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A contrastive study of apologizing in english and vietnamese

MINISTRY OF EDUCATION AND TRAINING
HANOI OPEN UNIVERSITY

M.A Thesis

A CONTRASTIVE STUDY OF APOLOGIZING
IN ENGLISH AND VIETNAMESE
(NGHIÊN CỨU ĐỐI CHIẾU HÀNH VI XIN LỖI TRONG
TIẾNG ANH VÀ TIẾNG VIỆT)
ĐIÊU THỊ THU PHƯƠNG

Field: English Language
Code: 62220201

Hanoi, 2017


MINISTRY OF EDUCATION AND TRAINING
HANOI OPEN UNIVERSITY

M.A Thesis


A CONTRASTIVE STUDY OF APOLOGIZING
IN ENGLISH AND VIETNAMESE
(NGHIÊN CỨU ĐỐI CHIẾU HÀNH VI XIN LỖI TRONG
TIẾNG ANH VÀ TIẾNG VIỆT)
ĐIÊU THỊ THU PHƯƠNG

Field: English Language
Code: 62220201
Supervisor: Nguyễn Đăng Sửu, PhD

Hanoi, 2017


CERTIFICATE OF ORIGINALITY
I, the undersigned, hereby certify my authority of the study project report entitled A
CONTRASTIVE STUDY OF APOLOGIZING IN ENGLISH AND
VIETNAMESE submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree
of Master in English Language. Except for the indicated references, no other
person’s work has been used without due acknowledgement in the text of the thesis.
Hanoi, 2017

Dieu Thi Thu Phuong
Approved by
SUPERVISOR

Date: ……………………

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ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
I would like to give sincere thanks to my supervisor Nguyen Dang Suu,
PhD for his continuous support, encouragement, patience, sympathy and critical
feedback.
I would like to extend my gratitude and appreciation to a number of people,
without whose support this thesis would not have been completed.
I am also grateful to my close friends and my colleagues at Hanoi Open
University, Hanoi University of Business and Technology and ETC English
Training Center for their contribution in helping me distribute my questionnaires


and code data for the research.
I also wish to thank other friends for their understanding and assistance
during the process of this study.
Finally, I would like to thank my family, especially my parents for their
constant source of love, support and encouragement in times of difficulty and
frustration.
Dieu Thi Thu Phuong

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ABSTRACT
This thesis focuses on forms and strategies of apologies in English and
Vietnamese, and is aimed at pointing out similarities and differences in linguistic
means used to apologize between English and Vietnamese with focus on the
categorical dimensions of conversation, politeness strategies and some particular
situations in which apologies are recommended in English and Vietnamese. The
data collection and analysis of both books’ Vietnamese and English reveal that
choices of strategies affected by the conversations’ parameters such as age,
gender, occupation, marital status, living area and acquisition of foreign
languages. They have no much difference about the choice of positive and
negative politeness strategies. As such, the findings of the study prove that
apologizing with various strategies of positive and negative politeness and
different degrees of directness – indirectness is a sensitive and sophisticated
communicative act in both English and Vietnamese cultures since apologizing
means admitting one’s own failure or guilt. Apologies show that a person takes
responsibility and avoids blaming others. The findings also confirm that
performance of apologizing is cultural – specific and reflective of social values.

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LIST OF ABBREVIATIONS
CON

: Center for the hearer

DCT

: Discourse Completion Test

ENG

: English

EXPL

: Explanation

FOR

: Promise of Forbearance

FTA

: Face Threatening Act

INT

: Intensification

H

: Hearer

S

: Speaker

RESP

: Acknowledgement of Responsibility

REP

: Offer of Repair

VNM

: Vietnamese

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LIST OF TABLES AND FIGURES
Table 3.1: Apologizing strategies employed by English and Vietnamese ............... 27
Tablel 3.2: Frequency of the use of apologizing categories by English and
Vietnamese across the first five situations ............................................................. 37
Table 3.3: Frequency of the use of apologizing categories by English and
Vietnamese across the last five situations .............................................................. 47

