Dina R. Yoshimi and Haidan Wang, Editors, 2007 Read paginated .pdf version
Read paginated .pdf version
"Love you" doesn't mean "I love you": Just a way to say goodbye
Jin-huei Enya Dai
A common component of conducting a leave-taking event among American family members over the telephone involves a social ritual to close conversation. Such a ritual includes an optional "love you" which utilizes the close proximity, in terms of family relationship, to politely close a conversation over the phone. "Love you" in this context, as a consequence, doesn't mean "I love you", but prompts a way to bid farewell. In Mandarin Chinese, the parallel function of prompting leave-taking is also manifested in 下次有空再聊 xiàcì yǒukòng zàiliáo (Chat with you next time.). I approach the speech event of leave-taking in Mandarin Chinese by exploring its pragmatic imperative (Yoshimi, 2005), nature, and social ritual pattern. I follow Kinnison's (2000) classification built upon linguistic routines used by American and Chinese guests at leave-taking after dinner. Additionally, I further point out elements and strategies involved in a leave-taking event employed in different situations in Mandarin Chinese, e.g., telephone conversation, street encounters, and peer-gathering. Moreover, I construct a pragmatics-focused pedagogical model that embodies forms of attention getters, apology forms, time-relevant excuses, concern for the host/interlocutor's welfare, and repairs. Application of this model to the instruction of leave-taking in a CFL classroom will be provided to demonstrate the relation of language use and pragmatic function.
Epilogue: The words don't mean IT!
In an episode of the U.S. syndicated show Friends, Emily says "Thank you" in response to Ross's heartfelt expressive "I love you". The humor comes in with the mismatch of the speech acts employed by Ross and Emily (shown in Figure 1). The face value of "I love you" is taken as a compliment instead of an expressive. To respond to a compliment, the utterance "Thank you" is utilized as if the expressive "I love you" were taken as a favor by Emily. The punch line "Thank you" is perceived as funny because it postulates the juxtaposition of an expressive taken as a compliment and it also creates an unexpected pragmatic routine in the conversation. This mismatch is presented in Figure 1, which provides an outline of where the humor kicks in when words just don't seem to mean what they mean.
Another example is 谢谢 xièxiè (thanks) in Chinese. U.S. learners of Chinese may know 谢谢 xièxiè (thanks) is used to express gratitude in Chinese, but may not know that it is traditionally never used in response to a compliment (Walker, 2001), although the younger generation in China and Taiwan has begun to use it in response to a compliment. A diagrammatic representation of the expanded usage of 谢谢 xièxiè (thanks) is outlined in Figure 2.
The frequent expression of "love you" at the end of a telephone call is another example. The utterance is used between family members or couples, and evokes the solidarity between the caller and the recipient before ending a phone conversation. This utterance confirms the relationship between the two parties and functions to end the phone call. It serves as a reminder of solidarity from elders to youngsters or a response from youngsters to their elders before conducting a leave-taking event at the end of a phone call. The frequency of this utterance is so high that it became a punch line in a famous pizza chain commercial. The pizza clerk enthusiastically answers a caller's questions and takes the caller's order. The social awkwardness of the clerk's reply is conveyed in "I love you, too" in response to an unheard but implied utterance "love you" by the caller before s/he ends the phone call. Pragmatic awkwardness is embodied in the response infused with eye gaze and facial expression, in which it as a whole evokes a humorous effect. Does "love you" really mean "I love you" or is it just a way to say goodbye before exiting a leave-taking event on the phone?
The nature of leave-taking in Mandarin Chinese and English
Prior research (Goffman, 1971; Knapp, Hart, Friedrich, & Shulman, 1973; Laver 1981) has defined a leave-taking event as a phatic communion that smoothes the transition from a state of interaction to a state of separateness. A cooperative leave-taking event requires mitigation and consolidation. Thus, the two major functions which the leave-taking event performs are to signal inaccessibility, and to signal support for the relationship. Per Knapp et al. (1973, p. 195), a normative paradigm of leave-taking in English is initiated by an utterance "yeah", buffered by "well", then depending on the (in)formality of the relationship of the interlocutors, different speech acts are employed. For example, appreciation: "I really want to thank you," or internal legitimizer: "I guess I'm finished," or external legitimizer: "I can see you're busy, so I'll leave" are employed in a formal relationship. In an informal relationship, welfare concern like "now take it easy" or continuance "I'll see ya later" are employed (Knapp et al., 1973).
The studies of House (1982), Kinnison (2000), and Knapp et al. (1973) posit that various speech acts are employed in a parting event. They are: announcing, giving an excuse, consolidation, invitation, offering, appreciating/complimenting, apology, showing gratitude, recommendation/advising, benediction, suggesting future activities, no-bother-you suggestion, closing. Among these speech acts, the no-bother-you suggestion is only found in a leave-taking event in Mandarin Chinese (Kinnison, 2000). Kinnison further compares the different speech acts employed in Mandarin Chinese and English (see Table 1).
