politeness strategies. Nguyen Quang adds one more to the list: "avoid asking personal questions." 2.5. Fingdings and discussion Comments on the survey questionnaires This cross-cultural study is to investigate major English-Vietnamese similarities 20 Negative politeness strategies in giving presentations in English and Vietnamese... Figure 3. Negative politeness strategies and differences in employing negative politeness strategies in presentations. In order to collect sufficient data for a contrastive analysis within the time and resource constraints of the author, the author designed one survey questionnaire in English and another in Vietnamese. Surveyed were both northern Vietnamese and English native speakers who come from Great Britain, the US, Australia and Canada. They were asked to give specific answers to ten questions presented in three parts: before-presentation, during-presentation and after-presentation. The responses were then analyzed from a cross-cultural perspective in the light of the politeness theories proposed by Brown and Levinson and Nguyen Quang. Comments on the informants The survey questionnaires were given to two groups of interviewees. The first group consists of Vietnamese people who are all living in northern Vietnam. One hundred completed questionnaires were received. The second group consists of native speakers of English who come from Great Britain, the US and Australia. The assumption was made that people from those countries, to a large degree, share the same culture and language despite the difference in geography, historical background, etc. The interviewees’ profiles are considered to be useful, so we also asked them to provide information about their: - Nationality - Age - Gender - Marital status - Occupation - Place where they have lived the longest - Acquisition of languages other than their mother tongue 21 Tran Thi Thanh Thuy Interviewees were assured that they would not be identified in any discussion of the data and it is hoped that honest responses to the questions were given. 2.5.1. Presentation stages governing the choice of negative politeness strategies Figure 4 Major similarities and differences It is often believed that native English speakers are inclined to negative politeness and Vietnamese people are inclined to positive politeness. However, a high percentage of Vietnamese interviewees indicated to they choose to use a negative politeness strategy that is, in general, even higher than that of the interviewees who were native English speakers. It seems that Vietnamese people tend to be more formal in their verbal presentations than native English speakers. Moreover, both Vietnamese and native English speakers make different choices of negative politeness strategies in each of the stages. Of the strategies, more Vietnamese and native English speakers used the second strategy, ‘question, hedge’, in all three presentation steps than any other. The 5th strategy, ‘give deference’ and the 7th ‘impersonalize S and H’ strategies ranked second and the third of the ten negative politeness strategies. Figure 5-6 It can be seen that the strategies “be pessimistic”, “state a general rule”, “nominalize” and “avoid asking personal questions” were never chosen by either group of interviewees. “Be conventionally indirect” was used only by Vietnamese interviewees and only 10% chose this before presentation. 22 Negative politeness strategies in giving presentations in English and Vietnamese... 2.5.2. Sociocultural factors governing the choice of negative politeness strategies Figure 7-8. Age Figure 9-10. Gender Figure 11-12. Marital status Figure 13-14. Occupational groups Acquisition of foreign languages Major similarities and differences 23 Tran Thi Thanh Thuy Figure 15. Occupational groups Figure 16-17. Living areas Figure 18 Figure 19 Both English native speakers and Vietnamese people employ "question, hedge" most often when making a presentation, and they are not in favour of "be conventionally indirect", "minimize imposition" or "go on record as incurring a debt, or as not indebting H". "Nominalize strategy" is assumed to be one of the most promising negative politeness strategies when making a presentation because it can be done with a high level of 24 Negative politeness strategies in giving presentations in English and Vietnamese... Figure 20 formality. In contrast, the survey results show that it was never used by either the Vietnamese or the native English speaker interviewees. Of the eleven strategies, six were used by every Vietnamese and native English speaker interviewee, excluding the following strategies:  "be pessimistic"  "apologize"  "state a general rule"  "nominalize"  "avoid asking personal questions" Some commonly collected utterances for the used strategies are: “Nếu quý vị cho phép thì tôi sẽ dành phần đặt câu hỏi vào cuối buổi thuyết trình” (question, hedge) “Ladies and gentlemen, tonight, I would like to make a presentation on the roles of the internet in daily life” (give deference) “Chúng tôi rất sẵn lòng nghe những đóng góp vàng ngọc của quí vị” (give deference) “The presentation consists of three parts” (impersonalize S and H) “Biểu đồ này cho thấy. . . . . . . . . .” (impersonalize S and H) “Thank you very much for your time” (go on record as incurring a debt, or as not indebting H) “Cảm ơn quý vị đã dành thời gian quí báu. . . . . . . . . ..” (go on record as incurring a debt, or as not indebting H). The assumption is made that those whose first language is English employ more negative strategies in daily communication. However, this study’s shows that this assumption is incorrect. More Vietnamese informants say that they employ negative politeness strategies than do native English speakers in most factors, however, they deliver their verbal presentations differently. The Vietnamese use the first strategy "be conventionally indirect" more often than do native English speakers and they quite often quote a line from a song, poem or famous person. In addition, they seem to present less directly than do native English speakers even though both groups say that the second strategy, "question, hedge," is their first choice. Occupation alone plays an important role in the ways interviewees make their 25 Tran Thi Thanh Thuy presentations. We saw that those employed doing a "service" job more often employ negative politeness strategies compared to those employed in other kinds of work. The acquisition of a language other than the mother tongue is also a significant factor. Those who acquire a European language tend to verbally present in a manner more like people of that European culture. 3. Conclusion It is clear that politeness is crucial in cross-cultural communication. Politeness is interpreted as a genuine desire to be pleasant to others and could be an underlying motivation for an individual’s linguistic behavior. Therefore, in order to be successful inter-cultural or cross-cultural communicators, learners of English need to be familiar with the way that native English speakers employ politeness strategies, and particularly negative politeness strategies. This study investigates the use of negative politeness strategies and examines the frequency in which they are used when giving oral presentations based on the theoretical definitions of politeness proposed by Brown and Levinson and Nguyen Quang. As an investigation of negative politeness strategies when giving presentations in cross-cultural communication, this contrastive study makes only a modest contribution. The author is fully aware that many important questions have not been addressed. Some dimensions of communication activity that need to be examined are intralinguistic factors such as modality and addressing forms; paralinguistic factors such as rate, pitch, volume and vocal quality; and extralinguistic factors such as kinesics and setting. REFERENCES [1] Brown, G. and Yule, G., 1989. Discourse Analysis. Cambridge University Press. [2] Brown, P. and Levinson, S., 1978. Universals in Language Use: Politeness Phenomena. In Goody, Esther (ed.), Questions and politeness, 56-311, Cambridge University Press. [3] Brown, P. and Levinson, S.,1987. Politeness: Some universals in language usage. Cambridge University Press. [4] Comfort, J., 1995. Effective Presentations. Oxford University Press. [5] Ellis, M. and O’Driscoll, N., 1992. Giving presentations. Longman. [6] Green, G., 1992. The Universality of Gricean Accounts of Politeness: You gotta have wa, unpublished manuscript. University of Illinois. [7] Howell, L., 1996. Presentation Skill Training. Harcourt Brace College Publishers. [8] Quang Nguyen, 2002. Giao tiếp và giao tiếp giao văn hóa. National University Publishing House [9] Richard J. Watts, 2003. Politeness, Key topics in Sociolinguistics. Cambridge University Press [10] Yule, G., 1996. Pragmatics. Oxford University Press. 26