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An american – vietnamese cross – cultural study of asking for permission in the workplace

VIETNAM NATIONAL UNIVERSITY, HANOI
UNIVERSITY OF LANGUAGES AND INTERNATIONAL STUDIES
FACULTY OF POST-GRADUATE STUDIES
************************

HOÀNG THỊ KIM THOA

AN AMERICAN –VIETNAMESE CROSS –CULTURAL STUDY OF
ASKING FOR PERMISSION IN THE WORKPLACE
(Nghiên cứu giao văn hóa Việt-Mỹ về cách thức xin phép nơi công sở)

M.A. MINOR PROGRAMME THESIS

Field:

English Linguistics

Code:

60220201


HANOI – 2016


VIETNAM NATIONAL UNIVERSITY, HANOI
UNIVERSITY OF LANGUAGES AND INTERNATIONAL STUDIES
FACULTY OF POST-GRADUATE STUDIES
************************

HOÀNG THỊ KIM THOA

AN AMERICAN –VIETNAMESE CROSS –CULTURAL STUDY OF
ASKING FOR PERMISSION IN THE WORKPLACE
(Nghiên cứu giao văn hóa Việt-Mỹ về cách thức xin phép nơi công sở)

M.A. MINOR PROGRAMME THESIS

Field: English Linguistics
Code: 60220201
Supervisor: Prof. NGUYỄN QUANG, Ph.D.

HANOI - 2016


DECLARATION
I certify that the work presented in this research report has been performed
and interpreted solely by myself. I confirm that this paper is submitted in fulfillment
of the requirement for the M.A. Degree and has not been submitted elsewhere in
any other form for the fulfillment of any other degree or qualification.

Hanoi, November 2016

Hoàng Thị Kim Thoa

i


ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
This M.A thesis would not have been possible to do without the invaluable
guidance, encouragement and support that I received from many people who I
would like to show my sincerest gratitude and appreciation.


First and foremost, I would like to offer my greatest and deepest thankfulness
and gratitude to Prof. Nguyen Quang, my supervisor, for his enthusiastic and
precious guideline and advice throughout the duration of my thesis. Without his
instruction and supervision, this thesis could not have reached the accomplishment.
Additionally, a very special thanks goes out to Mr Vu The Anh and Mrs Bui
Thi Yen who aided me to contact American and Vietnamese officers to ask for their
participation in my study. From the bottom of my heart, I must acknowledge some
American and Vietnamese officers for their energetic contribution in DCT and
MCQ.
Last but not least, I am also very grateful to my family and relatives
particularly my father, mother and sister who have always supported me and
supplied the best conditions for me to complete this thesis.

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ABSTRACT
This paper is carried out at endeavor of exploring the linguistic politeness strategies
utilized by the Vietnamese and the American people in asking for permission in the
workplace. From that, major similarities and differences between the two languages
in this regard are revealed.
On the basis of quantitative method, discourse completion task (DCT) is employed
to collect data from participants including thirty Vietnamese native speakers and
American ones who are currently working in the workplace. The result reveals that
the positive politeness strategy namely ―being conventionally indirect‖ is the most
common strategy used by American businesspeople while their Vietnamese
counterparts prefer ―being optimistic‖ & ―giving deference‖. Moreover, some
factors including ages, genders have great influence on the choice of politeness
strategy for Vietnamese clerks whereas no significant influence of those one are
made on the American counterpartners.

