Journal of Language and Linguistics
Volume 1 Number 2 2002
ISSN 1475 - 8989
This study is both descriptive and explanatory. It is divided into four Sub-studies. Its overall purpose is to prove that question-answer adjacency pairs in the delayed conversation of email are truer for western than oriental linguistic phenomenon even when subjects are asked to write in English as a foreign language (EFL). Sub-study I is a qualitative study of a recorded conversation between two Taiwanese, Sub-study II a quantitative study on Czech and Taiwanese replies to a "call for e-pal." Quantitative Sub-study III investigates the reasons for breaking the question-answer adjacency pairs by open questions and Sub-study IV by multiple-choice questionnaires.
Sub-study I, a face-to-face conversation, finds the avoidance of answering questions by saying "not bad" and the "unfair play" in Chinese conversation. Sub-study II finds Czech students play more fairly by answering more questions than Taiwanese to (1) below; Taiwanese responses are full of affective language (a term used by Holmes  to include the speech acts of apology, compliments, greetings, and others showing warmth among interactants), while Czech responses more referential (information-based, to use Holmes' term). Role-playing in Sub-study III shows that Taiwanese avoid questions more intentionally than unintentionally. Sub-study IV summarizes the reasons for not answering the questions to (1) as: (a) Taiwanese are careless readers or writers (70.19%-86.54%), which is unintentional, (b) a question asked out of politeness can be neglected (11.54%-18.27%) and (c) answers to personal questions could/should be avoided (1.92%-11.54%).
In spring 1999, I got a call for an e-pal, (1). Chih-Hao Gu volunteered to be her e-pal, writing (2) sent to Maria. (1) will be used for Sub-studies II, III and IV, while (2) Sub-studies III and IV.
Dear Taiwan e-pal,
My name is Maria Agustina. I am a nine years old girl. My
birthday is on May 25th. When is your birthday?
Dear Maria Agustina,
My name is Chih-Hao Gu. You can call me Chih-Hao. And I am a 19 years old boy. I live in Taipei, But at the moment, I live in school dormitory because I study in National Chung-Hsing University at Taichung. I major in Applied Mathematics. In our course, we also learn computer science and how to Design computer program. Those are interest.
In this time, I plan to design a homepage of our mathematical Department, So I must read many books as I can in order to expend my Information. Maybe you can see my homepage in the Internet after several Days. Another plan I want to achieve is to learn the instrument, guitar.
Well, I have some questions that I want to ask you.
Maria, only nine years old, belongs to one type of Argentine interactant, having the notion of "fair play" in giving and taking answers: she asks three questions and giving her own answers to these three questions; i.e. she offers counteranswers in the context of her questions. Chih-Hao's reply is coherent in itself. However, when analyzing inter-emailingly, we find that he did not answer any of Maria's questions.
2. Emailing and face-to-face conversation
Emailing is defined as delayed conversation, much like each conversant speaking and asking several questions in turn. When a speaker asks more than one question, the other might remember the first questions and omit the latter or vice versa. Face-to-face interactants are less likely to forget questions because one speaker has stopped talking to wait for an answer after s/he poses a question; they alternate in a shorter interval of seconds. In email communication, the pause might be minutes, hours, or even days until the other side replies.
In daily face-to-face conversation, there are repetitions within a speaker-turn and involving more than one speaker. By the repeating elements in the conversational discourse, the speaker draws the listener's attention to key themes or show strong agreement (Coates 1995: 44-46). In the written email, it is less likely to find both kinds of repetitions because of the nature of written discourse: being able to be read again and again. In daily conversations, two speakers may talk at the same time; however, in emailing conversation, especially between two prospective friends, this seldom, if ever, happens.
3. Question-answer adjacency pairs and cross-cultural communication
Questions are an important means of generating talk (Holmes 1995: 39). Pamela Fishman (1983: 94) notes that 'questions are interactively powerful devices because they demand a next utterance.' Women use more questions than men to try to get their partners to talk to them (Fishman 1978, 1983). Without checking Taiwan-Chinese conversational routines, question-answer adjacency pairs in close conversational sequence discovered by western linguists, such as those aforementioned, Levinson (1983: 303-370) and Schegloff & Sacks (1973), seem obvious. Following A's question, B should/will respond because the question has a strong commanding power of an answer (Fishman 1983: 94). After reading the above-cited works, I paid more attention to Taiwan-Chinese interactions as a participant observer and found many people avoiding answering questions; they talk about something else instead. In some circumstances, this kind of phenomenon constitutes "refusing" to answer (Liao 1994; Sifianou 1997: 5). Under other circumstances, I simply doubt its validity -- e.g. (2) answered none of Maria's questions in (1). Sifianou (1997: 64-65) divides silence into two categories: mandatory and communicative. The latter might be a way of preventing disagreement or may indicate conflict ('eloquent silence'). Chih-Hao's silence on the three queries seemed unrelated to disagreement or conflict. This might reflect Chinese carelessness in reading and/or listening, which alternatively may derive from their fundamental or unconscious concept about the nature of such questions in homogeneous Chinese society.
Chang (1992) found that some Taiwan-Chinese university students did not answer e-pals' questions. Taiwan-Chinese students are generally moved by the fact that American e-pals always read their email carefully and answer all their questions, even when they sometimes do not (Liao 2000a). By contrast, they felt Taiwanese were not so careful in reading letters and did not care if they answered questions. If an e-pal replies to their email, whether related or unrelated to their previous letter, they are happy.
4. Emailing politeness rules and "fair play"
(2) follows (1), no doubt a sequential-adjacent email chain. In (5) below, we find Q and A take turns in sequential talk too, in which, being new friends, they did not talk simultaneously. Davis and Brewer (1997) are right to say that electronic discourse is writing that very often reads as if it were being spoken -- that is, as if the sender were talking. In (2), the writer says, "My name is Chih-Hao Gu. You can call me Chih-Hao ," which shows the characteristics of talking.
The fair play in daily face-to-face conversation and the email
through this paper is operationally defined as the fairness in
giving and taking questions and answers as what Maria did in (1).
