English and Vietnamese business complaint letters: a comparative study from systemic functional perspectives

Mục đích chính của nghiên cứu này là tìm ra những điểm tương đồng và khác biệt giữa thư khiếu nại bằng tiếng Anh và tiếng Việt, được coi là một trong những loại thư từ phổ biến nhất trong lĩnh vực kinh doanh, về bốn phạm trù của Ngữ pháp Chức năng hệ thống cụ thể là: chuyển tác, thức, đề và liên kết. Để thực hiện mục tiêu này, tác giả đã thực hiện khảo sát với số mẫu là 30 lá thư khiếu nại, trong đó mười lăm lá thư viết bằng tiếng Việt và mười lăm lá thư viết bằng tiếng Anh. Kết quả nghiên cứu chỉ ra rằng những điểm khác biệt trong các phạm trù của Ngữ pháp Chức năng Hệ thống được sử dụng trong thư khiếu nại bằng tiếng Anh và tiếng Việt nhìn chung không đáng kể. Tuy nhiên, về phương diện liên kết, kết quả nghiên cứu cho thấy trong khi người Việt coi các phương tiện liên kết từ vựng là các phương tiện hữu ích nhất thì người Anh lại đánh giá cao hiệu quả của phép quy chiếu. Các kết quả thu được từ nghiên cứu này có thể được sử dụng như một nguồn tài liệu tham khảo cho các học viên và giáo viên Việt Nam trong việc viết và dạy viết thư bằng tiếng Anh, trong đó có thư khiếu nại.

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Phạm Như Cường và Đtg Tạp chí KHOA HỌC & CÔNG NGHỆ 109(09): 51 - 56 51 ENGLISH AND VIETNAMESE BUSINESS COMPLAINT LETTERS: A COMPARATIVE STUDY FROM SYSTEMIC FUNCTIONAL PERSPECTIVES Pham Nhu Cuong1, Nguyen Thi Tuyet2, Lai Thi Thanh2* 1College of Economics and Business Administration - TNU 2College of Sciences - TNU SUMMARY The main aim of this research is to figure out the similarities and differences between English and Vietnamese business complaint letters, which is regarded as one of the most popular kinds of business correspondence, in terms of the four aspects of Systemic Functional Grammar namely transitivity, mood, theme and cohesion. To fulfill this objective, the authors conducted a survey with a sample of 30 complaint letters, including fifteen letters written in Vietnamese and fifteen letters written in English. The research results indicate that there are no significant differences in terms of the four aspects of Systemic Functional Grammar used in English and Vietnamese business complaint letters. However, in terms of cohesion, the results show that while Vietnamese writers regard lexical devices as the most useful tools in their letters, English ones highly appreciate the effectiveness of reference. The findings of this study can be utilized as a referential material for Vietnamese learners and teachers in writing and teaching writing effective letters in English, especially business complaints. Key words: transitivity, mood, theme-rheme, cohesion, systemic functional grammar, English business complaint letters, Vietnamese business complaint letters INTRODUCTION* It is generally accepted that in the last few decades of the 20th century, there has been a great source of research on language; however, their attentions were only paid to the form of the language systems, which are studied and explained apart from their functions in relation to social situations. Besides, their concern was basically with structural theories which show that small units were arranged and combined into larger ones. The recent research, on the other hand, has fallen into the tendency toward discourse analysis, which focuses on factors affecting the communication and also the functioning of syntactic, pragmatic and social aspects. Unlike the former studies, these ones pay attention to the meaning of not only the sentences but also utterances and discourses. The preference of the study is inspired from the fact that the theory of Systemic Functional Grammar has been widely accepted as an essential tool in language comprehension for * Tel: 0913.780.687; Email: thanhdhkh@gmail.com communication. According to Eggins (1994: 1 cited in Thao, Phuong 2003: 2), ‘Systemic Functional Linguistics is increasingly being recognized as providing a very useful descriptive and interpretive framework for viewing language as a strategic, meaning- making resource’. Hallidayan linguists used the functional model of