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TABLE OF CONTENTS
DECLARATION ..................................................................................................... i
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS ....................................................................................ii
ABSTRACT.......................................................................................................... iii
LIST OF ABBREVIATIONS ...............................................................................vii
LIST OF TABLES .............................................................................................. viii
CHAPTER I: INTRODUCTION ........................................................................... 1
1. Rationale of the study .......................................................................................... 1
2. Aim and objectives of the study .......................................................................... 2
2.1. Aim of the study............................................................................................................. 2
2.2. Objectives of the study ................................................................................................. 2
3. Scope of the study ................................................................................................ 2
4. Significance of the study ..................................................................................... 2
5. Research Methodology ........................................................................................ 2
5.1. Research Questions ....................................................................................................... 2
5.2. Research Approach ....................................................................................................... 3
5.3. Research Methods ......................................................................................................... 3
5.4. Data Analysis .................................................................................................................. 3
6. Design of the study .............................................................................................. 4
CHAPTER II: ......................................................................................................... 5
LITERATURE REVIEW & THEORETICAL BACKGROUND ......................... 5
1. Key concepts defined and discussed.................................................................... 5
1.1. Communication .............................................................................................................. 5
1.2. Cross-cultural communication ................................................................................... 5
1.3. Collectivism & Individualism .................................................................................... 6
1.4. Confucious value ........................................................................................................... 7
2. Speech acts ........................................................................................................... 8
2.1. What is speech act? ....................................................................................................... 8
2.2. Classification of speech act: ....................................................................................... 9

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2.3. Asking for permission as speech act ......................................................................11
3. Politeness and politeness strategies .................................................................. 12
3.1. Politeness .......................................................................................................................12
3.2. Politeness strategies ....................................................................................................12
3.3. Politeness strategies in asking for permission .....................................................14
4. Previous studies on asking for permission ........................................................ 15
CHAPTER III: RESEARCH METHODOLOGY ................................................ 17
1. Research questions ............................................................................................. 17
2. Research participants ......................................................................................... 17
3. Data collection instrument ................................................................................. 18
4. Data collection procedure .................................................................................. 19
5. Data analysis procedure ..................................................................................... 20
CHAPTER IV: FINDINGS AND DISCUSSION ................................................ 21
1. Introduction ........................................................................................................ 21
2. Findings and discussion .................................................................................... 21
2.1. What are the major similarities and differences in American and
Vietnamese perception of asking for permission in the workplace?......................21
2.1.1. With boss .................................................................................................. 21
2.1.1.1. American findings ............................................................................. 21
2.1.1.2. Vietnamese findings .......................................................................... 22
2.1.2. With colleagues ........................................................................................ 23
2.1.2.1. American findings ............................................................................. 23
2.1.2.2. Vietnamese findings .......................................................................... 24
2.2. How do the Vietnamese and Americans ask for permission in the
workplace? .............................................................................................................................24
2.2.1. In some unimportant events ..................................................................... 24
2.2.1.1. With colleagues ................................................................................. 24
2.2.1.1.1. Vietnamese findings ................................................................. 24
2.2.1.1.2. American findings .................................................................... 26

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2.2.1.2. With boss ........................................................................................... 28
2.2.1.2.1. Vietnamese findings ................................................................. 28
2.2.1.2.2. American findings .................................................................... 29
2.2.2. In some important events .......................................................................... 30
2.2.2.1. With colleagues ................................................................................. 30
2.2.2.1.1. Vietnamese findings ................................................................. 30
2.2.2.1.2. American findings .................................................................... 31
2.2.2.2. With boss ........................................................................................... 32
2.2.2.2.1. Vietnamese findings ................................................................. 32
2.2.2.2.2. American findings .................................................................... 33
2.3. What are the similarities and differences in the ways the Vietnamese and
American ask for permission in the workplace? .........................................................34
2.3.1. Similarities ................................................................................................... 34
2.3.2. Differences ................................................................................................... 35
2.3.2.1. Differences in asking colleagues for permission .........................................35
2.3.2.2. Differences in asking boss for permission .....................................................37
CHAPTER IV: CONCLUSION ........................................................................... 39
1.Summary of main findings ................................................................................. 39
2.Limitations .......................................................................................................... 40
3.Suggestions for further study .............................................................................. 40
REFERENCES ..................................................................................................... 41
APPENDIXES ....................................................................................................... I

vi


LIST OF ABBREVIATIONS
DCT: Discourse completion task
FTA: Face threatening act
H: Hearer
MCQ: Multiple choice questionnaire
NPS: Negative politeness strategy
PPS: Positive politeness strategy
S: Speaker

