Comparison on Making Polite Requests in English an Essay

d in Chinese
Abstract: Polite requests play an important role in daily communication.

Different culture has various ways of making request. In order to get rid
of misunderstanding, it is necessary to clarify the different polite
expression of making request in diverse culture. This paper chooses to
compare English and Chinese polite request making.

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Key words: Politeness; Request; English; Chinese
With the development of mass media andinformationtechnology,
communicative borders are removed and people become closer and closer.

Therefore, it is necessary to understand the different lifestyles of
various cultural community. However, the main reasons ofsuccessful
communication does not only include how well a language is spoken, but also
some personal and cultural elements. When considering social context, non-
verbal communication plays an important role in language learning. A very
interesting topic in this large field is politeness, since forms of
politeness are often misinterpreted and lead to misunderstandings. So I
chose to have a closer look at the differences between politeness in
Chinese and English.

Politeness is known as a courteous manner that displays respects, show
deference in society where people live and communicate together (OED
online). Furthermore, according to Brown and Levinson (1978), politeness
theory is the speaker’s expressions use toward receiver in soft manner of
Face Threaten Acts (FTAs) to saving face of addressees. There are four main
strategies in politeness theory as: bald-on record, positive politeness,
negative politeness and off record. Bald- on record, a type is commonly
with people known each other very well and very comfortable in their
environment, is reduce the impact of FTAs. Off record is removing the
speakers from any imposition whatsoever (Zhan, 1992). “Positive politeness
is redress directed to addressee’s positive face” (Brown and Levinson,
1978, p.101), while negative politeness is making a request less intrude
into a person’s private.

Alternatively, request is a type of speech of act where the speaker ask
or demand from the hearer to perform an act which is for the benefit of the
speaker. A request has two parts: head act and modifiers. Head act is the
main utterance which conveys a complete request and can stand by itself
without any modifiers for express demand. The head act is follow by
modifiers that moderate or exaggerate the impact of the request on the
addressee. For example, “Could I borrow your dictionary, please?” where
“Could I borrow your dictionary” is head act and “please” is modifier.

So, every culture, every language has different ways to making requests
in politeness. Therefore, the scope in this research is compared the
differences expression of politeness requesting in two languages: English
and Chinese. Following to House and Kasper (1981), their research claimed
that speakers prefer to choose negative politeness strategies than positive
politeness because when the relative face threat is high because negative
politeness strategies are easily compensation than positive politeness
strategies. To evaluate the difference of politeness in making request in
two languages English and Chinese, the research will analysethree
difference situations in classroom, at restaurant and at home.

In English grammar, in order to make a polite request, people usually
use the modal verbs like can, could, will, would to allow the speaker to
ask their need by asking for or giving permission, and so on. The formation
of making a polite request is: (Leech, Cruickhank, Ivanic, 2001)
Modal Verb (Could/ Can/ Will/ Would) + Subject + Base Verb +…. ?
For example, Can you give a book?
So, in this sentence, “can” is a modal verb, “you” is subject and “give”
is base verb. In Chinese grammar as like as English grammar, speakers use
optatives verbs (e.g. ?,??,?)to express wishes, making a request, and have
permissions. Follow to the grammar rule, the optatives verb put before the
main verb and add”?” – question particle at the end of the sentence: (Wang,
S + Opt. Verb + Main Verb + Obj. + ??
(e.g. ??????????????)
Or in an affirmative-negative question, the negative adverb should be
put between the optatives verb instead of the main verb: (Wang, 1996)
S + Opt. Verb + ? (Negative Adv.) + Opt. verb + Main Verb + Obj. ?
(e.g. ??????????????)
Additionally, in imperative sentences or interrogative sentences English
is adding the conventional expression “please” to make their requests more
polite and to make soften their utterance text (E.g. Please give me a book!
or Could you give a book, please?) (Leech, Cruickhank, Ivanic, 2001)
On the other hand, Chinese grammar has many strategies to making a request
in politeness by using reduplication of verbs, using particle, using
structure “verb+ ??”. Most of these strategies have one purpose which is
make the soften tone of speech of act (Zhan, 1992).