Table 1. Speech acts employed in leave-taking in Chinese and English (Kinnison, 2000: 50)
Wang (2005, pp. 61-63) identifies three categories of leave-taking in Mandarin Chinese: temporary leave-taking, occasional leave-taking, and one-time leave-taking. She further divides these three categories into finer sub-categories depending on the social status and relation between interlocutors, and the involvement of little or no personal interaction. My work, however, postulates the nature and frame of leave-taking in Chinese and how Mandarin Chinese and English frames operate differently. The frame of [LEAVE-TAKING] among the Chinese community involves three stages: INITIAL-CLOSING, PRE-CLOSING, and CLOSING, as suggested in Kinnison (2000). I propose that fundamentally embedded within these three stages are the operational concepts of SELF-OTHERS, FACE, TIME, CONCERN, SOLIDARITY and SOCIAL REPAIRS. According to Langacker (2005), cognition, being embodied and contextually embedded, provides a venue to examine pragmatic appropriateness and inappropriateness to a larger extent. I utilize this venue to discuss these operational concepts below.
Conceptualization of leave-taking in Mandarin Chinese
Hu and Grove (1991, p. 25) document the following telling by a British teacher of English on her first greeting experience in China (emphasis mine):
When I first went to Hong Kong…, I had no idea either about the Chinese language or the culture. Shortly after my arrival, I went to the bank on my way to school. I was extremely surprised when the bank clerk asked me if I had had my lunch. In British culture, this question would be regarded as an indirect invitation to lunch, and between unmarried young people it indicates the young man's interest in dating the girl. Since he was a complete stranger, I was quite taken aback.
I gloss the excerpt of the above paragraph as a new experience in a new place at a certain time:
I correlate the glossing to Robert Smith's (1972, in Walker, 2001) four phases of learning: don't know what we don't know, know what we don't know, don't know what we know, know what we know. I further compose an experiential sketch of a speech event in the target culture in Figure 3 as follows.
To relate this experiential sketch to a leave-taking event, we review what we know about leave-taking: it requires indicating one's intention to leave the occasion without causing the other to lose face. What we do not know about conducting leave-taking in an unfamiliar culture is the prepatterned linguistic forms. Also, these forms themselves have significant contextual meaning. The context for these structured forms provides and reflects the entrenched conceptual prominence viewed among Chinese speakers. In order to discuss the prominent profiling of the leave-taking event conceptualization embedded in Mandarin Chinese, I divide the fundamental cognitive differences into three subsections: 1) commercial event and leave-taking event; 2) self-others; and 3) you-patterned linguistic codes.
Commercial event and leave-taking event
Per Fillmore (1977), a [COMMERCIAL EVENT] frame involves at least four participants: goods, buyer, money, and seller. The six most common verbs in a [COMMERCIAL EVENT] are [BUY], [SELL], [CHARGE], [PAY], [SPEND] and [COST]. The frames of these six verbs evoke the aforementioned four participants into different perspectives in relation to one another. To extend this concept of frame to [LEAVE-TAKING EVENT] in Chinese, concepts such as SELF-OTHERS, FACE, TIME, CONCERN, SOLIDARITY and SOCIAL REPAIRS are involved. Among these concepts, the SELF-OTHERS concept is considered significantly different from that in English.
The word order of 群我 qúnwǒ "group-I (relation)" instead of *我群 wǒqún "I-group (relation)" in Chinese suggests the sigificance of collectivism in Chinese society: the group always precedes the individual. The construct of 我 wǒ "I/oneself" is not based on individualism but highly correlated to an individual's relation to other people in the surroundings. The Chinese conceptualization of 我 wǒ "I" is comprised of 大我 dàwǒ "big-I: the greater self that involves the public/state/nation," and 小我 xiăowǒ "small-I: the little self, only oneself, individual." Within this scope of "big" and "small", one's relation to others is established. For example, in order to consolidate the relationship in a leave-taking event in Chinese, one's relation to others receives more prominence rather than that given to the self because one has to show concern for others first and, then, to indicate his/her intention to depart. In other words, the [OTHERS-oriented] self (Gao, Ting-Toomey, & Kao, 1998) underlies [YOU-patterned] linguistic codes in Chinese. I refer to this as the SELF-OTHERS concept. The abstraction of this concept is exemplified in Figure 4.
Such a view is reflected in Chinese social ritual routines, and is constituted by the [OTHERS-oriented] perspectives and realized in [YOU-patterned] linguistic forms; for example, 你一定很累了吧, 那, 我先回去了 Nǐ yídìng hěn lèi le ba, nà wǒ xiān huíqu le. (You must be very tired, I should go home.). What determines this perspective, in my opinion, is that Chinese people put considerable value on interpersonal relationships (Ren, 2002), where reciprocity is a key principle of a cooperative interaction. Interaction in Chinese is 來往 láiwăng "come-go: interaction" or 往來 wănglái "go-come: interaction"; and emphasizes the saying 禮尚往來 lǐ shàng wăng lái (Courtesy demands reciprocity.). These phrases present interpersonal interaction in terms of reciprocal motion. Politeness phenomena in Chinese are associated with two major ideas: 面子 miànzi (face) the public image and 脸