grammar to interpret how people use language and how language is structured for use. This theory, in fact, has been proved as a great model of language for analysts when analyzing texts especially at discourse level. In Vietnam, there have been a great number of studies in the area of discourse analysis these days. However, the number of those works based on Systemic Functional Perspectives does not seem to reflect the potential variety. Especially in the last few decades, Vietnam has been seen its expanding relationship with many other nations in economics, scientific and technical fields; English language as an international language, therefore, has been widely used in every field, especially in business communication in general and business Số hóa bởi Trung tâm Học liệu – Đại học Thái Nguyên Phạm Như Cường và Đtg Tạp chí KHOA HỌC & CÔNG NGHỆ 109(09): 51 - 56 52 transaction in particular. The issues of business communication as well as business transaction thus should be unsurprisingly a rich source for linguists in analyzing discourse. An inspirational source that helps me to prompt the choice of the analysis of business correspondence is the fact that this kind of letter is truly suitable and essential in Vietnamese background recently. It cannot be denied that business correspondence plays an important role in business communication. Besides, defects seem to be unavoidable in carrying out business transactions; even for the best- managed organizations, this seems to be in the same case. Letters of complaint, therefore, can be made and understood as customers’ inevitable reaction. In Vietnam, customers have gradually had the tendency to write complaint letters; however, this has not become their habit and a number of customers, in fact, still hesitate to do this although they know they have the right to do. In addition, knowing how to write an effective business complaint letter is really a challenge for many people. My own observation shows that even the students of business have limited knowledge and experience in writing complaint letters not only in English but also in Vietnamese. In the hope of working out some solutions to help Vietnamese people as well as Vietnamese students, to some extent, overcome their difficulties in writing business complaint letters, the study is an attempt to analyze some basic discourse features of business complaint letters from Systemic Functional Perspectives namely transitivity pattern, mood, thematic pattern, and cohesion. Based on this, similarities and differences between English letters and Vietnamese ones will be identified. After that, some suggestions will be drawn out to improve the studying and teaching writing business complaint letters in English. RESEARCH METHODS The study is confined to the description, analysis and comparison in terms of transitivity, mood, thematic pattern and cohesion. In order to achieve the goal, the approach is inductive, which is based on the data as well as authentic business complaint letters. Firstly, a large number of business complaint letters will be carefully selected from textbooks, internet and authentic sources. Because of the fact that there seems to be no fixed format for this kind of correspondence, the letters were randomly chosen as data, providing they are of business complaints. In addition, the authenticity is highly appreciated by the authors; most of the letters are, therefore, mainly chosen from authentic sources as mentioned above. Secondly, a certain number of the selected letters will be described and analyzed in terms of transitivity, mood, thematic pattern and cohesion. Thirdly, the data obtained will be analyzed and compared in order to find out the similarities and differences in both English and Vietnamese business complaints. Finally, the research results will be discussed to figure out some suggested ideas to help Vietnamese people write effective business complaints in English. Besides, discourse analysis in the light of Systemic Functional Grammar helps to establish the framework of the theoretical background. COMPARISON BETWEEN ENGLISH AND VIETNAMESE BUSINESS COMPLAINT LETTERS Similarities From the