Figure 1: First rule of Lakoff’s theory of politeness ............................................... 14
Figure 2: Second rule of Lakoff’s theory of politeness........................................... 15
Figure 3: Apologizing strategies are used by English and Vietnamese in situation 1
.............................................................................................................................. 31
Figure 4: Apologizing strategies are used by English and Vietnamese in situation 2
.............................................................................................................................. 32
Figure 5: Apologizing strategies are used by English and Vietnamese in situation 3
.............................................................................................................................. 34
Figure 6: Apologizing strategies are used by English and Vietnamese in situation 4
.............................................................................................................................. 35
Figure 7: Apologizing strategies are used by English and Vietnamese in situation 5
.............................................................................................................................. 36
Figure 8: Apologizing strategies are used by English and Vietnamese in situation 6
.............................................................................................................................. 38
Figure 9: Apologizing strategies are used by English and Vietnamese in situation 7
.............................................................................................................................. 39
Figure 10: Apologizing strategies are used by English and Vietnamese in situation 8
.............................................................................................................................. 41
Figure 11: Apologizing strategies are used by English and Vietnamese in situation
9 ............................................................................................................................ 44
Figure 12: Apologizing strategies are used by English and Vietnamese in situation
10 .......................................................................................................................... 46

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TABLE OF CONTENTS
CERTIFICATE OF ORIGINALITY .......................................................................... i
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS ....................................................................................... ii
ABSTRACT .............................................................................................................. iii
LIST OF ABBREVIATIONS ................................................................................... iv
LIST OF TABLES AND FIGURES ...........................................................................v
CHAPTER I: INTRODUCTION ...........................................................................1
1.1 Rationale ...............................................................................................................1
1.2 Aims and objectives of the study ..........................................................................2
1.2.1 Aims of the study ...............................................................................................2
1.2.2 Objectives of the study .......................................................................................2
1.3. Research questions ...............................................................................................2
1.4 Methods of the study .............................................................................................2
1.5 Scope of the study .................................................................................................3
1.6 Significance of the study .......................................................................................3
1.7 Design of the study................................................................................................4
CHAPTER II - LITERATURE REVIEW..............................................................5
2.1 Previous studies .....................................................................................................5
2.2 Theories of speech acts .........................................................................................8
2.3 Politeness.............................................................................................................13
2.4 Apologizing .........................................................................................................18
CHAPTER III – THE STRATEGIES OF APOLOGIZING IN ENGLISH
AND VIETNAMESE ..............................................................................................25
3.1 Research methods................................................................................................25

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3.1.1 Subjects of the study ........................................................................................27
3.1.2 Data collection instruments ..............................................................................28
3.1.3 Data collection procedures ...............................................................................28
3.1.4 Questionnaires ..................................................................................................29
3.2 Apology data analysis by situation ....................................................................30
3.3 Discussions ..........................................................................................................48
CHAPTER IV SOME SUGGESTED APPLICATIONS OF THE RESEARCH
FINDINGS ...............................................................................................................50
4.1 Survey questionnaires .........................................................................................50
4.1.1 Subjects ............................................................................................................50
4.1.2. Questionnaires .................................................................................................50
4.1.3. Procedure .........................................................................................................50
4.2. Common opinions given by learners of English when using strategies of
apologizing ................................................................................................................51
4.2.1. Students’ perception of learning using strategies of apologizing ............. Error!
Bookmark not defined.
4.2.2. Learner’s factor that hinder the students’ participation in using strategies of
apologizing ................................................................................................................51
This part analyzes the facts related to the reasons preventing students from getting
involved in using strategies of apologizing. ........................................................... 51
4.3. Suggestions for teaching strategies of apologizing. ...........................................60
4.4. Summary of the chapter .....................................................................................62
CHAPTER V: CONCLUSION ..............................................................................63
1. Recapitulation .......................................................................................................63
2. Limitations of the study ........................................................................................64
APPENDIX 1 ............................................................................................................68

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APPENDIX 2 ............................................................................................................71