Firstly, reduplicated verbs are be used to express short and informal
actions, and to soften the tone of speakers in imperative sentences. For a
monosyllabic verbs, “?” is often inserted between the verb and its
reduplication, and for the disyllable verbs, the formation is follow ABAB
pattern (Wang, Yihua, 1996). For example,
. ?????,??????(Please wait for me, I am coming immediately.)
. ????????????????(Is that magazine good? Can you introduce it to me?)
Following the Chinese grammar rule, only actionverbscanbe
reduplicated because action verb can be continued and be replaced again and
again (Wang, 1996). However, some verbs cannot be reduplicated such as
?,?,?, ?,?,? (Zhan, 1992).

Secondly, using particles is another way to make the tone of requester
softer. There are many particles in Chinese language such as: ?,?,?,?,so
on. These particles express different tone of speech and different function
when they are placed in different position in sentence (Zhan, 1992).

Particles “?and ?” will be scoped when they play an important role for
making the tone of speech more softening. Therefore, the requester is used?
after a vocative with the purpose of softening the speech (e.g. ???,??? ???
? ????- Lily, you see my pen on the table, don’t you?). Apart from particle
?, there is the modal particle? which is often placed at the end of
imperative sentences in order to make a request or to give a command,
advice to hear the sound softer (e.g. ??????,??????!- Can you bring a dish
of fried peanut, and two bottles of beer, please!)
Thirdly, the structure formation “verb+ ??” is also used in imperative
sentences to imitate the voice of requester. Its role indicates a tentative
action (Zhan, 1992). For example,
. ?????!( Can you come out for a little while?) (Zhan, 1992)
. ???????!(You should go to sleep a while! )
In conclusion, to compare Chinese and English languages in making
polite request in soften the tone of speech, Chinese people most use verb
reduplicated, particles “?” “?”, “verb+ ??” ; while in English, people use
“kind of”, “sort of”, “…if you can” or ” could you mind…” instead of
Chinese strategies (Zhan, 1992). Besides different from some strategies
grammar, making a politeness request in English and Chinese is also
involved in culture. Because of cross-linguistic and cross -cultural
differences; therefore, English and Chinese have different in addressing
terms at starting request. Addressees in English according to the “title of
gender/ professional + surname” for strangers such as: Mr. (for adult
males) Banki, Mrs. (for married women) Arrol, Miss (for unmarried women)
2009).Additionally, English people are often addressed their names rather
their social title in close relationship. Conversely, in Chinese people
like to addressed “surnames + title or occupation” to show respect in
formal or informal occasions, such as: ???,???,???,???, ???…(Wu,
zhongwei, 2003). Moreover, Chinese people use family term to addressee
strangers or people elder than speakers. For instance, children call to
adults who they meet at first time with “??-aunty” or “??/??-uncle”, to old
schoolmates/colleagues, they use term “?/?+ name” (e.g. ??, ? ?), or
kinship term in “??/??” (Kane, 2006). Additionally, Chinese people also use
the honorific word “?-you” to show their respect to addressee, whereas in
English do not have this form.

After all, in classroom, at restaurant and at home are three different
situations examples that are discussing to demonstrate the using of
strategies to make politeness requests.

In classroom: (Wu zhongwen, 2003)
Chinese English
???:????? Mary: Excuse-me, Mr. Zhang,is this your dictionary?
Mr. Zhang: Yes, it’s mine.

Mary: What do you think of this dictionary?
Mr. Zhang: It’s very good and very useful.

Mary: May I use it for a moment?
Mr. Zhang: Of course.