analysis of business complaint letters in both English and Vietnamese, it can be concluded that these letters of both languages possess some features in common. Transitivity The analysis of transitivity system showed that the material process is employed with the highest frequency in the letters of both languages. The relational process ranks the second and then the process of verbal and mental rank the third. The processes of behavioral and existential are rarely found in this kind of letters. Số hóa bởi Trung tâm Học liệu – Đại học Thái Nguyên Phạm Như Cường và Đtg Tạp chí KHOA HỌC & CÔNG NGHỆ 109(09): 51 - 56 53 Table 1: English and Vietnamese complaint letters in comparison in terms of Transitivity Features Rate E complaint letters V complaint letters Material 40.8 % 43.8% Mental 16.2 % 12.9 % Relational 24.3 % 22.9% Verbal 16.2% 14.6 % Behavioral 0.4% 2.7% Existential 2.1 % 3.1 % Mood The mood analysis brings about a surprising result that the choice of mood in complaint letters in both languages is nearly identical. As shown in table 2, the declarative mood is used in most cases, occupying more than 98%. The expressions of modality seem not to be paid much attention to. Table 2: English and Vietnamese complaint letters in comparison in terms of mood Features Rate E complaint letters V complaint letters Mood Declarative 98.3% 99.5 % Interrogative 0.4 % 0.5 % Imperative 1.3 % 0% Modality + Modal 7.2 % 7.5% - Modal Modalization 92.8 % 64.7% 92.5% 48.4% Modulation 35.3% 51.6% Theme-Rheme The examination of theme system pointed out that the number of clauses with unmarked theme is much bigger than that of marked theme. Moreover, single themes are much more frequently used than multiple ones and once multiple themes appear, it is the combination of topical theme and textual theme preceding it. In addition, among the three types of themes that are topical, interpersonal and textual, topical always accounts for the highest percentage of occurrence. Table 3: English and Vietnamese complaint letters in comparison in terms of Theme Features Rate E complaint letters V complaint letters Theme- Rheme Marked 12.4 % 24.2 % Unmarked 87.6 % 75.8 % Topical 78.6 % 76.5 % Interpersonal 0.7 % 0.8 % Textual 20.7 % 22.7 % Multiple 13.4% 17.2% Single 86.6% 82.8% Cohesion In terms of cohesive devices, both English and Vietnamese complaint letters share no typical common features other than the choice of different subtypes of lexical cohesion. Among the lexical cohesive devices, repetition was the most preferred by both English and Vietnamese people and then the collocation. This can be explained basing on the field of this kind of letter in which the requirement for the accuracy should be met by the most possible way of repeating things or components mentioned in the co -text. Số hóa bởi Trung tâm Học liệu – Đại học Thái Nguyên Phạm Như Cường và Đtg Tạp chí KHOA HỌC & CÔNG NGHỆ 109(09): 51 - 56 54 Table 4: English and Vietnamese complaint letters in comparison in terms of Cohesion Features Rate E complaint letters V complaint letters Cohesion Lexical Cohesion 32 % 69.7% Conjunction 14.8 % 22.7% Reference 52.7 % 6.1 % Ellipsis 0.3 % 0.5 % Substitution 0.2 % 1 % Differences Transitivity In general, the analysis results of transitivity system as can be shown in table 1 show that there seems to be no noticeable differences in the choice of processes between Vietnamese and English writers of business complaint letters. While the use of material processes in Vietnamese letters is of a bit higher frequency than that in English ones; the rates are 43.8 and 40.8 respectively, the number of clauses with relational, mental, and verbal processes in English letters is bigger than that in Vietnamese ones. In addition, behavioral and existential processes, which account for only 0.4% and 2.1% respectively in English letters, appear in 2.7% and 3.1% of clauses in Vietnamese letters. These results prove that there exists a slight difference in the choice of language to show actions, events, feelings, being, existence, or verbal exchange between English and Vietnamese people when writing business complaint letters. Moreover, the field of this kind of