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CHAPTER I: INTRODUCTION
1.1 Rationale
Vietnam is entering the hectic development flow of the world in
which international cooperation in general and cultural, educational exchanges in
particular are strongly pushed up. In fact, learning foreign languages and
especially English has been extremely important. The international language of
English has been considered an effective tool to supportably proceed those
activities much more easily. In all aspects of language, speech acts are assessed
as the most specific culture. In each language and culture, people have different
ways to express their behavior. It means speaker will have different recognitions
of speech acts is of utterances that when issued perform an action. Making
apologies which are observed in English and Vietnamese is a good example. It is
common and important in daily interaction. Apologies show the fact that a
language is not just a simple utterance at all. Many problems will certainly
follow if culture and politeness factors are neglected. The two cultures have their
own politeness standards, so an utterance in general and an apology as well in
particular may be acceptable in Vietnamese, but unacceptable in English and
vice-versa or the ways people make apologies are different. In some cases,
people apologize directly while others apologize indirectly. Obviously, it is very
important to get ourselves well prepared for those matters. No matter how
different they are, politeness strategy is always a desirous goal to reach. On a
small scale of cross-culture communication, the study tries to make clear the
contrast between the two speech acts of apologizing in English and Vietnamese.
Apologies in English and Vietnamese share some certain similarities, but have
differences, too. Vietnamese and English speakers do not have the same
conceptions of apologizing based on their habits and cultures.
For those reasons, the contrastive study of speech act of apologizing in
English and Vietnamese is made. I hope that my thesis can provide the readers
more important knowledge and essential elements to become more confident in
cross-cultural communication. It is also useful for foreign language learning and
teaching in Vietnam. I also expect that my thesis can help my students at Hanoi

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University of Business and Technology understand and use the apologizing
words clearly and effectively most clearly and effectively.
1.2 Aims and objectives of the study
1.2.1 Aims of the study
The aims of this study are
1.2.2 Objectives of the study
There are three objectives of the study:
• To examine strategies of apologizing in English and Vietnamese.
• To present the similarities and differences of apologizing between
English and Vietnamese.
• To give some suggested applications of the study results to the teaching
apology at Hanoi University of Business and Technology (HUBT)
1.3. Research questions
• What are strategies of apologizing in English and Vietnamese?
• What are similarities and differences of apologizing between English
and Vietnamese?
• What are some suggested applications of the result to the teaching
apology at HUBT?
1.4 Methods of the study
In this study, the writer would like to use both qualitative and
quantitative methods. The writer uses qualitative methods to have understanding
of a phenomenon or situation or event comes from exploring the totality of the
situations which are often with access to large amounts of "hard data". Next,
Quantitative data was elicited by means of a Discourse Completion Test (DCT)
which consists of different situations. The collected data will be analyzed in
comparing and contrasting techniques to find out similarities or differences in
the ways English and Vietnamese perform the act of giving apology as a
politeness strategy.
Besides, the writer also uses two surveys for this thesis.

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The first survey includes 10 apology situations with 60 participants in
two groups: 30 native speakers of English and 30 Vietnamese people. The
collected data is to examine strategies of apologizing in English and Vietnamese,
and then they will be analyzed to find out the similarities and differences.
The second survey contains of 28 questions. There are 125 students at
Hanoi University of Business and Technology taking part in this survey. The
collected data will be analyzed to explore the students’ opinions in learning
strategies of apologizing to suggest ways for teaching English in order to
improve their ability in expressing the ways to apologize.
1.5 Scope of the study
The thesis focuses on analyzing situations and strategies of expressing
apology in English and Vietnamese culture.
The data were collected by making a Discourse Completion Test (DTC)
with two surveys. The first survey is based on 10 socially different situations in
which apology is recommended with 30 native speakers of English and 30
Vietnamese people. The second survey consists of 28 questions with 125
students.
My thesis doesn’t focus on analyzing behavior of apologizing; it only
concentrates on investigating strategies of apologizing in order to find out the
similarities and differences of apologizing between English and Vietnamese.
1.6 Significance of the study
The findings of the research will help increase reader’s awareness as well
as students’ awareness at Hanoi University of Business and Technology of
strategies of apologizing and cross-cultural differences in order to avoid culture
shock and to guarantee successful communication. Besides, as a teacher of
English, the author feels duty-bound to raise her students’ awareness of
conventional behavior in common situation and to incorporate the study of
cultural behaviors as an integral part of each lesson.

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1.7 Design of the study
My research is divided into five main chapters with many different
sections:
Chapter I – INTRODUCTION focuses on seven issues: the rationale,
aims and objectives, research questions, methods of the study, scope of the
study, significance of the study, design of the study.
Chapter II - LITERATURE REVIEW discusses the previous studies,
theoretical background of subjects: theories of speech acts, theories of politeness
and apology.
Chapter III – STRATEGIES OF APOLOGIZING IN ENGLISH AND
VIETNAMESE presents findings of the study and discusses more ways to
express apology. The similarities and differences between English and
Vietnamese in forms and strategies of apologizing will be presented and
discussed deeply.
Chapter IV – SOME SUGGESTED APPLICATIONS OF THE
RESEARCH FINDINGS suggests some applications in teaching English at
Hanoi University of Business and Technology basing on the survey about
students’ opinions to use strategies of apologizing.
Chapter V CONCLUSION summarizes main points of the study,
limitations, and suggestions for further research in this field.
At the end of this study, there is an Appendix which supplies the reference
of the study.

