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«Chinese Cultural Identities Revisited: Reflections upon the Discourse Organization in Chinese English Abstract Writing Xuerui JiA & Aihua liu Harbin ...»

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Intercultural Communication Studies XX: 1 (2011) Jia & liu

Chinese Cultural Identities Revisited: Reflections upon the Discourse

Organization in Chinese English

Abstract

Writing

Xuerui JiA & Aihua liu

Harbin Institute of Technology, China

Abstract

This paper analyzes the discourse organization of Chinese English abstract

writing for the 2005 Symposium on Intercultural Communication and the Chinese

English abstract writing for the 2009 CAFIC (China Association for Intercultural Communication) International Conference1. The majority of the abstract writers in both academic conferences have chosen the inductive/ indirect discourse organization style and between 30% and 40% of them have adopted the deductive/direct style.

This reinforces the assumption that in the current Chinese writing in English the indirectness or inductive approach is a general preference. But the co-existence of the directness or deductive approach shows that the cultural identity of all the writers is hybridized — collectivistic, incorporated with individualistic cultural identity. Their identity, however, is still traditionally distinct. This hybrid phenomenon of using both the inductive and deductive approaches in Chinese English writing sheds new light on teaching and learning English as a foreign or second language. Instead of encouraging students to imitate native speakers of English in their English writing, we should develop their intercultural communicative competence and justify our criteria for evaluating both our own and others’ discourse.

Keywords: Chinese English abstract writing, indirectness/inductive approach, directness/deductive approach, identity Introduction Scholars of contrastive rhetoric maintain that language and writing are cultural phenomena, and consequently, each language has rhetorical conventions unique to it. Kaplan claimed that the linguistic and rhetorical conventions of the first language interfere with writing in the second language (cited in Connor, 1996, p. 5). Ulla Connor (1996) asserts that writing can be regarded as an activity embedded in the culture of the first language (pp. 100-115). Viewed in this light, writing can be seen as a process of the application of cultural conventions or what is called culturally preferred patterns in discourse organization.

As nonnative language writing, the Chinese English writing is a complicated process. The Chinese may use patterns of language and stylistic conventions that they have learned in their This paper is funded by Heilongjiang Education Department Humanities and Social Sciences Research Project No. 11554093.

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native language and culture. Their writing involves not only what is referred to as pragmatic transfer of culturally preferred conventions from Chinese to English but also cognitive, social, cultural, political, educational, historical, rhetorical factors, etc. To our understanding, for various reasons, the influence of the culturally preferred pragmatic conventions in Chinese writing on Chinese English writing is so strong that the use of the traditional Chinese discourse organizational conventions in English writing is unavoidable and inevitable. The reality is that in the Chinese English writing, Chinese culture-specific and English conventions are both influential. On the one hand, influenced by English pragmatic conventions, people may reconcile their Chinese conventions with English pragmatic conventions. On the other, the Chinese may pertinently cling to their own conventions in their writing in English.

The idea has in fact been widely discussed that the inductive or indirect style plays a dominant role in discourse organization or reasoning and argument in the Chinese culture while the deductive or direct style plays a dominant role in discourse organization or reasoning and argument in the cultures of native English speakers. Some scholars (Hu, 1999; Jia, 1997;

Scollon & Scollon, 1995) claim that Asians favor the inductive style that usually delays the introduction of topics till the end and in contrast to that, native English speakers prefer to introduce topics at the beginning or place their main point early.

According to Scollon and Scollon (1995, pp.74-87), when people talk about inductive argument or rhetoric in the ways mentioned above, they mean that the main thesis is presented at the end of a text and that supportive elements for the thesis — what is called the frame — are presented before the main thesis. When people talk about the deductive or direct style, they mean that the main thesis is presented at the beginning of a text and that supportive elements for the thesis are presented after the main thesis. So, the inductive style is often regarded as being somehow indirect and implicit, or intuitive, while the deductive style is often regarded as being somehow explicit, direct, and to the point. The apparent indirect and direct disparity between Chinese and English written discourses has been noted. Many scholars have come to the consensus that the Chinese somehow prefer the inductive and indirect style while native English speakers prefer the deductive and direct style in writing in general.