letters seems to have a nearly equal influence on the choice of language used. However, concerning the material and relational processes themselves in the letters of both languages, typical differences can be found. The first thing is related to the structure of material process itself and must be induced from the combination of transitivity and theme analyses. While in material clauses in English letters, the elements labeled as the Goal or Recipient and as the unmarked theme under the theme analysis account for 24%, that occupy only 12.2% in Vietnamese letters. This means that the passive voice is more preferable in English letters than in Vietnamese ones. In addition, 17.6% of the Actors in English letters are non-human, the nonhuman Actors in Vietnamese letters possess only 6.2% of all. This proves that English writers prefer mentioning things first compared with Vietnamese writers. The other difference falls into the choice of intensives and possessives in relational process. While intensive and possessive processes own 69.6% and 17.9% respectively in English letters, they hold 64.9% and 22.3% respectively in Vietnamese letters. Mood As can be shown in table 2, the use of mood in complaint letters in both languages is nearly identical. A slight difference can be traced back to the analysis of modality in terms of modalization and modulation. While in English letters, the expression of modalization occupies 64.7%, which accounts for only 48.4% in Vietnamese ones. It means that English writers of complaint letters use the expressions of certainty and usuality more frequently than Vietnamese ones. Theme-Rheme The result of theme analysis in table 3 above indicates that the choice of departure elements as marked and unmarked theme in English and Vietnamese letters does not resemble. The number of clauses containing marked themes in English letters occupies 12.4% whereas in Vietnamese letters, it owns 24.2%. Moreover, 13.4% of all the themes are found multiple in English letters, whereas 17.2% of multiple themes appear in Vietnamese ones. Số hóa bởi Trung tâm Học liệu – Đại học Thái Nguyên Phạm Như Cường và Đtg Tạp chí KHOA HỌC & CÔNG NGHỆ 109(09): 51 - 56 55 Cohesion The biggest differences between English and Vietnamese letters fall into the terms of cohesion. As can be seen in table 4 above, in English letters, reference is used as the most prominent device to create cohesion with the rate of 52.7%; the second one is lexical device, which possess 32% of all and conjunction with 14.8% ranks the third in the scale of occurrence. On the other hand, in Vietnamese letters, lexical cohesive devices occupy the highest percentage; conjunctive devices rank the second and especially the most prevalent use of reference in English letters were found in only 6.1% of all the clauses in this kind of letters in Vietnamese. It is true that any conclusion made at this point about the language ability of English and Vietnamese writers basing on the frequency of cohesive devices as indicated from the surprising analysis results would be too hasty. CONCLUSION The analysis helps to bring about some outstanding similarities and differences in the use of language reflected through the four chosen terms of both English writers and Vietnamese ones. First, in terms of transitivity, material processes are considered the most powerful and effective; relational processes rank the second in both English and Vietnamese letters. In the aspect of mood, declaratives are used in most places and the use of modality is rarely found in this kind of letters in both languages. Next, the theme analysis reveals that though marked themes are not considerably employed in these letters of both languages, the clauses with marked theme in Vietnamese letters outnumber those in English ones. Moreover, topical themes always proved to be the most preferred by both English and Vietnamese writers. Lastly, the result of cohesion analysis shows that while Vietnamese writers regard lexical devices as the most useful tools to create cohesion in their letters, English ones highly appreciate the effectiveness of reference. Hopefully, the findings of this study can