vii


LIST OF TABLES
Table IV.1: Americans‘ perception of asking boss for permission in the workplace
Table IV.2: Vietnameses‘ perception of asking boss for permission in the
workplace
Table IV.3. Americans‘ perception of asking colleagues for permission in the
workplace
Table IV.4. Vietnameses‘ perception of asking colleagues for permission in the
workplace
Table IV.5. Politeness strategies with colleagues in some unimportant events as
seen from Vietnamese respondents.
Table IV.6. Politeness strategies with colleagues in some unimportant events as
seen from American respondents.
Table IV.7. Politeness strategies with boss in some unimportant events as seen
from Vietnamese respondents.
Table IV.8. Politeness strategies with boss in some unimportant events as seen
from American respondents.
Table IV.9. Politeness strategies with colleagues in some important events as seen
from Vietnamese respondents.
Table IV.10. Politeness strategies with colleagues in some important events as seen
from American respondents.
Table IV.11. Politeness strategies with boss in some important events as seen from
Vietnamese respondents.
Table IV.12. Politeness strategies with boss in some important events as seen from
American respondents
Table IV.13. Vietnamese businesspeople versus their American counterparts in the
use of politeness strategies with colleagues in some unimportant and important
events
Table IV.14. Vietnamese businesspeople versus their American counterparts in the
use of politeness strategies with boss in some unimportant and important events.

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CHAPTER I: INTRODUCTION
1. Rationale of the study
Language plays an essential role in our life. We use language to inform people of
how we feel, what we desire, and understand the world around us. Communication
drives our lives. However, not only is language for communication but it is also for
cultural exchange among nations. To support this point of view, Durant (1997: 332)
claims that “to have a culture means to have communication and to have
communication means to have access to a language.‖ Language serves as an
expression of culture without being entirely synonymous with it. In most cases, a
language forms a basis for ethnic, regional, national or international identity.
According to Brown (1994:65), ―a language is a part of a culture and a culture is a
part of a language; the two are intricately interwoven so that one cannot separate
the two without losing the significance of either language or culture‖. Nguyen
Quang (1998:2) states that ―One can not master a language without profound
awareness of its cultural background and in both verbal and non-verbal
communication, culture makes itself strongly felt.‖
In addition, the fact is that many Vietnamese wish to learn a foreign language
towards a communicative end but are still largely concerned about grammar and
vocabulary. Consequently, although the utterances and expressions are well-formed,
they may experience culture shock when entering into actual cross-cultural
interactions. It can be easily realized that different languages and cultures have
different expressions as well as different realizations of speech acts by language
users. This results in a variety of research on cross-cultural study of communication
such as complementing, thanking, requesting, making a bargain, promising.
However, little attention has been put into asking for permission which is expected
to be where appropriate politeness is found, and as a result, the chance of
permission will increase.

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Therefore, a desire to have a further insight into major similarities and differences
in asking for permission by native speakers of Vietnamese and American has
inspired the researcher to develop a study entitled “A Vietnamese-American
cross-cultural study of asking for permission in the workplace‖.
2. Aim and objectives of the study
2.1. Aim of the study
The aim of this study is to find out major similarities and differences in the way the
Vietnamese and American ask for permission in the workplace.
2.2. Objectives of the study
* To analyze the ways the Vietnamese ask for permission in the workplace.
* To analyze the ways the American ask for permission in the workplace.
* To discuss major similarities and differences in the ways the Vietnamese and
American ask for permission in the workplace.
3. Scope of the study
To some extent, with playing an important role in interpersonal communication,
paralinguistic (speed, loudness, pitch, …) and extralinguistic (facial expression,
postures, gestures, proximity…) factors are beyond the scope of this study. The
study is limited within the verbal-nonvocal aspects of the speech act of asking for
permission in view of positive politeness & negative politeness.
4. Significance of the study
The thesis will contribute to the knowledge and understanding of how to ask for
permission in the workplace in two different cultures: Vietnam and America, thus,
avoidance of culture shock and communication breakdown for success in intercultural communication.
5. Research Methodology
5.1. Research Questions
The main purpose of the study is to answer the following questions:
- What are the major similarities and differences in American and Vietnamese
perception of asking for permission in the workplace?

