Requests and refusals in English and Chinese
ABSTRACT In this thesis, I study the speech acts of request and refusal in Chinese and English. The aim of this study is to not only compare the results between Chinese and English in
the realization patterns in the two speech acts, but also between my investigation results and those of the Cross-Cultural Speech Act Realization Project (CCSARP)' (Blum-
Kulka et al. 1989). In addition, it is designed to research the extent to which these two speech acts threaten the participants' face in the two languages, and what part social variables such as relative power, social distance and some cultural factors play in the interactions.
I performed not only a linguistic and pragmatic analysis of the data but also a sociocultural analysis. The main framework I follow for data analysis is a combination of
theoretical models: Brown & Levinson's (1987) model of strategies and Spencer-Oatey's (2005) framework of goals for the role-play. For the analysis of the Discourse
Completion Test (DCT) data, I used both CCSARP's (Blum-Kulka et al. 1989) framework of directness and Brown & Levinson's (1987) model and their framework of social variables of power and distance, except for the fake refusals. I have proposed the approach of liräng/giänräng/ciräng along with Spencer-Oatey's (2005) explanation for the fake refusal phenomenon. In the analysis of cultural influences, I draw on Kroeber
and Kluckholn (1952) and Triandis' (1994) research. In classifying the request data, Lee-Wong's (2000) method of classification is used. In grouping the data of refusals, I
have adopted Beebe et al. 's (1990) classification.
In collecting data, the role-play method is employed, complemented by DCT investigation. In the role-play, Chinese and English subjects are divided into groups and
the task for each group is to discuss when, where and how they can make a trip together during a few days holiday. In the course of the discussion, there occur requests and
disagreements (classified as `refusals' in my research), and in the DCTs, subjects are asked to choose from a set of fixed responses, or suggest an alternative of their own.
The purpose is to see what differences or similarities there are between Chinese and English in the realization patterns of the two speech acts in various situations.
The results show that, in the role-play, both Chinese and English favour the direct strategy in interaction. The frequency of the direct strategy (in requests) is much higher than that of other research such as that conducted by Zhang (1995), where participants prefer conventionally indirect strategies. However, the results of the DCTs demonstrate a less significant difference between my investigation and the CCSARP languages. The greatest difference between Chinese and English data lies in the fake refusals. Data analysis also indicates that factors (power, distance and even culture) do not have a large effect on the role-play results though they do influence the choice of strategies in the DCTs. The speech acts of requests and refusals are found to be multifunctional. In
the role-play, for example, they often play a more supportive and constructive than a face-threatening role, as Brown & Levinson have claimed. In the DCT data, fake
refusals are employed to show good manners.
Conceptually, I have challenged those researchers who claim that Chinese face is different from English face, and who divide Chinese face into two different aspects: Tian
and miänzi. Wang (1993: 566) says that "the modern man has only one liän [face]" and mianzi is only one of the synonyms of lin. Therefore, the Chinese have one
face, just as the English do. The conceptualization of Chinese face having two aspects does not seem to be valid. This finding coincides with Leech's (2005: 27) that "despite
differences, there is no East-West divide in politeness".