help business people to be fully aware of the significance of business complaint letters as well as the appropriate language used in terms of transitivity, mood, theme and cohesion, so that they can escape from the unexpected misunderstanding in cross-cultural communication. Moreover, we hope that these findings will be a helpful source for the teacher and learner in the course of teaching and studying writing business complaint letters. SUGGESTIONS FOR FURTHER STUDIES In this study, much of our effort has been made to point out the similarities and differences between English and Vietnamese in terms of transitivity, mood, theme and cohesion in the light of Systemic Functional Grammar. A desire of discovering some problems facing Vietnamese people when writing business complaint letters in English language cannot be discussed, which is truly one of the shortcomings of this paper and also a suggested idea for further studies. In addition, there are two more aspects awaiting our investigation. Firstly, how certain kinds of business complaint letters; for example, banking or hotel business, in both English and Vietnamese differ from each other and secondly how these business complaint letters in both languages differ in terms of generic structures, speech acts and discourse strategies. REFERENCES 1. Diệp Quang Ban (chủ biên), (2000), Ngữ pháp Tiếng Việt, NXBGD. 2. Bertha J.Naterop, Erich Weis & Eva Haberfellner, (1977), Business letters for all, OUP. 3. Bloor, T. & M. Bloor, (1995), The Functional analysis of English, Arnold. 4. Cook, G. (1989), Discourse, Oxford: Oxford University Press. 5. Eggins, S., (1994), An Introduction to Systemic Functional Linguistics, London/New York: Continuum. 6. Halliday, M.A.K, (1994), An Introduction to Functional Grammar, London: Edward Arnold. Số hóa bởi Trung tâm Học liệu – Đại học Thái Nguyên Phạm Như Cường và Đtg Tạp chí KHOA HỌC & CÔNG NGHỆ 109(09): 51 - 56 56 7. Cao Xuân Hạo, (1991), Sơ thảo Ngữ pháp Chức Năng, Quyển 1, Hà Nội: KHXH. 8. Cao Xuân Hạo, (chủ biên), (1999), Ngữ pháp Chức Năng Tiếng Việt, Quyển 1: Câu trong Tiếng Việt, NXBGD. 9. Phương Thảo, (2003), Abstracts of Scientific Papers in English and in Vietnamese: A Systemic Functional Comparison, Unpublished M.A. Dissertation, College of Foreign Languages, VNU- Hanoi. TÓM TẮT LÝ THUYẾT NGỮ PHÁP CHỨC NĂNG HỆ THỐNG TRONG SO SÁNH ĐỐI CHIẾU THƯ KHIẾU NẠI BẰNG TIẾNG ANH VÀ TIẾNG VIỆT TRONG LĨNH VỰC KINH DOANH Phạm Như Cường1, Nguyễn Thị Tuyết2, Lại Thị Thanh2* 1Trường Đại học Kinh tế và Quản trị Kinh doanh – ĐH Thái Nguyên 2Trường Đại học Khoa học – ĐH Thái Nguyên Mục đích chính của nghiên cứu này là tìm ra những điểm tương đồng và khác biệt giữa thư khiếu nại bằng tiếng Anh và tiếng Việt, được coi là một trong những loại thư từ phổ biến nhất trong lĩnh vực kinh doanh, về bốn phạm trù của Ngữ pháp Chức năng hệ thống cụ thể là: chuyển tác, thức, đề và liên kết. Để thực hiện mục tiêu này, tác giả đã thực hiện khảo sát với số mẫu là 30 lá thư khiếu nại, trong đó mười lăm lá thư viết bằng tiếng Việt và mười lăm lá thư viết bằng tiếng Anh. Kết quả nghiên cứu chỉ ra rằng những điểm khác biệt trong các phạm trù của Ngữ pháp Chức năng Hệ thống được sử dụng trong thư khiếu nại bằng tiếng Anh và tiếng Việt nhìn chung không đáng kể. Tuy nhiên, về phương diện liên kết, kết quả nghiên cứu cho thấy trong khi người Việt coi các phương tiện liên kết từ vựng là các phương tiện hữu ích nhất thì người Anh lại đánh giá cao hiệu quả của phép quy chiếu. Các kết quả thu được từ nghiên cứu này có thể được sử dụng như một nguồn tài liệu tham khảo cho các học viên và giáo viên Việt Nam trong việc viết và dạy viết thư bằng tiếng Anh, trong đó có thư khiếu nại. Từ khóa: chuyển tác, thức, đề,liên kết, ngữ pháp chức năng hệ thống, thư khiếu nại bằng tiếng Anh trong lĩnh vực kinh doanh, thư khiếu nại bằng tiếng Việt trong lĩnh vực kinh doanh. Ngày nhận bài: 22/4/2013; Ngày phản biện: 13/5/2013; Ngày duyệt đăng: 02/10/2013 Phản biện khoa học: ThS. Cao Duy Trinh – Trường Đại học Khoa học – ĐH Thái Nguyên * Tel: 0913.780.687; Email: thanhdhkh@gmail.com Số hóa bởi Trung tâm Học liệu – Đại học Thái Nguyên

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