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People may have such feelings that how we say something is sometimes as important as or even more important than what we say. Whether the communication can continue smoothly or not depends on how we say something. In everyday conversation, there are different ways to get things we want done. When we are with friends, we can say to them, ¡°go get me that book¡±. However, when we are surrounded by a group of unfamiliar people or who are superior to us, we must say, ¡°Could you please pass me that book?¡± In different social situations, we are obligated to adjust our use of words to fit the occasion.

As one of the behaviors in the daily lives, a request, to a large of small extent, imposes on the addressees. If a request is not made appropriately, the desired goal may not be achieved. Addressees may be embarrassed, or the relationship may be damaged.

Within the framework of politeness theories and cross-cultural pragmatics, the present thesis conducts a contrastive research into the politeness strategies employed by native speakers of English and Chinese speakers of English in realizing the speech acts of request within the scope of the structure of the Head Act and Supportive Moves and the Direct/Indirect strategies.

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Literary review

Brown and Levinson (178) collaboratively published an article entitled ¡°Universals in Language usage politeness phenomena¡±. And they reissued, in 187, a book Politeness some universals in language usage. In the framework that they develop, politeness is defined as redressive action taken to counterbalance the disruptive effect of face-threatening acts (FTAs). They said that in order to enter into social relationship, we have to acknowledge and show an awareness of the face, the public self-image, the sense of self, of the people that we address. Face is the core element in folk notions of politeness. To be polite is to be face-caring. They argued that it is a universal characteristic across cultures that speakers should respect each others¡¯ expectations regarding self-image, take account of their feelings and avoid face threatening acts.

The request, according to Searle¡¯s classification of illocutionary acts (175), is a kind of directive, which is intended to produce some effect through action by the addressee. The request, by requiring a future effect from the interlocutor, imposes mainly on the addressee. In requests, the addresser automatically threatens the addressee¡¯s freedom of action and his/her wish not to be imposed upon. In terms of Brown and Levinson, addressees can interpret the request as an intrusive impingement on the freedom of action, or even as a show in the exercise of power. Its threat to the addressee¡¯s face is inherent in this act; therefore, the request constitutes a face-threatening act.

When the speaker makes a request, the addressee may have to pay the cost to carry out the request, and usually addresser profits from it. There are some factors that affect the success of a request. The imposition an addressee perceives determined by the size of a request is called absolute imposition, It is not the same case whether you want to borrow your friends ten yuan or a hundred yuan. However, in actual situations, addressees¡¯ perception of the size of the request in terms of relative imposition, which is affected by various factors, rather than in terms of absolute impositions, As Brown and Levinson(178) mention that there are other factors-the social distance and the relative power besides the absolute ranking of imposition.

Brown and Levinson proposed some Politeness Principles according to the study of western languages. They believed that absolute politeness does exist in most languages, that is, some linguistic expressions are intrinsically polite. However, it is only an abstract generalization, which is open to modification when it is applied to a particular language in a particular culture or speech community.

In all, many factors determine the politeness strategies. The degrees of social distance and power between interlocutors are among the most important factors, yet their relative importance can interact with other situational factors and might be subject to cultural variation. The perception of cultures has been shown to vary drastically in the interactional style, leading to different preferences for modes of speech act behavior.

Data collection and analysis

The data this essay analyzes come from everyday life. It includes the requests made by both the Chinese and some Americans who are native English speakers in daily conversation. The relationships of the interlocutors are various teachers-students, husbands-wives, classmates, parents-children, employers- employees, etc.

The two groups of data will be compared in quantity and the results are expected to show the difference of preferences in two fields one is the structure of Head Act and Supportive Move; the other is the Head Act strategy.

Contrastive analysis

¢ñthe field of the structure of Head Act and Supportive Move

The structure of Head Act and Supportive Move

A Head Act, as the core of the request sequence, is the minimal unit, which can realize a request. A Supportive Move is a unit external to the request, which modifies its impact by either mitigating or aggravating its force. According to Blum-kulka, the possible basic structures of the Head Act and Supportive Move are as follow

a. Head Act only the minimal unit only, e.g. Give me some water.

b. 1 pre-posed Supportive Move + Head Act, e.g. I have to go to see my tutor

in the department. Lend me your bike.

b. pose-posed Head Act + Supportive Move, e.g. Lend me your bike. I have

to go to see my tutor in the department.

c. Multiple Heads there are multiple Head Acts in requests, e.g. Put down your

pens. Hand in your papers.