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- How do the Vietnamese and American ask for permission in the workplace?
- What are the major similarities and differences in the ways the Vietnamese and
American ask for permission in the workplace in terms of politeness strategies?
5.2. Research Approach
To study how to ask for permission in the workplace in Vietnamese and American
cultures, a contrastive analysis is applied. Firstly, strategies of asking for permission
are collected in Vietnamese and American workplace from questionnaires.
Secondly, the collected data are classified in the light of positive politeness and
negative politeness.
The third step is to comparatively and contrastively analyze the collected data.
5.3. Research Methods
In order to reach the goal of this thesis, the research was conducted with combination
of several methods as follows:
 Descriptive method: this method is used to give a detailed explanation for the act
of asking for permission in American and Vietnamese workplace through
questionnaires.
 Analytic method: the analytic method points out some specific strategies of
asking for permission in the workplace in two different cultures through the
collected data.
 Contrastive method: this method is used in order to show the similarities and
differences in the ways of asking for permission in the workplace in Vietnamese
and American cultures.
 Inductive method: it helps researchers and readers to draw out the
generalizations from the findings.
Among them, the analytic and contrastive methods are the dominant ones which are
most frequently used in the thesis.
5.4. Data Analysis
The collected data will be analyzed according to the informants‘ status parameters
(age, gender) and participants‘ role relationships.

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The findings are compared and contrasted to find out major similarities and
differences in the act of asking for permission in the workplace in Vietnamese and
American cultures.
6. Design of the study
Chapter I: Introduction
This part includes the rationale, aims and objectives, scope, research questions,
significance as well as organization of the study.
Chapter II: Literature Review and Theoretical Background
This chapter reviews the previous studies related to the problem under investigation.
It provides the theoretical background including theory of culture, cross-culture,
culture shock, relation between language and culture; definition, classification of
speech acts, asking for permission as a speech act; basic knowledge of politeness
strategies.
Chapter III: Research Methodology
This chapter consists of the research methods, data collection.
Chapter IV: Findings & Discussions
This chapter concerns with the findings and discussion. It presents the ways of
asking for permission in the workplace and shows the differences and similarities of
the polite strategies in expressing the permission request in the workplace between
American and Vietnamese culture.
Chapter V: Conclusion
This chapter summarizes the major findings of the investigation, puts forward the
implications for learning and teaching, and points out the limitations of the study.
Some suggestions are also raised for further studies.

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CHAPTER II:
LITERATURE REVIEW & THEORETICAL BACKGROUND
1. Key concepts defined and discussed
1.1. Communication
Based on Oxford Advanced Learners‘ Dictionary, “Communication‖ means the
activity or process of expressing ideas and feelings or of giving people information.
With a view to deepening and broadening the definition, Hybels and Weaver (2008)
defined communication as any process in which people share information, ideas,
and feelings that involve not only the spoken and written words but also body
language, personal mannerism and style, the surrounding and things that add
meaning to a message. It can be easily realized that two above researchers
mentioned some different factors in the process of exchanging the information. In
order to generalize some above factors, Levine and Adelman (1993) confirmed that
communication is a process of sharing meaning through verbal and nonverbal
behavior. Not only is communication categorized into verbal and nonverbalcommunication but Nguyen Quang also made a detailed desciption about
intralanguage in verbal communication as well as pararlanguage and
extralanguage in non-verbal communication. To sum up, it can be understood that
there are some effective ways to share information, to express ideas, feelings in
communication as well as some different factors which contribute to a successful
communication.
1.2. Cross-cultural communication
According to Oxford Advanced Learners‘ Dictionary, cross-culture is defined as
ideas from two or more different countries or cultures. In Nguyen Quang‘s Lecture
Note, cross-culture is described as the interaction within some social groups, subcultures, ethnic cultures as well as some different cultures.
Based on the above definition, some scholars expanded their concerns for crossculture. When two strangers from different countries communicate so as to let