Mary is interested in the three aspects of her prospective e-pal
and she divulges her answers to them beforehand. It works in two
aspects: first, before you ask a personal or impersonal question,
reveal your own answer to the question first (i.e. offer counteranswer)
and second when you want the other side to answer your questions,
you need to answer his/her questions too. In the emailing practice
for my students to improve their EFL writing and reading, I tell
them that they are allowed to ask any questions but need to play
fair to offer their own answers first. Taiwan-Chinese - and very
likely Chinese in Hong Kong, Mainland China, Singapore, etc.-
normally lack such a concept in face-to-face and/or delayed conversation--email.
Liao (1999) analyzed the email of a Taiwanese university student
to find that he does not answer his e-pal's questions, but asks
two questions in each correspondence; to his questions for the
e-pal, he also does not offer his own answers. He has no idea
of fair play at all. However, his Australian e-pal always answers
For my students, I propose that a model e-pal should follow five politeness rules, which include (Rule I) if s/he wants to ask personal questions, s/he needs to provide her/his own counteranswers in the context and (Rule II) s/he needs to answer all the questions asked by the e-pal. The politeness rules were not produced prescriptively; they have been formed gradually.
First, the formation of Rule I. In the fall semester of 1996, I set the rule as "Don't ask personal questions." I could only think of this rule due to my EFL learning experience, recalling that my English teacher in the first year of junior high school told us not to ask foreigners personal questions, including age, marital status, how much they earn each month, etc. I passed the knowledge to my students.
Later my students indicated that they were only interested in these personal issues. If they were not allowed to ask, they felt that they were silenced. As a Taiwanese, I understand that in the homogeneous Taiwanese society, these personal questions are among the first ones when meeting a new friend. I did not want to silence Chinese EFL learners, as well as Vietnamese ones (Sam 1999). The feeling of privacy invasion by the Oriental people reported by the Western people stems from the fact that Chinese or Oriental people ask a lot of personal questions without revealing their counteranswers.
As an intercultural researcher, I have frequent contact with native American English speakers and have found that they initiate personal information while expecting me to do the same. When I do not do the same, they ask me questions to which they have already given their counteranswers. Therefore, I change the rule of "Don't ask certain personal questions" to
Rule I': Provide your counteranswers first if you want to ask personal questions.
Later on, I changed it again to become Rule I.
Rule I: Provide your counteranswers to any questions you ask in an email.
Rule I is easier to remember. It helps students to write more contents in an email message. International e-pals will learn more about Taiwan and their Taiwanese friends.
EFL teaching is a kind of education as well. Education and training in intercultural communication play an important role in changing our behavior and personal growth (Hsia 1999). I set Rule I for changing unpleasant behavior to pleasant. Unlike Davis (1998), I do not want to inhibit my students from asking personal questions; I believe it better to ask them to play fair by revealing themselves in the same aspects.
Since 1996, when my students began to contact international e-pals, they have made me wonder whether the Anglo-Americans are better in keeping the question-answer adjacency pairs than people of any other ethnicity. From (1) and (2), we find that Maria gave her counteranswers to the three questions she asked: (a) when is your birthday, (b) who are your family members, and (c) have you got a pet. However, Chih-Hao did not answer any of Maria's questions. Chih-Hao's email contents were influenced by his communicative competence in the homogeneous Chinese society. When Anglo-Americans keep question-answer adjacency pairs well and the Argentine Maria offers counteranswers to her own questions, this study takes it for granted that westerns play the conversation play more fairly than Chinese. In Section 6.2, readers will find Czechs doing likewise in email.
At the end of the first semester of practicing emailing, I read the emails of my students and their international e-pals in chronological order to find that my students often, if not usually, did not answer their e-pals' questions. I felt embarrassed and thought if I were the international e-pal, I would be disappointed and frustrated by the silence. Therefore, I produced Email Politeness Rule II: Answer all questions asked by the e-pal.
Finally from the spring semester of 1999 on, I have proposed that a model e-pal should follow the five principles of politeness in interaction: (Rule I) if s/he wants to ask any questions, s/he needs to provide her/his counteranswers in context; (Rule II) s/he needs to answer all the questions asked by the e-pal; (Rule III) s/he should talk about what was mentioned in the e-pal's message if s/he had not covered it in previous email messages; (Rule IV) s/he must talk about some new topics to facilitate the e-pal's reply; and (Rule V) s/he needs to salute properly. Rule I is good for the one who initiates the 'call for e-pal'. Rules II through V are useful for later replies, not for the introductory letter. From the second letter on, the five principles are all useful.
For this paper, I will mainly discuss Rule II.
For Rule I, it seems that not only Taiwanese but Oriental people in general have difficulty in practicing it, such that Davis (1998) warned Japanese students not to ask some personal questions as in (3) and it is fine to ask questions in (4). However, Chinese (or Oriental) people do not really divide questions into personal and impersonal ones. It is difficult to ask them to remember well that the questions in (3) are forbidden:
How old are you?
Do you have a boyfriend?
Are you married?
How much do you earn each month?
How many children do you have?
Why don't you have a child?
The questions in (3) are similar to what my EFL teacher warned us not to ask in junior high school, as aforementioned. How can we tell them to remember that it is fine to ask personal questions like (4)?
What do you do?
How do you like your job?
How do you like Taiwan?
It is better to change the rule of "Don't ask a certain kind of personal question" into "If you want to ask personal questions, reveal your own answer in the context." For face-to-face conversation, I change the rule to "Reveal yourself in whatever aspect you want to know about your international friends and see if they will reveal themselves in more or less the same aspect to the same degree, too." If they do not, then you ask.
The five interactive emailing rules were partly derived from Tannen (1990), who proposes that one's topics of conversation sequence are one of the following: (a) the same as the interlocutor's; (b) answering questions; and (c) asking questions based on what the interlocutor said. Liao (1999) pointed out that Chinese are especially used to doing (c): asking questions based on what the interlocutor said. The five rules might be easy for native English speakers. Without checking their validity with native Mandarin/Taiwanese speakers, we might say, "Yes, the aforementioned five rules are ordinary conversational rules."
The proposal of the politeness rules in emailing sequence is based on the presupposition that linguistic competence does not automatically lead to pragmatic or communicative competence, nor does it guarantee the appropriateness of language use in real contexts (Canal and Swain 1980; Canal 1983; Shih 1987). In email communication, it is understood that sometimes interactants answer the first question and forget the later ones. The recipient might repeat the questions which the e-pal did not answer.