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CHAPTER II - LITERATURE REVIEW
2.1 Previous studies
Many researchers in the world chose the speech act of apology to be the
title of their studies. These researches indicated that the countries with different
cultures have different rules in expressing their strategies of apologizing to keep
politeness in each situation. The result of the studies revealed that pragmatic
competence expresses people‘s ability in employing speech acts appropriately.
The researchers have carried out many studies on apologizing in different
languages such as the politeness strategies employed, the cultural values
reflected in the realization of an apology, gender, the factors affecting the use of
a particular strategy and the strategies used by native and non-native speakers.
Studies of apologizing have been carried out by Kasper et al (1989,
1996), Trosborg (1987, 1995) and Olshtain (1989). Kasper and Berman (1993)
investigate perception and performance in native and non-native apology by
means of a Dialogue Construction questionnaire completed by three groups of
informants: Native speakers of American English (AEN), Thai and Thai nonnative speakers of English (IL). The data is coded into the five major categories
summarized according to the semantic formulae identified as constituting the
apology speech act set (Olshtain and Cohen, 1983; Blum-Kulka et al, 1989).
Through the data collected, they find out that contextual factors operate
differentially in the strategy selection. The most sensitive strategy to contextual
factors is Upgrading. The more Obligation and Face-loss involve in an offence,
the more upgrading of apology will be provided. Taking on responsibility is the
only strategy that related with context-external factor (Distance). The more
distant the relationship to the offended party, the less the informants are likely to
admit accountability. They find no effect of contextual factors on Downgrading
responsibility, Repair and Verbal redress.
In 1989, Olshtain carried out her study on comparing the employment of
strategies of apologies by speakers of English, French, German, and Hebrew.
The findings revealed that there were some considerable similarities in selecting
expressions of responsibility. She concluded that different languages will realize
apologies in very similar ways. In 1997, Sugimoto also researched about the
speech act of apology. The subjects, who participated to answer an open-ended
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questionnaire, consisted of 181 Japanese college students (82 males and 99
females) and 200 American college students (79 males and 121females). The
results of the research indicated that the respondents focus on employing these
strategies: explanation of the situation, regret and reparation. The Japanese
subjects may be interested in using these strategies than American ones. A
promise of forbearance and compensation were used mainly in Japanese
strategies of apology.
The study of Garcia (1989) compares the expression of apologies which
performed between non-native speakers of English from Venezuela and native
speakers of English in open-ended role-plays. The findings of this study
indicated that when the respondents want to express apologies to the host
because of their absence at the party, Venezuela respondents employed the
positive politeness strategy which combined explanations of the reason why they
didn‘t attend, avoidance of disagreement with the host and repetition of the
host‘s words and in-group identity markers; otherwise, native speakers of
English mainly used the negative politeness approach. These apologies included
paying deference to the host, self-effacing behavior and devices to maintain
social distance.
Edmundson (1992) carried out an investigation into the perception of
apologies by 161 American native speakers of English. They took part in
assessing whether apologies in an appropriate, sincere, and acceptable number of
television programs. The findings of this research showed interesting
information that not only the sincerity but also the length of the apology
regarded as a standard to decide whether an apology was appropriate. Most of
the respondents said that the apologizer should employ longer apologies instead
of appearance of many too short ones. Almost previous studies I reviewed in my
thesis gave the common conclusion that non-native speakers expressed their
apologies with the greater length than native speakers did. However, up to now,
none of researches can quantify the exact length of the apologies which to be
regarded as a criterion for an appropriate apology.
According to Hussein (1995), he argued that the individual information of
respondents in the study such as their age, status, level of education, situation or
social distance is one of the main elements affecting to determine the formulas of