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others understand their culture, customs, religions, values, norms and beliefs, they
are doing the cross-cultural communication. According to Levine and Adelman
(1993), cross-cultural communication is communication (verbal and non-verbal)
between people from different cultures; communication that is influenced by
cultural values, attitudes and behavior; the influence of culture on people’s
reactions and responses to each other. A specific example is that Tina (originally
from Malaysia) has worked with a number of Fijians and sometimes she would
touch their curly hair and tell them how nice and soft it feels. However, some
Fijians feel very uncomfortable with her doing so because in their culture, you‘re
not supposed to touch people on the head—only the chief can do that. Through it, it
highlights cultural differences in both non-verbal communication and the social
codes of conduct. Sometimes, some misunderstandings in cross-cultural
communication can happen due to cultural differences. In general, it is essential to
build up common ground and profound knowledge of different cultures in order to
avoid unexpected misunderstadings.
1.3. Collectivism & Individualism
Individualism is defined as a situation in which people are concerned with
themselves and close family members only (Hofstede & Bond,1984). Similar to
Hofstede & Bond, Darwish and Huber (2003) confirmed that individualistic cultures
include those people who ―are concerned with themselves and family members
only‖. Concerned about people‘s characteristics in culture, Varner and Beamer
(2005) showed that individualistic cultures include those people who show many
individual characteristics. The individual‘s wishes, wants, and needs are the driving
force behind any action taken at work, home, and/or school. Individualists are
comfortable earning personal credit for successful projects as well as taking the
blame for failure to meet project goals. More clearly, Trampenaars (2011) best
describes individualism as societies that:
frequent use of ―I‖,
decision are made on the spot by representatives,

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people ideally achieve alone and assume personal responsibility,
vacations taken in pairs or even alone vs. group orientation.
On the other hand, collectivism is a situation where people feel they belong to larger
collectives that care for them in exchange for their loyalty, and in return those same
people remain loyal to the group (Hofstede & Bond, 1984). An important value in a
collectivist culture is that of saving ―face‖ (Varner & Beamer, 2005). Ting-Toomey
and Oetzel (2002) explain that face is associated with ―identity respect, disrespect,
dignity, honor, shame, guilt, status, and competence issues‖ (p. 145). Many
collectivist cultures will not deliver bad news or give criticism for fear of losing
face. An example of losing face is when an employee makes an error that loses
money for the company. The company loses face because the error is often
attributed not to the individual but to the group. More obviously, collectivism is
characterized by Trampanaars (2011) as follows:
frequent use of ―we‖
decisions referred back by the delegates to the organization
people ideally achieve objectives in groups and assume joint
responsibility
vacations are taken in organized groups of with extended family.
All things considered, the difference between individualism and collectivismcan be
expressed by the range of social ―concern‖, which refers to bonds and links with
others (Hui & Triamdis, 1986).
1.4. Confucious value
Confucianism is not a religion; instead it is a set of guidelines for proper behaviour,
and an ideology that underlies, pervades, and guides Chinese culture (Hofstede,
1991; Tu, 1998a; Yan & Sorenson, 2006).
The Confucian values form the core of the Chinese culture. They penetrate all levels
of social life, and also set standards for family, community and political behaviors.
Within the present study, Confucianism is defined as a philosophy which is the

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basic starting point for 53 every individual to arrive at the state of perfect morality
and is a teaching based on a moral code for human relations.
The fundamental principles of Confucianism are grounded in the observance of the
five virtues (also known as the ‗Five Constant Regulations‘) namely, Ren (love and
benevolence), Yi (righteousness), Li (propriety or rites), Zhi (wisdom) and Xin
(sincerity or trustworthiness) (Chan, Ko, & Yu, 2000; Lu, 1983; Tamney & Chiang,
2002; Yao, 2000).
2. Speech acts
2.1. What is speech act?
J. Austin (1962) is considered to be a pioneer in confirming the theory of speech
acts. According to him, a speech act is an act that a speaker performs when making
an utterance. A speech act, then, is described as ―in saying something, we DO
something.‖ For example, when someone says ―I am hungry‖, he or she can express
his hunger or ask something to eat. A speech act is part of a speech event. The
speech act performed by producing an utterance, consists of three related acts,
namely locutionary act, illocutionary act and perlocutionary act.