Referring to (1) and (2), we find that Chih-Hao did not talk on the same topics as Maria. Taiwanese may neglect the questions asked by the e-pal; however, they frequently ask personal questions, which may not be based on what the e-pals have said, but on what they are interested in and on their intuition as a Chinese talking in homogeneous Chinese society. Chih-Hao's email brings to mind the tragicomedy Waiting for Godot, in which Estragon and Vladimir are mostly involved in incoherent conversation. The play is generally categorized as absurd. However, when viewed from the standpoint of daily Taiwanese conversation, it is realistic.
Sifianou (1997: 64-65) divides silence into two categories: mandatory and communicative. Communicative silence might be a way of preventing disagreement and conflict or it may, on the contrary, indicate that there is conflict. This is called 'eloquent silence'. Chih-Hao in (2) did not answer Maria's questions. Obviously, his silence on the three questions seemed not related to disagreement or conflict. This phenomenon reflects the careless Chinese attitude in reading letters or listening to speech.
In summary, email politeness, for me, means writing to make the international e-pal feel good. In other words, Lakoff's (1973) politeness rule of "making the hearer feel good" is also among my first considerations. Many of Grice's (1975) cooperative conversational principles (CP) and maxims seem to be useful too. In other words, they are the integration of the politeness rules and Grice's CP maxims in email politeness.
5. Cross-cultural communication, affective and referential language
Emailing of Czech and Taiwanese students stands for a western and an oriental mode of communication, respectively, because the Czech Republic is in Europe which is supposed to be a western nation and Taiwan in Asia, an oriental society. The finding of Western linguists, such as Fishman's (1978, 1983) and Sacks, Schegloff & Jefferson (1974) that a question has strong commanding power over an answer is truer with the Czechs than the Taiwanese.
Inter-email text analysis of Czech students' email speech acts can verify the aforementioned claim, while Taiwanese give priority to affective language showing interpersonal warmth. Inter-ethnic comparison offers more striking contrasts than the diachronic comparison of three Taiwanese groups of 14-, 16- and 18-year-olds. At least 15% of Taiwanese think that avoiding answering questions to the "call for an e-pal" is due to their speculation that the caller asks questions for politeness, not for information; a question for the sake of politeness can be neglected.
In my previous study, I found that Argentines, Americans and Germans answer more e-pals' questions than Taiwan-Chinese (Liao 2000a). This study will show that Czechs and Taiwanese are also significantly different in that the former answer more questions than the latter to (1). For both Czechs and Taiwanese, English is a foreign language. EFL discourse--rather than syntax or phonology, for example--is particularly influenced by differences between cultures (Fine 1988: 2; Kasper & Blum-Kulka 1993). Argentines, Czechs and Taiwanese wrote differently partly because they have different concepts of what is appropriate to speak in their own culture.
Women's language is more affective and men's more referential (Holmes 1982, 1990). The referential function of language is to convey information, facts or content (for example: A: What time is it? B: Almost seven o'clock). The affective function of language expresses feelings and reflects social relationships (Holmes 1995: 3). Apologies, compliments and curses belong to affective language. Women are more polite than men, complimenting others and apologizing more often (p. 2). In this paper readers will find that Taiwanese email contains more affective language than Czechs'.
6. The Study
Four Sub-studies are involved in this study. The first part deals with face-to-face conversation, the second compares three age groups of Taiwanese and a group of Czech email replies to (1), salutation changed to Dear Czech e-pal for the Czechs. The third tries to understand the Chinese mentality by asking undergraduates and graduates to play the role of Chih-Hao in (2) and explain why they did not answer Maria's questions, and the fourth investigate the same mentality by multiple-choice questionnaires (MCQ). Rose (1994) and Rose & Ono (1995) propose that MCQ has its advantage. This study supports it because in Sub-study III, I do not find the answer that questions asked out of politeness can be neglected while Sub-study IV reveals that some Taiwanese do think so.
6.1 Sub-study I: Conversation Analysis
|(5)||Q1:||What is your job?|
|A1:||I'm a janitor for this high building.|
|Q2:||Oh, a janitor of the building. How long have you been on the job?|
|A2:||Only two months.|
|Q3:||Oh, only two months. Is it a hard job?|
|Q4:||It looks that you are also a student.|
|A4:||I'm a freshman.|
|Q5:||There is a renter entering the building.|
|A5:||A resident is entering.|
|Q6:||There are a lot of people coming in and out of the building.|
|A6:||Because there are a lot of residents here.|
|Q7:||It looks that you are still a student.|
|A7:||I'm still a freshman.|
|Q8:||Oh, a freshman. Really. In what school do you study?|
|Q9:||Feng Chia. Then, you must call me Upgrader. I'm a senior now. Why did you get the job as a janitor here?|
|A9:||Because it is a rather easy job, and I can study at the same time.|
|Q10:||Oh, you can study at the same time too. Are there dubious people coming in and out of the building?|
|A10:||Not so bad.|
|Q11:||Are there some dangers or unpredictable elements in the job, for example, some dubious people? How do you handle that?|
|A11:||Because all residents must have the passcard, not so bad.|
|Q12:||Are there some people who are deliberately bothering?|
|A12:||So far, no such people.|
|Q13:||Oh, so. So. You are a freshman, and you work part-time here in the evening?|
|A13:||Yes, I work part-time here in the evening.|
|Q14:||Is this a hard job?|
|A14:||Sometimes I feel tired. But if I simply work and study, it's not so bad.|
|Q15:||What is the working time, from what o'clock to what o'clock?|
|A15:||From 12 midnight to 8 in the morning.|
|Q16:||From 12 midnight to 8 in the morning. Are you in the day school or the evening school?|
|Q17:||It's good to be in the evening school. Else if you are in the day school....|
|A17:||I won't be able to work part-time here. I would be sleeping in the day school all the time.|
|Q18:||Yes, only sleeping in the class. Where are you from?|
|Q21:||I'm from Kaohsiung.|
|A21:||Rather far away.|
|Q22:||Yes, I've been in Feng Chia for four years. Next month, I will graduate.|
|Q23:||Indeed time flies. You will soon graduate too. You must study hard, so you won't be kicked out of school.|
|A23:||Don't you want to take the exam for entering a graduate school?|
(5) is the English translation of a recorded Mandarin conversation with a new friend--includes 23 turns of Q and A, both males. Q took initiative to meet a new friend to fulfill an assignment of the Language & Society course, whereas A was approached, forming a mode of Taiwanese face-to-face conversation in making new friends: they generally follow the pattern of asking questions, not revealing themselves in expecting the other to do the same (Tannen 1990). If one does not ask, the other does not say things about him/herself; when one asks, the other does not necessarily answer. Taiwanese wait to be asked. Many questions are personal. To protect themselves from hurt, they develop ways of avoiding replies to questions. For example, A3 avoided answering Q3 by saying 'Not bad,' which Q understood as avoiding telling the true feelings (Tannen  indicated that males avoided revealing their true feelings more often than females). Q re-asked the question in Q14. He felt that A10 also evades the question in Q10 and repeated the question in Q11 immediately.