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any speech acts. A research of apology strategies has carried out by Hussein and
Hammouri in 1998. The respondents of this research are speakers of English
coming from Jordani and America. Looking at the statistical data, it indicated
that only Jordani used the strategy of minimizing the degree of offense or
interjecting; in general, all of respondents employ some main strategies like the
expression of apology, acknowledgement of responsibility, offer of repair or
promise of forbearance.
Besides, Trosborg (1995) deals with the act of apologizing in complaintapology situations as realized in the speech of Danish learners of English
compared to native speakers’ performance. The author examines apology
performance in role-plays, enacted by native speakers of British English
(NSBE), native speakers of Danish (NSDan) and three groups of Danish learners
of English at different levels of proficiency and outlines four categories (based
on the semantic formulae by Blum-Kulka and et al, 1989) including eight
strategies in order for increasing directness. The data collected shows NSBE and
NS Dan both provide extremely low frequencies of IFIDs, as opposed to the
other studies.
In addition, no statistical differences are found as regards the frequency of
the use of apology strategies by these two groups. The only significant difference
among the five groups is the use of modality markers. Nevertheless, the findings
still show that socio-pragmatic strategies are indeed transferred from one
language to another. This reveals through the high number of direct apologies
and rejections, lack of minimizing, lower number of explanations used by
learners of three groups. Most of the learners’ deviations are assumed as the
outcomes of insufficient pragma linguistic knowledge.
In Vietnam, most of the limited pragmatics researches are in the tradition
of contrastive pragmatics, which contrast the realization patterns of speech acts
such as greeting (Suu 1990), compliment and compliment response (Quang
1998), request and request response (Thanh 2000; Quyen 2001), disagreeing
(Huong 2001, 2006) Vietnamese with those of other languages, particularly
English. The studies on the speech act of apology also follow the tradition of
descriptive and contrastive pragmatics. Some remarkable studies on this speech

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act were carried out by Dang Thanh Phuong (2000), Kieu Thi Hong Van (2000)
and Nguyen Thuy Trang (2010).
2.2 Theories of speech acts
Searle (1969: 16) affirms that when we speak we are performing speech
acts, acts such as making statements, giving commands, asking questions,
making promises and so on. He suggests that these acts are performed in
accordance with certain rules for the use of linguistic elements. Actually, the
notion of speech acts dates back to the British language philosopher John L.
Austin (1962). In his influential book entitled How to do things with words,
Austin makes an interesting point that in saying something, one is actually doing
something. This view is considered a breakthrough in linguistics since it points
out that many everyday language declarative sentences are not intended to make
true or false statements, as it is firmly asserted by logical positivists. Rather, they
are used to “do things”, that is, to perform certain linguistic actions such as
requesting, complimenting, apologizing and so on. These utterances are termed
performatives by Austin. Austin conceptualizes performatives as involving three
acts, namely, locutionary, illocutionary, perlocutionary – the three kinds of acts
that, according to him, constitute what people “do with words”. Of these, a
locutionary act is defined as the act of vocalizing a sentence and assigning a
propositional meaning to it. An illocutionary act is the one of performing a
particular language function and a perlocutionary act is the one of producing
some kind of effect on the addressee. The core interest of Austin as well as of
other pragmatists is the illocutionary act, which Austin later termes “speech acts”
(Levinson, 1983).
For example, we might say “It’s hot in here!” (locutionary act ). Its
meaning may be, “I want some fresh air!”(Illocutionary act) and the hearer
might open the window (perlocutionary act). In general, there is a close and
predictable connection between the locutionary and perlocutionary effect so that
the hearer can understand and complete the speaker’s intention. But in fact, the
same locution could have different illocutionary forces in different contexts. For
instance, “What’s the time?” could, depending on the context of utterance, mean
any of the following:

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The speaker wants the hearer to tell him the time; The speaker is annoyed
because the hearer is late; The speaker thinks it is time the hearer went home.
(Thomas, 1996:50) Vice versa, different words can be used to perform the same
illocutionary act.
For example, to request someone to close the door, we can use one of the
following utterances:
Shut the door!
Could you shut the door?
Did you forget the door?
Put the wood in the hole.
Were you born in a barn?
What do big boys do when they come into a room, Johnny?
(Thomas, 1996:51)
According to Yule (1996) the clearest device for indicating the
illocutionary force is an expression containing a performative verb that explicitly
names the illocutionary act being performed. For example, I promise you that I
will never do it again. In the preceding example, “promise” would be the
performative verb and, if stated, would be very clear IFID (Illocutionary Force
Indicating Device). Yule also argues that other IFIDs, which can be identified,
are word order and stress and intonation.
a. You are leaving! [I tell you Y – L]
b. You are leaving? [I request confirmation about Y – L]
c. Are you leaving? [I ask you if Y – L]
In fact, the same performative verb can also have different illocutionary
forces. For example, the performative verb “xin lỗi” (be sorry/ apologize) in
Vietnamese may have different illocutionary forces in different contexts. It can
be an apology in (a), a refusal in (b), or a denial in (c):
a)
A: Sao hôm qua cậu không đến ăn tối ?
B: Xin lỗi cậu nhé. Mình bị ốm.
[Why didn’t you come to dinner last night?
I am sorry. I was ill. ]