Locutionary act is the basic act of producing a meaningful linguistic

expression.The
locutionary act is performed with some purposes or functions in mind.
• Illocutionary act: is an act performed via the communicative force of an utterance.
In
engaging in locutionary acts we generally also perform illocutionary acts such as
informing, advising, offer, promise, etc. In uttering a sentence by virtue of
conversational force associated with it.
• Perlocutionary act is what we bring about or achieve by saying something, such
as convincing, persuading, deterring perlocutionary acts are performed only on the
assumption that the hearer will recognize the effect you intended.
Searle (1969) states that speaking a language is performing speech acts, acts such as
making statements, giving commands, asking questions, making promises and so

8


on; and more abstractly, acts such as referring and predicting; and secondly, that
these acts are in general made possible by and are performed in accordance with
certain rules for the use of linguistic elements. More obviously, Searle (1972: 136)
points out that the minimal unit of linguistic communication is the production of
speech acts, not the symbol or word or sentence.
In agreement with Searle, Levelt (1989) defines that an utterance with this
communicative intention is called a speech act; it is an intentional action performed
by means of an utterance.
The definition of speech acts was developed by some another American language
philosophers. Yule (1996:47) defines that ―in attempting to express themselves,
people do not only produce utterances containing grammatical structures and
words, they perform actions via those utterances.‖ According to him, actions
performed via utterances are generally called speech acts, and in English, are
commonly given more specific labels, such as apology, complaint, compliment,
invitation, promise or request.
For example, you work in a situation where a boss has a great deal of power, then
the boss says: ―You’re fired”. The utterance of the expression is more than just a
statement. The utterance can be used to perform the act of ending your employment.
Also, Yule points out another utterance: ―This tea is really cold!‖ On a wintry day,
the speaker makes a cup of tea and believes that it has been freshly made, takes a
sip and produces this utterance. It is likely to be interpreted as a complaint.
However, changing the circumstances to a really hot summer‘s day with the speaker
being given a glass of iced tea by the hearer, taking a sip and producing this
utterance, it is likely to be interpreted as praise. It can be confirmed that the same
utterance can be interpreted as two different kinds of speech act.
2.2. Classification of speech act:
Some different classification of speech acts can be presented by some different
linguistics and researchers.
Based on Austin (1962), there are five types of speech acts as follows:

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o Verdictives: typified by the giving of a verdict by a jury, umpire, arbitrator
such as acquit, grade, estimate, diagnose.
o Exercitives: which are the exercising of powers, rights or influence such as
appoint, order, advise, warn.
o Commisives: which commit the speaker to doing something, but also include
declarations or announcements of intention such as promise, guarantee, bet,
oppose.
o Behabitives: a miscellaneous groups concerned with attitudes and social
behaviors such as apologies, criticize, bless, challenge.
o Expositives: which clarify how utterances fit into ongoing discourse, or how
they are being used – argue, postulate, affirm, concede.
One of Austin‘s followers is Searle‘s, whose classification has become more
popular. Nguyen Hoa (2004:32) confirmed that the key point about Searle‘s system
is that he recognize ―constatives‖ as a kind of speech acts. Searle‘s system (1979)
includes six types of speech acts as follows:
o Commissive: a speech act that commits the speaker to doing something in
the future, such as a promise, or a threat.
 If you don‘t stop fighting, I‘ll call the police.
 I‘ll take you to the movies tomorrow.
o Directive: a speech act that has the function of getting the listener to do
something, such as a suggestion, a request, permission or a command.
 Please, sit down
 Why don‘t you close the window
o Declarative: a speech act which changes the state of affairs in the world
 I now pronounce you man and wife.
o Expressive: a speech act in which the speaker expresses feelings and
attitudes about something, such as an apology, a complaint, to thank
someone, to congratulate someone.
 The meal was delicious