Strategies of avoidance in face-to-face conversation and email show both similarities and differences. In the former, they may ask the interlocutor to answer his/her own question first, play some word games, pretend not to understand/hear, etc. In the latter, they readily neglect questions. In (5), we mostly find Q asking and A answering. Finally in A23, he asked a question. We lack any examples of word plays, pretending not to understand/hear, etc., since A was aware that Q was recording and thought he needed to show maximum co-operation once he promised to be recorded.
(5) reveals that in homogeneous Taiwanese society, the fair play of revealing one's own answer in the context of questions (Q21 being an exception), like Maria in (1), is not part of the Chinese mentality of administering interpersonal conversation. Since the 1960s, I have heard English teachers warn students not to ask foreigners personal questions about their age, girl/boyfriends, marital status, income, etc. Thirty-plus years later, it seems many have formed the habit of avoiding these specific questions. However, most of Q's questions in (5) are still personal. EFL teachers in Taiwan seem to form a special estranged community, in which they neither ask personal questions nor take initiative to reveal themselves and expect the interactant to reciprocate. Many EFL teachers know not to ask personal questions, yet have not learned they could reveal themselves and expect another to do so. Perhaps some have tried revealing themselves, but their Taiwanese interlocutors do not habitually reveal themselves to play fair.
From (5), we find (a) Taiwanese follow the question-answer sequence in knowing more about a new friend and (b) Taiwanese lack the mindset of fair play while Maria in (1) has. In Chinese conversation, it is usually the case that one Chinese is always being asked and thus giving his/her answers and the other is always asking questions and taking answers. Many times of conversation exchange later, the one who is always giving information may feel interested in the other and begin to ask a lot of questions in return, like A23, who begins to ask a question after 22 turns. If s/he is still not interested in the interlocutor who is always taking information, s/he may never ask questions.
Liao (2000a) proposed a politeness rule: Taiwanese offer counteranswers prior to all their questions in face-to-face conversation with a foreigner and in the context in email communication to be fair in giving and taking answers. From (1) and based on my experience with western people, the fair play in conversation and email is presupposed to be more western than eastern. When we talk about Oriental versus Occidental mores of conversation pertaining to the fairness and/or unfairness in giving and taking answers, Taiwanese undergraduates and graduates usually prefer the western to the eastern mode. This principle is worth promoting even in homogeneous Taiwanese society. In thirty years, Taiwanese might know more about fair play in conversation because of new knowledge EFL teachers have and their efforts to promote the idea.
6.2 Sub-study II: Comparing four groups replying (1)
In June 2000, I collected Taiwanese 14-year-olds' replies to (1), in September, 16-year-olds', 18-year-olds', and Czech 16-to-18-year-olds'. Taiwanese replies were recorded in both Mandarin and English because language might be a factor in the ratio of questions answered. They are fluent in Mandarin and could take more care of the contents in their reply. In English, they might struggle with grammar, subject-predicate agreement, parts of speech, diction, spelling, etc. and so pay less heed to contents and information. In other words, I assumed they might answer more questions in Mandarin and fewer in English. I do not understand Czech, making it irrelevant to ask Czechs to reply in their native language. For each group, it took 15-25 minutes to finish writing a reply to Maria.
Thirty-five 14-year-olds (20 girls and 15 boys), 51 16-year-olds (all boys), and 57 18-year-olds (18 males and 39 females), responded in English. Fifty 14-year-olds (25 boys and 25 girls), 46 16-year-olds (all males) and 76 18-year-olds (33 boys and 43 girls) responded in Mandarin; for them Maria's letter was translated into Mandarin with slight change in contents (English version as [1']; the underlined parts are what is different from ).
Dear E-pal in Taiwan,
How are you? My name is Maria Agustina. I am a nine years old girl. My birthday is on May 25th. When is your birthday?
I live in Argentina and I am learning Chinese. I like
Spanish. My English is not good. I have got three sisters, a
father and a mother. And you? Have you got a pet? I have got
a dog. My favourite sport is swimming.
In most group comparisons, I used the Chi-square test. However, when the expected frequency of some cells was less than five, a Chi-square analysis was not appropriate. Therefore, a Fisher's Exact test was performed.
Their replies to all of Maria's questions in ascending order of frequencies are the 16-, 14-, 18-year-olds, and the Czech group (Table 2). The phenomenon reflects more of the 16-year-olds' linguistic behavior as a group culture than English ability because Maria's questions are easy. Table 1 reveals significant difference between 16- and 18-year-olds (c2 for the three age groups = 7.755 [p=0.021], for 14- and 18- year-olds = 0.469 [p=0.494], and for 14- and 16-year-olds = 3.335 [p=0.068]).
|14-year-olds||39 (78%)||11 (22%)||50|
|16-year-olds||28 (60.87%)||18 (39.13%)||46|
|18-year-olds||63 (82.46%)||13 (17.11%)||76|
|Total||130 (75.58%)||42 (24.42%)||172|
|14-year-olds||25 (71.43%)||10 (28.57%)||35|
|16-year-olds||29 (56.86%0||22 (43.14%)||51|
|18-year-olds||47 (82.46%)||10 (17.54%)||57|
|Czech Students||61 (88.41%)||8 (11.57%)||69|
|Total||162 (76.42%)||50 (23.58%)||143|
Tables 1 and 2 demonstrate that 16-year-olds ranked lowest in keeping question-answer adjacency pairs in the emailing sequence chain. Taiwanese university students and Czech students were not significantly different (Table 2). When they wrote in Mandarin or English, the Taiwanese showed no significant difference in ratio of answered questions: [78% and 71.43%], [60.87% and 56.86%] and [82.46% and 82.46%]. Taiwanese, especially 14- and 16-year-olds, did not answer so many questions as Czech secondary school students because of what they deemed different priorities in making friends. Chinese first priority in making friends is to extend hospitality expressions: e.g., "Nice to get your email" or "I'm sure we can become good friends." Concerning this kind of affective language, comparison of three age groups was not so markedly different as that of Czechs and Taiwanese, to be analyzed soon.