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b)
A: Em nhảy điệu này với anh nhé?
B: Xin lỗi em nhảy không giỏi lắm.
[May I have this dance?
So sorry, I do not dance very well.]
c)
A: Cậu không bao giờ lau nhà cả. Sao cậu không ngăn nắp một chút?
B: Xin lỗi. Thế tất của ai vứt ở xó nhà kia?
[You never clean up around here! Why don’t you tidy up more?
Excuse me, but whose socks are those in the middle of the floor? ]
As such, through the IFIDs the Speaker’s intended illocutionary force can
be recognized. There are thousands of possible illocutionary acts and several
attempts have been made to classify them into a small number of types.
According to Searle (1979) speech acts can be classified into five types:
declarations, representatives, expressives, directives and commissives:
Declarations are those kinds of speech acts that change the world via their
utterance. For example, the marriage candidates cease to be just an ordinary pair
of people, and become a married couple when the phrase “I now pronounce you
man and wife” is uttered. In using a declaration, the speaker changes the world
via
words.
Representatives are those kinds of speech acts that state what the speaker
believes. They can be assertions, conclusions, descriptions, beliefs, reports or
denials. For example:
The earth is flat
Chomsky didn’t write about peanuts
It was a warm sunny day
In using a representative, the speaker makes words fit the world (of
belief).

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Expressives are those kinds of speech acts that state what the speaker
feels. They express psychological states including apologizing, greeting,
thanking and can be statements of pleasure, pain, likes, dislikes, joy, or sorrow.
For
example:
I’m really sorry!
Congratulations!
Oh, yes, great, mmmm, ssahh!
In using an expressive, the speaker makes words fit the world (of feeling).
Directives are those kinds of speech acts that speakers use to get someone
else to do something. They express what the speaker wants. They are commands,
orders, requests and suggestions. For example:
Give me a cup of coffee. Make it black
Could you lend me a pen, please?
Don’t touch that.
In using a directive, the speaker attempts to make the world fit the words
(via the hearer).
Commissives are those kinds of speech acts that speakers use to commit
themselves to some future action. They express what the speaker intends. They
are promises, threats, refusals, pledges. For example:
I’ll be back
I’m going to get it right next time
We will not do that
In using a commissives, the speakers undertake to make the world fit the
words (via the speaker).

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Speech act classification
Speech act type