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o Representative: a speech act which describes states or events in the word,
such as an assertion, a claim, a report.
 This is a German car
o Phatic act: a speech act whose function is to establish rapport between
people:


Nice to meet you

2.3. Asking for permission as speech act
In accordance with Oxford Advanced Learners‘ Dictionary, ―permission‖ means the
act of allowing somebody to do something, especially when this is done by
somebody in a position of authority; therefore, ―asking for permission‖ is defined as
an acting of requiring the others‘ allowance to do something performed through
utterances in interaction.
Based on Searle‘s classification of speech acts, asking for permission belongs to
directive speech act whose direction of fit is to make the world fit the word (Yule,
1996).
In the book ―Meaning and Expression” (1979:22), Searle points out that permission
has the syntax of directives. In addition to the emphasis on the simple meaning of
―giving permission‖- trying to get somebody to do something, he states that it
consists in removing antecedently existing restrictions on his doing it.
Consequently, ―permission‖ is considered to be illocutionary negation of a directive
with a negative propositional content and its logical form is ~(~p).
In agreement with Searle, Edda Weigand confirms that ―to permit‖ something
presupposes that something is forbidden which must not explicitly expressed but is
known to the community and the speaker asks for the ban to be lifted (2010:190). In
other words, the speech act of ―permitting‖ arises from the specific propositional
features of something forbidden.
With Brown and Levinson (1978), asking for permission is face-threatening speech
act and is risky for the speaker in losing his/ her face. In other words, such requests
are towards speaker rather than hearer as well as activate speaker not hearer.

11


However, it might be expected that asking for permission, since by definition they
occur between unequals, will tend to be less direct than requests for action (cited by
Shoshana Blum-Kulka and Elite Olshtain). According to the ethnographic study on
the language of requesting in Israel, requests for action is the most direct and asking
for permission is the most indirect, with requests for goods and for information
clustering in between the two extremes. (Blum-Kulka, Danet and Gerson, 1983).
3. Politeness and politeness strategies
3.1. Politeness
Hill et al (1986: 349) define politeness as “one of the constraints on human
interaction, whose purpose is to consider other’s feelings establish levels of mutual
comfort, and promote rapport‖. Leech (1983: 104) interprets politeness as forms of
behavior aimed at creating and maintaining harmonious interactions. According to
Nguyen Quang (2005: 185), “Politeness refers to any communicative act (verbal
and/ or non-verbal) which is intentionally and appropriately meant to make others
feel better‖.
3.2. Politeness strategies
Positive politeness strategies
Based on Brown and Levinson‘s theory (1987), positive politeness “is oriented
toward the positive face of H, the positive self-image that he claims for himself. It
expresses solidarity and attend to the H’s positive face wants.” In other words, it
confirms that the relationship is friendly and expresses group reciprocity. With Yule
(1996), he highlights positive politeness as a face saving act concerned with the
person‘s positive face. It will tend to show solidarity, emphasize that both speakers
want the same thing and have a common goal. Through the analysis of cross-culture
communication, Nguyen Quang (2003) categorises into some sub-types as follows:
Strategy 1: Notice/attend to H (interest, wants, needs…)
Strategy 2: Exaggerate (interest, approval, sympathy with H)
Strategy 3: Intensify interest to H
Strategy 4: Use in-group identity markers.

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Strategy 5: Seek agreement.
Strategy 6: Avoid disagreement.
Strategy 7: Presuppose, raise, assert common ground.
Strategy 8: Joke.
Strategy 9: Assert or presuppose knowledge of and concern for H’s want.
Strategy 10: Offer, promise.
Strategy 11: Be optimistic.
Strategy 12: Include both S and H in the activity.
Strategy 13: Give or ask for reasons.
Strategy 14: Assert reciprocal exchange.
Strategy 15: Give gifts to H (goods, sympathy, understanding, cooperation).
Strategy 16: Condole, encourage.
Strategy 17: Ask personal questions.
Negative politeness strategies
Brown and Levinson (1987) states that negative politeness is oriented toward
partially satisfying (redressing) H’s negative face, his basic want to maintain
claims of territory and self- determination. When negative politeness is used, the
speech strategies emphasize the deference or respect for the hearer.