|G1: 14-year-olds (Mandarin)||2 (4%)||48 (96%)||50|
|G2: 14-year-olds (English)||1 (2.86%)||34 (97.14%)||35|
|G3: Czech||4 (5.8%)||65 (94.2%)||69|
|G4: 16-year-olds (Mandarin)||6 (13.04%)||40 (86.96%)||46|
|G5: 16-year-olds (English)||5 (9.8%)||46 (90.2%)||51|
|G6: 18-year-olds (Mandarin)||7 (9.21%)||69 (90.79%)||76|
|G7: 18-year-olds (English)||5 (8.77%)||52 (91.23%)||57|
|Total||30 (7.81%)||354 (92.19%)||384|
Table 3 details answers from the seven different groups to Q1 (When is your birthday?). Czechs are not significantly different from any of the six Taiwanese groups in answering; 92.19% answered this question. Also, gender-based differences for Groups 1, 2, 3, 6 and 7 were not significant.
|G1: 14-year-olds (Mandarin)||7 (14%)||43 (86%)||50|
|G2: 14-year-olds (English)||2 (5.71%)||33 (94.29%)||35|
|G3: Czech||2 (2.9%)||67 (97.1%)||69|
|G4: 16-year-olds (Mandarin)||14 (30.43%)||32 (69.57%)||46|
|G5: 16-year-olds (English)||5 (9.8%)||46 (90.2%)||51|
|G6: 18-year-olds (Mandarin)||7 (9.21%)||69 (90.79%)||76|
|G7: 18-year-olds (English)||5 (8.77%)||52 (91.23%)||57|
|Total||42 (10.94%)||342 (89.06%)||384|
Table 4 proves the 16-year-old Mandarin group differs significantly from others in low willingness to name family members (69.57%). No gender-based differences surfaced in Groups 1, 2, 3, 6 and 7 concerning answering Q2 (What are your family members?).
Table 5 shows the 16-year-old English group is significantly different from the other six: they offered the fewest answers to 'Do you have a pet?' (54.9%). The other six groups are not significantly different from each other, with no gender-based significant differences. Though Czechs (see Tables 3-5) did not significantly differ from the 14- or 18-year-old groups, their answering ratio was higher than the others.
|G1: 14-year-olds (Mandarin)||10 (20%)||40 (80%)||50|
|G2: 14-year-olds (English)||8 (22.86%)||27 (77.14%)||35|
|G3: Czech||5 (7.25%)||64 (92.75%)||69|
|G4: 16-year-olds (Mandarin)||10 (21.74%)||36 (78.26%)||46|
|G5: 16-year-olds (English)||23 (45.1%)||28 (54.9%)||51|
|G6: 18-year-olds (Mandarin)||8 (10.53%)||68 (89.47%)||76|
|G7: 18-year-olds (English)||9 (15.79%)||46 (84.21%)||57|
|Total||73 (19.01%)||311 (80.99%)||384|
|Q1||4 (5.8%)||65 (94.2%)||69|
|Q2||2 (2.9%)||67 (97.1%)||69|
|Q3||2 (2.9%)||67 (97.1%)||69|
|Average||2.7 (3.91%)||66.3 (96.09%)||69|
Tables 3, 4 and 5 illustrate that the later questions are put in the email context, the less likely they will be answered; Q1, Q2 and Q3 were answered by 354 (92.19%), 342 (89.06%), and 311 (80.99%) people, respectively. However, Table 6 shows that Czechs did not forget to answer Q3 at a significantly higher rate than they did Q1 or Q2. Table 6.1 does show that Taiwanese answered Q2 at a marginally lower rate than they did Q1 and answered Q3 significantly less often than Q1 and Q2. This study does not refute Liao's (1999) mention of a self-taught e-pal in Taiwan finding that when he asked two questions in each email, he was sure to obtain the answer.
|Q1||26 (8.25%)||289 (91.75%)||315|
|Q2||40 (12.7%)||275 (87.3%)||315|
|Q3||68 (12.7%)||247 (78.41%)||315|
|Average||44.7 (14.18%)||270.3 (85.82%)||315|
Reading through the 384 replies to Maria's letter, (1) above,
I found that Taiwanese give priority to affective language showing
interpersonal warmth while Czechs referential information of answering
Maria's questions. Inter-ethnic comparison offers more striking
contrasts than the diachronic comparison of three Taiwanese groups
of 14-, 16- and 18-year-olds. A common mindset of Taiwanese in
avoiding answering questions to the same "call for an e-pal"
might be that the caller asks questions for politeness, not for
information. A question asked out of politeness can be neglected;
even if one answers such questions, the question-raiser will not
remember the answers.
(6) is a Czech female's reply to (1), the underlining part being the affective language. Hers is the only one containing 12 words of affective language. All the other 68 Czech letters contain only referential language except for the expression of 'Bye!'.
Thank you for your letter. I'm female. My name is Alena Rychvalska, and I live in Chomutov (Czech Republic). My birthday is on June 7th. I'm 17 years old. I study English too. I like Spanish too because I was in Spain. I like this country and this language. I have one sister, one brother, mother and father. Yes, I have a pet. I have a dog. Her name is Dita, she's so sweet
I wish you a great time.
(7) - (11) were written by Taiwanese, all underlining parts showing the affective language. Taiwanese emails are replete with affective language; (7) was written by a 14-year-old girl (Miao-hua, according to the Chinese way of counting age, would be 15; every Chinese adds one year at Lunar New Year). (8) and (9) were written by 16-year-old males, (10) and (11) by 18-year-old females; we find 16- and 18-year-old Taiwanese using more affective language than 14-year-olds.
Dear Maria, I am a 15 years old girl. My birthday is on August
I live in Taichung. I have a brother and a sister. I don't have a pet. I enjoy readying novels and comic books. I enjoy listening to music. Sorry, my English is poor. Bye!
I feel surprise to get your email. My name is Windle. I'm seventeen years old. I was born on November 4 in Taiwan.
We have the same interest. So I think we will become good friends, even we never look at each other. How do you feel?