How do the Chinese and Americans apply these structures to make requests?

For structure a both Chinese and Americans use this structure.

Chinese a to b °�ÄDZ¾Ê�µÝ¸øÎ�

American a to b Pass me the hammer, honey.

For structure b the data show that the Chinese prefer the structure b1,

whereas the Americans use the structure b more than Chinese.

Chinese a to bÎ���Ç°Ã�ÅöÕâ¶�Î÷£¬Äã½Ì½ÌÎ��õÃ��ÃßÂ

American a to b Help me with the necklace. I¡¯ve never worm it.

For structure c both Chinese and American use this structure and there is no

significant difference.

Chinese a to b ÄãȥСÍõÄǶù°�²ÄÁÏÄóöÀ�£¬�ÙË͵½�¦³¤ÄǶùÈ¥

American a to b Well, now that you¡¯re here, you can help me

with dinner. Peel the potatoes and slice them.

In order to study the differences, we focus on the structure b. The Chinese tend to give supportive moves before making the requests, while the Americans prefer to make the request first and then supply the supportive move. The different reasoning methods may account for the differences in the preference. The Chinese are inclined to apply the induction reasoning that makes the Chinese form the habit of putting something unimportant at the beginning before the topic. In their point of view, the addressees can easily accept the requests or feel less embarrassed if they have some preconditions before coming to the topics. On the contrary, the Americans prefer deduction reasoning, which means they are inclined to raise the topic at the beginning and then the supports.

Comparison of the structure of the Head Act and Supportive Move in terms of power in Chinese and American English requests.

In Chinese, the structure ¡°Head Act only¡± is used by nearly all the interlocutors; but when compared the frequency in terms of different power status, there are some differences among the requesters in different power situation. As show in the data that this structure is used more frequently by the superiors. Then the equals use less frequently of this structure and the inferiors least. That indicates that the frequency of using this structure varies according to the power. When the power increases, the frequency also increases. In structure b, the inferiors appear to use more supportive moves than the other two groups. All these seem to suggest that the inferiors attach much importance to the power of the addressee, since they usually give supportive moves before making requests to the superiors. By doing so, the inferiors ensure their requests to save the addressees¡¯ face and not to be much imposing.

When turning to American English, we find that in structure a, the frequency also increases with the increase of the social power. While in structure b, generally speaking, the frequency decreases with the increase of the power, yet both the inferiors and equals like to use this structure and there is no evident difference between the two groups.

Comparing the two languages, we notice that the frequency of the structure a increase with the increase of power in both in Chinese and English. For structure b, we find that, in Chinese, it is used by the inferiors much more than the superiors and the equals; however, in American, both of the equals and inferiors use this structure frequently.

¢òIn the field of Request Strategies

The request strategies can be classified into two types direct strategies and indirect strategies. The direct strategy is interpreted by Blum-kulka as the illocutionary force is directly derivable from linguistic indicators or from the semantic content of the utterances. According to George Yule, ¡° we can treat an indirect request as being a matter of asking whether the necessary conditions for a request are in place, for example, a preparatory condition and a content condition. A preparatory condition is that the speaker assumes the hearer is able to, or can, perform the action. A content condition concerns future action, that the hearer will perform the action¡±.