Negative

politeness is defined as a face saving act oriented to a person’s negative face which
tends to show deference, emphasizes the importance of the other’s time or concerns
and may include an apology for the imposition by Yule (1996). In agreement with
two above researchers, Nguyen Quang (2003) emphasizes that the speaker does not
want to impigne on the addressee‘s privacy, thus, maintain the sense of distance
between them through using the negative politeness. With the basis of negative
politeness, he gives more detailed description of 11 negative politeness strategies as
follows:
Strategy 1: Be conventionally indirect.
Strategy 2: Question, hedge.
Strategy 3: Be pessimistic

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Strategy 4: Minimizing the imposition
Strategy 5: Give deference.
Strategy 6: Apologize.
Strategy 7: Impersonalize S and H. Avoid the pronoun I and You
Strategy 8: State the FTA as an instance of a general rule
Strategy 9: Nominalize to distance the actor and add formality.
Strategy 10: Go on record as incurring a debt or as not indebting H
Strategy 11: Avoid asking personal questions.
However, in a real utterance, some ovelaps and borderlines between positive
politeness and negative politeness can happen. Some people sometimes use both of
them in a sentence as follows:
Kevin, could I possibly use your computer for a short while? (Kevin: in-group
identity marker [Positive politeness] + for a short while: minimise the imposition
[Negative politeness])
3.3. Politeness strategies in asking for permission
As usual, some modal verbs such as: can, could, may, might can be used in asking
for permission. In addition, ―please”,“would you mind”,“could/ can you mind‖ can
be considered tobe markers for asking for permission. Each specific circumstance
will be equipvalent to some suitable asking for permission markers. Therefore, this
section aims to categorize politeness strategies used to ask for permission in the
workplace. Based on the politeness theory of Nguyen Quang (2003), some
politeness strategies for asking for permission are classified into:
a. Positive politeness strategies (PPS)
-

Be optimistic
Ex: Let me borow your pen for a while.
Bạn cho tớ mượn cái bút nhé.

-

Give or ask for reasons
Ex: I forgot my pen. Can I use yours for the day?

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Tôi bỏ quên cái bút. Ông/bà/anh/chị/bạn có thể cho tôi mượn bút được
không?
b. Negative politeness strategies (NPS)
-

Be conventionally indirect
Ex: Can I have a couple weeks off for vacation?
Tôi có thể xin phép nghỉ 1 đôi tuần cho kì nghỉ?

-

Give deference
Ex: Do you mind exchange our shift today?
Anh/chị/bạn vui lòng đổi ca cho mình hôm nay được không?

-

Minimize the imposition
Ex: I just want to ask you if I can swap shifts with you.
Anh ơi, cho em mượn cái bút một chút được không?

4. Previous studies on asking for permission
The field of asking for permission is quite common in daily life, therefore, it can be
widely seen in some researches. In the light of cross-cultural pragmatics, Mr Tran
Ba Tien (2004) attempts to investigate the similarities and differences in the way
Vietnamese and Canadian English speakers ask for permission. Its focal points are
politeness strategies which result is that Vietnamese speakers combine positive and
negative politeness (in other words, it is called overlap strategies) much more than
Canadian English counterparts, from twice to three times as much.
Jimmy Dwi Purnawan (2007) do a study of asking for permission produced by
Javanese and Chinese couples in Surabaya, which analyses language function in
asking for permission expressions. Through the analysis, the author finds out that
the predominant is not seeking permission and the outstanding function is inquiring
about approval/ disapproval function so as to ask for permission from their spouses
with having more authority.
Similar to Jimmy, a contrastive analysis about asking and giving permission in
Vietnamese and English is carried out by Ms Le Thi Thu Le (2010) with focusing
on the similarities and differences in syntactic and semantic formulas. The findings

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