I'm very grate to know you!
My name is Nini, which was given by my good friend. And my Chinese name is Tsai Hsiu-hui. I have two brothers. Of course, I also have a father and mother.
Swimming is a good sport, but I don't like take any exercise because I hate sun. So I rather watch basketball games on TV than play it outside! It's very pity. I have any pets even if I like dogs, however, I scare of cats. I'm very very afraid of cats.
My English is poor so you can teach me English and I can teach you Chinese. See you next time and keep in touch, bye!
Dear e-pal in Argentina,
My name is Betty. I am a nineteen years old girl. My birthday is on Oct 25th.
I live in Taiwan. I can speak a little English. I have two brothers, a father and a mother. They treat me very well. I love them very much. And I have a grandmother and an uncle. They are very kind. I have got two dogs. The two dogs are very small and cute. My favourite sport is job. Finally I hope that I can continue to write letters to you and we can become good friends to each other.
PS. Please remember me to your family members.
Comparing (6) with (7) - (11), we find that the Taiwanese indeed use much more affective language than the Czechs. All 384 letters were scrutinized for the use of affective language (see Table 7).
|G1: 14-year-olds (Mandarin)||36 (72%)||14 (28%)||50|
|G2: 14-year-olds (English)||25 (71.43%)||10 (28.57%)||35|
|G3: Czech||68 (98.55%)||1 (1.45%)||69|
|G4: 16-year-olds (Mandarin)||15 (32.61%)||31 (67.39%)||46|
|G5: 16-year-olds (English)||23 (45.1%)||28 (54.9%)||51|
|G6: 18-year-olds (Mandarin)||25 (32.89%)||51 (67.11%)||76|
|G7: 18-year-olds (English)||22 (38.6%)||35 (61.4%)||57|
|Total||214 (55.73%)||170 (44.27%)||384|
Table 7, together with Chi-square tests to different groups,
shows Czech students used significantly less affective language.
The 14-year-olds used significantly more affective language than
the Czech group, less than the 16- and 18-year-old groups. This
reflects their relative EFL abilities; in Taiwan, the 14-, 16-
and 18-year-olds have formally learned English for two, four and
six years, respectively.
Holmes (1995) indicated that in New Zealand, females use more affective language than males. Here, we check the gender-based differences to find that Taiwanese females also use more affective language than males. Tables 7.1 and 7.2 show 14-year-old females using significantly more affective language than males in both Mandarin and English ([44% to 12%] and [45% to 6.67%], respectively; Chi-square = 6.349, p=0.012 for Table 7.1; p-value of the Fisher's Exact Test being 0.022 for Table 7.2). Table 7.3 shows the same tendency in the 18-year-old group in writing Mandarin email (76.74% to 54.55%; Chi-square = 4.168, p=0.041). However, 18-year-old females and males were not significantly different when they wrote English email.
|Females||14 (56%)||11 (44%)||25|
|Males||22 (88%)||3 (12%)||25|
|Total||36 (72%)||14 (28%)||50|
|Females||11 (55%)||9 (45%)||20|
|Males||14 (93.33%)||1 (6.67%)||15|
|Total||25 (71.43%)||10 (28.57%)||35|
|Females||10 (23.26%)||33 (76.74%)||43|
|Males||15 (45.45%)||18 (54.55%)||33|
|Total||25 (32.89%)||51 (67.11%)||76|
To summarize Sub-study II, the greatest contrast of emailing speech act between Czechs and Taiwanese is that Taiwanese put the first priority in the affective language of showing warmth toward the e-pal, while Czechs pay more attention to the referential language of answering questions and offer information about themselves, similar to what Maria did. Taiwanese obviously answer more questions asked earlier than later, while Czechs do not show the tendency. Scollon and Scollon's observation (1995) that people in the western society pay more attention to the former message / information and Chinese people pay more attention to the later seems not supported here. Two possible reasons are offered: (a) The nature of the three questions might play some role to Chinese. (b) Maria's letter is not long enough for the Czechs to remember the former questions and forget the later.
6.3 Sub-study III: Analyzing the mentality of Chih-Hao
Silence to questions is highly "marked." Many international e-pals complain about Chinese silence to questions (Chang 1992; Liao 1999, 2000a) and they want to know the reason. Sub-study II has shown that it is a cultural phenomenon, not idiosyncratic individuality. However, former literatures do not provide satisfactory answers to it. I asked 70 graduate and undergraduate students to play the role of Chih-Hao Gu and analyze their mind.
In December 2000, the 70 undergraduate and graduate subjects (15 males and 55 females) from two classes at PU (Providence University) and one class at FCU (Feng Chia University) were given (1) and (2) and asked to play the role of Chih-Hao Gu to answer why they did not answer Q1 (When is your birthday?), Q2 (Who are your family members?) and Q3 (Do you have a pet?). They were also asked why they asked "How is your feeling when you get the email?" and "What foods do you like best?", to which Chih-Hao had not offered counteranswers. All subjects, as well as Chih-Hao, attended my English courses, had e-pals from Australia, Canada, Czech Republic or the United States to practice EFL writing. They were asked to follow the five email politeness rules as aforementioned. However, I do not always check obedience throughout the semester (September to January). I translated the subjects' Mandarin answers into English.
To Q1, their answers were like (a) In Taiwan, we usually do not ask a stranger, "When is your birthday?" If we were asked, we would avoid answering it. We are afraid that by knowing our birthday, the interactant might hurt us; (b) I wanted to delay answering until we were more familiar with each other; (c) I am older than she, so that I did not want to tell her; (d) to tell her my age is enough; (e) the question is too personal; (f) the birthday is not important for me compared with other holidays; (g) I did not like her to know my birthday; (h) I do not like to bother her to buy me a birthday present; (i) I want to keep her in suspense, and she would be more interested in me; (j) I did not think the question important; (k) some people's birthday is also the password of their credit cards, etc. They do not like to tell people. (l) Older generations in my family often warn not to tell others our birthday; (m) it is a bad and boring question; it seems not important to Maria; (n) I was wrong not to tell her; (o) I forgot to answer; (p) I thought I had answered her; (q) When I replied, I did not read Maria's letter once again; (r) I was thinking of something else to tell her; (s) I forgot to review the seven email politeness rules. The first 13 reasons, (a) - (m), imply that they intentionally kept silent. The last six reasons, (n) - (s), demonstrate that they were careless readers and/or writers.