Direction of fit

S=Speaker; X=Situation

Declarations

Word change the world

S cause X

Representatives

Make words fit the world

S believes X

Expressives

Make words fit the world

S feels X

Directives

Make the world fit words

S wants X

Commissives

Make the world fit words

S intends X

The five general functions of speech acts (following Searle 1979)
(cited in Yule, 1996: 53 – 55)
In order to understand the speaker’s intention behind the words, the hearer
can rely on some conventional way to predict, called “speech event”. For
example, when a boy stays out late, his father may ask him “What’s the time? He
will understand that his father is very annoyed and furious with his being late
rather than he wants to know the time. According to Yule (1996: 57), “a speech
event is an activity in which participants interact via language in some
conventional way to arrive at some outcome”. This is possible because in a
social situation, the involved participants necessarily have a social relationship
of some kind, and, on a specific occasion, may have particular goals. A speech
event may include a certain central speech act, but it also includes other
utterances leading up to and subsequently reacting to the central action.
According to Searle (1969: 43):
The goal of spoken interaction is to communicate things to the hearer by
getting him/her to recognize the intention that one has to communicate those
things. The speaker then must achieve the intended effect on the hearer by
allowing him/her to recognize his/her intention to achieve that effect. Once the
hearer recognizes the intention of the speaker to archieve an effect this is
generally achieved.
Therefore, the recognition of the intention or intended meaning of the
utterance (speech act) seems crucial in achieving a level of success in
understanding. Nevertheless, Stubbs (1983) points out that utterances can be
wrongly interpreted and also speakers can say one thing and mean another.
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Because of this, it becomes crucial to consider the context in which a particular
speech act is conveyed in order to understand it fully.
2.3 Politeness
2.3.1 Theories of politeness
There are many definitions of politeness. According to Wehmeier,
politeness means having or showing good manners and respect for the feelings of
others (2000: 976). Politeness is the expression of the speakers‘intention to
mitigate face threats carried by certain face threatening acts towards another
(Mill 1003: 6). Or according to William Foley, politeness is a battery of social
skills whose goal is to ensure everyone feels affirmed in a social interaction.
Theory of politeness is the theory that accounts for the redressing of the affronts
to face posed by face-threatening acts to addressees (1997). Through a process of
researching related documents, I found that Lakoff and Brown and Levinson
were some of the earliest linguists to study politeness. Since then, many other
theorists have either built on their ideas and principles or disprove them.
a. Lakoff’s theory of politeness
Robin Tolmach Lakoff, one of the first linguists studying about
politeness, is the first person who gave the opinion that politeness is an
important aspect of interaction and it needs to be studied. After Lakoff, many
theorists have focused on either expanding on her maxims or contesting them.
According to Johnstone (2008), Lakoff‘s theory of politeness indicates that when
people communicate with each other, they will follow a certain set of rules
which forbid communication from breaking down. Lakoff proposes that there are
three rules of politeness:
Rule 1: Be clear. This rule is based on Grice‘s Cooperative Principle
Maxims which lays down a set of principles of conversation and proposes a
framework for language use. The Cooperative Principle is summarized as the
specifications of ―what participants have to do in order to converse in a
maximally efficient, rational, co-operative way: they should speak sincerely,
relevantly and clearly, while providing sufficient information‖ (Levinson 1983:
102). With the hope to create a detail description about the working process of

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Cooperative Principle, Grice made an effort of formulating guidelines for the use
of language efficiently and effectively in conversation.
Based on Grice‘s guidelines (1975: 45), this rule is subdivided into a set
of conversational maxims as maxim of quantity, maxim of quality, maxim of
relations and maxim of manners.

Quantity

Contribute enough information
in the conversation but not
more or less

Quality

Expect the speakers to be
sincere and tell the truth

Be Clear
Be relevant
Relations

Speak briefly and orderly
without obscurity and
ambiguity

Manners

Figure 1: First rule of Lakoff’s theory of politeness
For example:
Tom: Good afternoon!
I want to buy a ceiling fan.
How much is it?
Cashier:
A ceiling fan is $100.
In the above example, the cashier answered the customer clearly (maxim
of manner), truthfully (maxim of quality) as well as gave him the right amount of
information (maxim of quantity) and focused directly on the demand of this
customer (maxim of relation). No more or less information as well as no
additional level of meaning was given by the cashier in the conversation with
Tom.

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To sum up, through this set of conversational maxims, people
realize that to ensure a maximally efficient conversation, people need to be sure
that the information they speak must be clear, relevant and sincere.
Rule 2: Be polite. This rule consists of a sub set of three rules: don‘t
impose, give options and make others feel good.
Don’t impose

Give options and allow for
response

Be Polite

Make others feel good and
keep equality

Figure 2: Second rule of Lakoff’s theory of politeness
Rule 3: Make a good-be friendly. This rule is most variable in terms of
cultural meanings.
A number of scholars have contested Lakoff‘s theory of politeness. They
gave many different comments. Tanne (1986) said that her theory is not only the
rules but also the senses which the speakers use to express their opinions
naturally. Brown (1976) showed the main problem of her theory of politeness to
be that she put the rules of politeness in a passive framework without decision
and integration; it means the social relationships and expectations about humans
as interactants.
b. Brown and Levinson’s theory of politeness
The theory of politeness‘s also formulated in 1978 by Penelope Brown
and Stephen Levinson. Brown and Levinson‘s theory of linguistic politeness
combine the formulation of an individual‘s face as a public self-image.
The concept of ‗face‘ was introduced by Brown and Levinson with the
purpose of illustrating ‗politeness‘ in the broad sense. During interactions, the

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