In this situation, the Chinese speaker gives his deference to his
teacher by using the honorific form “?”. By starting the conversation, he
addresses the occupation of listener and then keeps using the conventional
polite expression “??” to ask a question. Moreover, he uses the optatives
verb “?” in negative and the “verb+ ??” for asking the permission using the
teacher’s dictionary. As well as in Chinese, Mary also use “Excuse-me” as
the conventional polite expression to start communicating. She use social
title “Mr.” to address Zhang teacher; and by asking a permission borrowing
a dictionary, she use interrogative sentence with modal verb “may”.

At home: (Huang Zhengcheng, 1996)
??:?????,? ?????”????”??
David: Dad, I ‘m going to post office to send a letter. Do you want to buy
Chen: Please give me some stamps.

David: How many do you want?
Chen: Five.

Lili: David, could you buy for me some envelopes?
David: How many do you want?
Lili: Ten. Please, can you get me a copy of China Pictorial as well?
David: O.K
For this situation, the speaker speak to his family members to tell them
where he going. He shows his respect to his father by using honorific form
“”?”, while in English, the speaker just address “you”. The father reply by
using imperative sentence to demand his wants. In Chinese, the elder people
or high status, or the close relationship has more power; therefore they
often command to the youth or powerless people via imperative sentences,
such as” ???????”. However, English people useindirectformvia
interrogative sentences tends for more polite like “Please, can you get me
a copy of China Pictorial as well?”
At restaurant: (Wu zhongwei, 2003)
??1: ???, ???!
???: ??, ?????
??1: ?? ????.

???: ????,?????
?? 2: ?????
Customer 1: waiter!
Waiter: Yes, sir! Are you ready to order?
Customer 1: I’d like a bottle of beer.

Waiter: Excuse-me, Madam, what do you want to drink.

Customer 2: I’ll have a cup of coffee.

Waiter: And you?
Customer 3: A glass of coke, please. Thank you.

Waiter: O.K. please wait a while, your order will be ready in a minute.

Customer 1: Can I pay the bill, please?
The difference between Chinese and English in this situation is using
addresses. The service boy uses “??, ??, ???” to address the elderly people
and children; whereas in English way the waiter uses social status “sir,
madam” for respect the customer. To reply polite the asking of waiter’s
order, customers add conventional polite expression “please” or “I’d like/
I’ll have”. In other words, Chinese customers use verbs “?, ?” to suggest
their requests. Besides some verbs, Chinese people also use “?”, the
particle “?”, “???”, reduplicated verb “???” to give an order. Because of
influenced of Chinese culture, customers have more power, so they give a
command through the imperative sentence “??!” without the conventional
polite expression.

To sum up, the goal is to compare different expression of Chinese and
English languages in order to have polite requests or orders to addressee.

After researching and comparing two languages, even though English and
Chinese request can be used with interrogative and imperative sentences,
but there are many strategies of politeness in the Chinese language because
Chinese are affected in Chinese culture and grammar. Chinese people apply
direct request form in the small size of face-threatening act, while
English speakers use indirect form in either small or big of face
threatening act. Although Chinese and English have some different way to
express the politeness in making request, but both two languages have one
purpose that is softening the tone of speech between requesters and
addressees by keeping a proper distance, since politeness is an important
role in the smoothly and efficiently communication.

Reference List:
Brown, P. & S, Levinson. (1978). Politeness: Some Universals in Language
Usage. Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press.

House, J. & Kasper, G. (1981). Politeness Markets in English and German in
Routine. The Hague: Mouton de Gruyter.

Huang, Z. C. (1996). Chinese for today, book 1 2nd ed. HongKong: the
Commercial Press Ltd.

Kane, D. (2006). The Chinese Language: Its History and Current Usage.

Singapore: Tuttle

Lu, Y. (2009). Cultural Differences of Politeness in English and Chinese.

Asian Social Science
56 154-1156.

Leech, G.;Cruickshank, B. & Ivanic, R. (2001). An A-Z of English Grammar &

Malaysia: Longman.

Wang, Y. (1996). Practical Chinese Reader Companion. United States of
America: Cheng &
Tsui Company.

Zhan, K. (1992). The Strategies of Politeness in the Chinese Language.


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