All their answers show that Chinese do not have the fair play guideline in daily conversation or emailing. After Maria revealed her birthday, they still did not want to divulge theirs. It also reflects the Chinese mentality. Indeed, Taiwanese do not think birthdays as important as nationwide festivals (Chinese New Year, Tomb Sweeping Day, Moon Festival, Dragon Boat Festival, et al). One Chinese superstition is that someone can curse you by using your name and birthday. Taiwanese university students know these superstitions and still practice caution because the general Chinese mindset is, "I would rather believe in any superstition. Once the misfortune happens, it is irreparable." Chinese like to ask personal question of "How old are you?"; however, they seldom ask when your birthday is. When two acquaintances find that they were born in the same year, they ask a further question of "In what month were you born?" If they happen to be born in the same year and month, they continue comparing the birth-date mainly to know who is senior and who is junior. I had the experience of interviewing an Australian family, in which three members have birthdays on three successive days. They hold the birthday parties on three consecutive weekends, beginning with the first person whose birthday comes first. For most Chinese, they would either hold no party at all or have the three parties at the same time and place for the reasons of (a) saving money, (b) being more hilarious, and (c) the Chinese birthday being less important than festivals involving all of society.
Their answers to Q2 included: (a) It is impolite to ask about an interactant's family members. I am afraid the interactant might have the intention of stealing or robbing. She wants to know my family members to do something bad to me and/or my family members (seemingly a poor reason because Maria is in Argentina, and he does not give her his dwelling address); (b) I am not close to my family members; (c) I feel uncomfortable telling others about my family members; it is not my habit; (d) I intentionally avoid answering it; (e) I live in an extended family with too many members to describe; (f) she makes friends with me, not my family members; she might not mind my silence; (g) I want to keep this secret until we are more familiar with each other; (h) the question is too personal; (i) It is a boring question; (j) I admit I was wrong; (k) Sorry, forgot again; and (l) I did not read her email carefully. The first nine, (a) - (i), suggest intentional silence; the last three unintentional.
Again, the answers to Q2 show that Chinese culture does not pattern its people to play fair that 'since you have told me your family members, I should and will'. I do not ask people how many people there are in their family or who they are. After being friends for many years, through inference from conversations between my friends and me, I know things about their families. Like Davis' finding with Japanese students (1998), Chinese also ask the personal questions of (3) about salary, marriage, boyfriend and girlfriend more often than family members. Married couples, but not single students, are often asked, "How many children do you have?" and/or "Why don't you have children?" et al.
Their answers to Q3 included (a) I want to have a dog, but I live in an apartment and it is hard to take care of one; (b) I did not have a pet; (c) I had had a lovely cat, but it died. I am very sad and do not want to mention it; (d) It is a personal question. (e) Sorry, forgot again; (f) I did not read the email carefully. The first four reasons, (a) - (d), are intentional silence and the last two, (e) - (f), unintentional.
In comparing the different degrees of personal questions, Q3 should be the least personal, followed by Q2 and Q1. When a personal question is supposed to be the least personal, there should be more answering and more unintentional avoidance. However, Table 6.1 shows that Taiwanese did not avoid answering Q1 and Q2 more than they did to Q3. This shows the order of question presentation is more important than degree of being personal. Sub-study IV will also prove its truth. Tables 8-10 are their motivations for avoiding answering, which show the reverse of my expectation.
The results in Table 8 are not the same as those of my previous study, in which I asked 19 writers to analyze their own mind to find that 89% unintentionally forgot to answer and/or did not read (1) carefully (Liao 2000b: 243). When this group of 70 students played the role of Chih-Hao, they thought they avoided answering more intentionally than unintentionally.
|Males Q1||9 (60%)||6 (40%)||15|
|Males Q2||10 (67%)||5 (33%)||15|
|Males Q3||11 (73%)||4 (27%)||15|
|Females Q1||33 (60%)||22 (40%)||55|
|Females Q2||42 (76%)||13 (24%)||55|
|Females Q3||44 (80%)||11 (20%)||55|
|Average||49.7 (70.95%)||20.3 (29.05%)||70|
Their reasons for asking "How is your feeling when you get the email?" are (a) I wanted to know how Maria felt about receiving the email; (b) I hoped she would be happy to get the email; (c) I wanted to know if she was as happy as I was in receiving email; (d) she was so young; (e) I asked the questions for politeness sake; (f) It is a Chinese habit in writing letters; (g) I was afraid that she might not understand my poor English. In (5), the conversation in Sub-study I, we also find Q3 and Q14 contain the same kind of question.
Their reasons for asking "What food do you like best?" are (a) Chinese culture is that we greet people by asking, "Have you eaten?" (b) I wanted to introduce famous foods in Taiwan to her, so I asked what kind of foods she liked best first; (c) my English is poor, I do not know many words to write; (d) foods between Taiwan and Argentina are so different; (e) I could not find other better questions; (f) I like snacks in Taiwan; (g) eating is important for me; (h) I study food and nutrition and am especially interested in this aspect; (i) I happened to think of the question; (j) it is simply my habit, perhaps a greeting as a Chinese; (k) To lengthen my email. Their responses to the two questions which they do not offer answers still reflect that they do not have the concept of fair play in their mind.
In this Sub-study, we do not find the explanations that Maria asked Q1 - Q3 for politeness sake and a question asked out of politeness can be neglected; even if I answered the 'politeness questions,' Maria would not remember. However, for "How is your feeling when you get the email" we obtain the answer of "I ask the question for politeness sake." My intuition as a Taiwanese shouts, "Generally, Chinese believed Maria asked the three questions out of politeness, not really wanting to know the answers. If they gave an answer, Maria would not remember." I remember only my family members' birthdays. Some of my friends tell me theirs, but I never remember.