Comparison of Direct Request Strategies in Relation to Power

By accounting the frequency of using direct strategies in making requests of both the Chinese and the Americans, we find that the Chinese show evident tendency to use direct strategies. The frequency of the Chinese¡¯s using the strategies is much higher than that of the Americans¡¯. When the strategies are connected with power in their realization, for example, the requests made by the employers to the employees, teachers to the students, parents to children, we see this phenomena the Chinese requesters of higher power opt for direct strategies most frequently, while those of lower power seldom try this kind of strategies, which is showed in the data as the employees, students and Children scarcely employ the direct strategies when making requests, especially when they make requests to the superiors. In conclusion, the using of the direct strategies increases with the increase of power. The higher the power a requester has, the more direct the strategies he/she uses when making requests. Power does influence the use of direct strategies in Chinese. But when we analyze the data of the requesters in American English, we notice that the Americans have no such preference for the direct strategies as Chinese requesters do. Besides, there is no evident difference when the requesters of different power apply the direct strategies. That is power does not influence the choices of direct strategies in American English as much as it does in Chinese.

Comparison of Indirect Request Strategies in Relation to Power

In the data analysis of using the indirect strategies, there appears a contradict result compared with direct strategies. The Americans, as a whole, show great preference for the indirect strategies, yet the Chinese have no such interest in the strategies. When power is taken into the consideration of the determination of the indirect strategies, there appear some differences between the Chinese and Americans. In Chinese, the inferiors employ this strategy most frequently; then come the equals, and the last group is the superiors. The frequency of the application of indirect strategies increases with the decrease of power the requesters have in Chinese, which indicates that power determines the choice of indirect strategies to a large extent. However, in American English, the indirect strategy is widespreadly employed by requesters of different power, though it is used by the inferiors slightly more frequently. In this sense, we judge that the choice of American indirect request strategies doesn¡¯t follow the same way as the Chinese. The reason probably lies in American social structure and the cultural orientation. The United States is a country that put great emphasis on individualism. People are equal and respect each other¡¯s freedom. Therefore, the requesters are inclined to use the indirect strategies to minimize the imposition upon others.


From the contrastive study of requests within the scope of the structure of Head Act and Supportive Move, we find that the Chinese requesters are inclined to give supportive moves before making requests compared with the American who¡¯d like to put the supportive moves at the latter part of the requests.

Comparing the direct strategies and indirect strategies both in Chinese and American English, we come to the conclusion that the request strategy in Chinese follows this way the higher the power a requester has, the more direct the strategies he/she applies, and vise versa. This finding confirms that, in China, the power plays a very important role in the determination of the requests¡¯ levels of indirectness. However, this rule does not work in American context.

The above differences are due to the culture-specificity. China, as a country with five thousand years history, has experienced a long period of domination of feudalism. The hierarchical system is deep-rooted in people¡¯s mind, which requires a person to put each individual in his/her place according to his/her social position and behave as he/she is expected. That means the superiors have the right t ask the addressees of lower power to perform some action and the inferiors have the duty to comply with the requests. And the interlocutors of equal power think of it as their duty to do something for others. Nowadays, we cannot clear up the influence of the ideas of hierarchical system completely and we can still feel their effect on our concepts and behaviors, such as request behavior. The inferiors tend to make requests through indirect strategies while the superiors through direct strategies. The equals use direct strategies for they consider each other as in-group members.

However, in American English, the society is based on the equality orientation and Individualism is a great value treasured by the nation. The freedom, rights and the independence of a person are regarded as sacred. The Americans pay attention to show their respect to the individual¡¯s freedom and rights. When a behavior is inherently intrusive to a person¡¯s individualism, for example a request, the addresser would like to minimize the imposition upon the addressee by applying indirect strategies. They seldom impose their desire or wish upon the addressees.

In all, it is the cultural difference that determines the different structures and strategies employed by the Chinese and Americans.

This finding enlightens us on language teaching. The purpose of learning a language is to use the language appropriately. The contrastive analysis illuminates the importance of the cultural differences in language learning and teaching. Learners might employ non-target-like polite strategies, or have difficulty in adjusting their strategies in accordance with situational requirements in the target culture. Or they may have a lot of knowledge, but they can not use with native-like appropriateness. This problem should call our attention to the culture learning and teaching in Second Language Acquisition. For teachers, it is not enough to teach the grammar and vocabulary. The culture teaching of the target language should take an important part in the language teaching. The students should also pay more attention to culture learning as they acquire the linguistic knowledge. Only in this way, can a language be mastered and appropriately used.

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