Languages & Cultures of East Asia

Trad 101, Sections 18-19-20-21   Fall 2000

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Lecture Outline, 12/4/00 - Topic confusion in English-Asian discourse

Scollon and Wang Scollon

Asians - inscrutable
Westerners - frank, rude
Based on systematic differences of the way people communicate
Not fictions

Source of perceptions
Difference in the way topics are introduced

Conversational sequence
1. Call: what initiates the conversation
e.g. ringing of phone or doorbell
"Excuse me"
"Hey, you"

2. Answer
e.g. "Hello"
Strict constraints - cannot introduce topic
Open-ended - defers to the caller

3. Introduce topic
Caller has the right
Must wait for opening

Iterative pattern
e.g. knock - pause - knock

1. Learned
2. Cultural-specific

Other ways
Call - open-ended
e.g. "What are you thinking?"
Answer - topic introduced

Asian pattern
Feel politeness and deference

Not coming to the point - inscrutable
Not about main point

Similar to Western pattern
Differ in when topic is introduced -only after small talk
Small talk - facework, find out listener's mood and attitudes
Why small talk?
Introducing topic = making imposition
If facework not enough topic may not be introduced
If facework sufficient topic need not be introduced

Asian: call-answer-facework-(topic)
Western: call-answer-topic-facework
Difference is source of much confusion

Q: What kind of confusion?
Both remember same details, but assign different values
Prolonged conversation
Unsure what the point of conversation is

Asian- two patterns
Compounded by social roles

Q: What social relationships are relevant?
Inside: family, same class
Outside: temporary contacts
e.g. taxi drivers, bank tellers

Two discourse patterns

Outside relationships
"Waiter, two bowls of beef noodle soup"
"A ticket to Taipei"
Post offices, banks, stations, restaurants

No politeness
Pushy, aggressive, rude

Q: Why such different patterns?
Possible moves limited
No facework required

Q: Western service encounter?
Constrained by call-answer-topic
Q: Westerner in Asian banks?
Watch others being served

Exceptions - banks in Seoul

Inside relationships
Governed by
1. Hierarchical relationships
2. 'jen' - benevolence, humanity
Confucian virtue

Lower greets higher
child -->parent
student --> teacher
staff --> boss

Q: Lower has the right to introduce topic?
No. Right remains with parent, teacher.

Q: Is greeting teacher a call or an answer?
An answer.
Teacher - subtle, clear, non-verbal signal
No signal no greeting

Q: lower introduces topic?
No and yes
No - has no right
Yes - how?

Make his needs known indirectly
'Jen' - benevolence

Higher needs to study needs of lower
Shows 'jen' by introducing lower's topic

Q: What does it mean to speak first?