6.4 Sub-study IV: Analyzing Chih-Hao's Mentality by Multiple-Choice Questionnaires
After collecting answers to Sub-study III, I checked with the 70 subjects about asking questions out of politeness and Maria will not remember; many agreed but none of them mentioned it in the role-playing answers. Therefore, in March 2001, I did Sub-study IV by letting an independent group of 104 FCU students (61 females and 43 males) read (1) and (2) above and play the role of Chih-Hao Gu to check the reasons why they did not answer Q1-Q3 by multiple-choice questionnaires. The choices for each question are (a) Maria asked the question out of politeness; even if I told her, she would not remember. (b) It is a personal question based on the reasons of (as shown in Sub-study III for intentional reasons), I did not want to answer it. (c) I forgot to answer because of the reasons of (as shown in Sub-study III for intentional motivations). (d) others, what: _____. In the responses, very few answered (d), which were later categorized into (a), (b), or (c) in analysis because they just used different diction for the same ideas.
|(a) For Politeness||19 (18.27%)||17 (16.35%)||12 (11.54%)|
|(b) Intentional||12 (11.54%)||11 (10.58%)||2 (1.92%)|
|(c) Unintentional||73 (70.19%)||76 (73.08%)||90 (86.54%)|
There are no gender-based differences in reason choices. Table 9 tabulates that the later a question is asked the more likely it is forgotten, 70.19%, 73.08% and 86.54%, respectively, forgot answering Q1-Q3. The finding about forgetting answering here is consistent with that in Tables 6.1, where 8.25%, 12.7% and 21.59%, respectively, did not answer Q1-Q3. It seems that the 70 subjects for Sub-study III overanalyzed their intentional motivation of non-answering. Table 12 even shows that Reason (a), Maria asked the question out of politeness and a question of such type can be neglected, is more important a motivation than Reason (b), it is a personal question.
7. Discussion and Conclusion
The study challenges Sacks, Schegloff, & Jefferson (1974) and Fishman (1983), who based findings on westerners' conversation to conclude that a question has strong commanding power of an answer. It is truer for Czechs than for Taiwanese. Oriental people ask a lot of questions out of politeness, which for them can be neglected; however, western people may take the "politeness questions" as questions of information. In other words, westerners and easterners have different contextual assumptions toward conversations between e-pals.
In cross-cultural emailing, Taiwanese mainly think of getting international e-pals for practicing EFL writing and reading. To get a friend, the first priority is to say affective words such as, "Nice to meet you," apology for poor English ( and ), or admiration of Maria's good English at age nine (8), instead of answering the e-pals' questions. Women's emails are especially full of affective language.
All Czech and Taiwanese students are older than Maria. No Czech mentioned this, but 37 (11.75%; 22 [17.32%] of a total of 127 females and 15 [7.98%] of a total of 188 males) out of 315 Taiwan-Chinese did; significantly more women than men mentioned it [Chi-square value = 6.384; p-value = 0.012]). When Chinese are aware that they are older than the interlocutor, they ask him/her to call him/her Elder Brother/Sister. In (5), we find the comparison of age-related thing in Q9 (" you must call me Upgrader"). They may call her Little Sister, a basic speech act sequence for Taiwanese after one knows the age of the other. S/he compares ages and age-related school year and asks the other to call him/her Elder/Younger Brother/Sister. Eleven (3.49%; six females and five males; no gender-based significant difference) of the 315 subjects addressed Maria as Younger Sister to show solidarity.
Czechs answered more of Q1-Q3 than Taiwan-Chinese. However, the main differences are that fewer Czechs used affective language; none said explicitly that they were older than Maria or addressed her as Younger Sister. Though only 11.75% and 3.49% of Chinese explicitly said they were older than Maria and called her Younger Sister, wanting her to call him/her Big Brother/Sister, we need to know when we do meet such relatively idiosyncratic Chinese, the possibility value is 100%.
Contrary to what Westerners think about Chinese or Oriental people liking to ask personal questions (e.g. Davis 1998), Sub-study III implies that Taiwanese have a strong sense of personal versus impersonal questions. The finding in Sub-study IV is closer to the results in Liao (1999). Chinese like to ask personal questions in order to know their interactants. At the same time, they avoid answering questions by evaluating the social distance and other factors. In (2), Chih-Hao's question (How is your feeling when you get the email?) is similar to Q3 (Is it a hard job?) in (3). For many Chinese, they are questions of politeness; A knew that and avoided answering. International interlocutors may not know and answer while feeling awkward.
Cross-cultural understanding requires those more aware of differences in mode and thinking style to adjust to those who are less aware. Hence I propose five emailing politeness rules for Taiwanese to please international interlocutors. The rules might also be good for Westerners.
On the pedagogical side, it is suggested that EFL teachers in Oriental societies not to teach that questions in (3) are forbidden; however, questions in (4) are fine. It is better to teach oriental people -- at least Japanese, Chinese and Vietnamese -- to play fair in conversation and email in two respects: (1) if you want to ask any questions, offer your own answers to the questions first in conversation (in emailing, offer your own answers in the context of the same email) and (2) answer all e-pal's questions.
1) My sincere thanks go to the three teachers, Ching-chu Chiu collecting Taiwan-Chinese 14-year-olds' replies, Carrie Chou 16-year-olds' responses and Vladrmir Vitvar who gleaned answers from Czech 16-to-18- year-olds.
2) Liao (2000c: 131) found that 16-year-olds are also fonder than people in kindergarten, elementary school, junior high school, university and at work of giving derogatory nicknames to peers.
3) Chi-square test for the four groups: chi-square = 17.960 (p=0.000) for the 14-, 16-, and 18-year-olds = 8.513 (p=0.014), for the 14- and 16-year-olds chi-square = 1.885 (p=0.170), and for the 18-year-olds and Czechs chi-square = 0.902 (p=0.342)
4) Chi-square = 24.565 (seven groups; DF=6; p-value = 0.000), 5.347 (six groups excluding G4; DF=5; p=0.375).
5) Chi-square = 33.273 (seven groups; DF=6; p-value = 0.000), 8.893 (six groups excluding G5; DF=5; p-value = 0.113).
6) Chi-square for Q1-Q3 = 23.861 (DF =2; p-value = 0.000), for Q1 and Q2 =3.317 (DF=1; p-value = 0.069; chi-aquare for Q2 and Q3 = 8.761; DF=1; p-value =0.003)
7) Chi-square = 95.291 (seven groups; DF=6; p-value =0.000), 32.518 (six groups excluding G3; DF=5; p-value=0.000), 2.428 (for Groups 4-7; DF=3; p=0.488), 0.0003 (for G1 and G2; DF=1; p-value = 0.954), and 20.099 (for Groups 1-3; DF=2; p-value = 0.000)
About the Author
Dr Liao teaches Linguistics at Feng Chia University, Taichung, Taiwan.
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