The argument in this paper is that in their English academic writing the Chinese overridingly choose the conventions of frame-main sequence or what is called the inductive/indirect style, which is, we may say, traditionally distinct. But, not all of them do so. Influenced by writing styles of native speakers, some have chosen the conventions of the main-frame sequence or what is called the deductive/direct style in their English academic writing.





This paper reports an analysis of the discourse organization of the Chinese English abstract writing for the 2005 Symposium on Intercultural Communication and the Chinese English abstract writing for the 8th CAFIC (China Association for Intercultural Communication) International Conference. The English abstracts were submitted by the Chinese teachers, scholars, postgraduate students and Ph. D candidates who are working or studying in China and abroad. This paper attempts to prove that there is a hybrid of inductive/indirect style and deductive/direct style in these abstracts, with the former playing a dominant role. As the writing which the analysis is based upon is academic, it may, relatively speaking, be less influenced by social or situational factors. In this way, it may be more representative of the Chinese English writing.

Intercultural Communication Studies XX: 1 (2011) Jia & liu We all know that the main function of language is communication. However, we seldom know that a crucial function of language is to provide identity (Kirkpatrick, 2005, p. 164). This paper reinforces the assumption that in current Chinese writing in English the indirectness or inductive approach is a general preference, which therefore demonstrates traditional Chinese cultural identity in the communication. The co-existence of the directness or deductive approach, however, shows that such an identity is incorporated with international identity in the context of cultural globalization.

Such a hybrid phenomenon sheds new light on English teaching and learning as a foreign language or second language. The implications of the hybridization are finally discussed in this paper. To cultivate intercultural citizens, we do not encourage our students to imitate native speakers of English language; rather, we need to develop their ability to look for common ground where possible and to accept difference (Byram, 2009, p. 25).

Indirect/Inductive and Direct/Deductive Styles in Chinese English Writing

Historically speaking, the indirectness or inductive approach in communication and patterns of thinking found their best expression in the “qi-cheng-zhuan-he” model2 or what was called the four-part structure, which in turn became the rhetorical framework dictating Chinese writing, including contemporary writing of different genres, such as narrative, argumentative, expository, and persuasive genres. Even what is nowadays called the three-part model, formed of introduction, development, and conclusion, underlying contemporary writing, is in fact an extension of the four-part model. This four-part model is the most dominant in contemporary Chinese writing both in Chinese and English not only in mainland China, but also in Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Singapore. In the four-part structure, qi serves to set up the background framework or prepares the reader or listeners for the topic, cheng introduces and develops the topic, zhuan transfers to the seemingly unrelated ideas, and he concludes the whole statement.

Almost all the characteristics of indirectness found in Chinese writing, such as the delaying of the subject till the end and the inductive way of reasoning, programmed by this model, due to the result of transfer as well as other reasons, have automatically become the general cultural preference of the Chinese in English writing.

Indirectness in organizing written discourse seems to dictate the Chinese cultural identity. In contrast, the direct or deductive style is assumed to be the most predominant style in English writings of native speakers. The native English speakers have learnt from their middle school and high school textbooks on composition that an essay or a book should have a thesis.

A thesis is a straightforward statement of the main point the essay or the book is written to advance. The textbooks tell them that the thesis should be presented prominently and very early in the text (Houghton Mifflin Company, 1992, p. 41). In a short essay of several paragraphs or several pages, the thesis should appear in the first paragraph. In a longer essay or in a book, the The “qi-cheng-zhuan-he” model was originally initiated and defined by ancient Chinese scholars, such

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thesis might be delayed until after a bit of preliminary material, but in any case, the main point should be identified by the reader within the first section of the text. Likewise, each section of the essay or the book is expected to be treated deductively as well.

The English writing of the Chinese is indeed greatly influenced not only by traditional Chinese patterns but also by English patterns, especially the Chinese teachers, scholars, postgraduate students and Ph. D candidates who are teaching or learning English language, culture or literature, intercultural communication, or other subjects relevant to those fields.

In the following section, this paper is going to analyze the discourse organization of the Chinese English abstract writing to show there is inductive/indirect style, incorporated with deductive/direct style, with the former playing a dominant role, in these abstracts.

Indirect/Inductive and Direct/Deductive Styles in Chinese English Abstract Writing Being academic in nature, the abstracts of papers may provide persuasive and convincing evidence for our assumption about pragmatic conventions that operate in written discourse.

Data collected in this part are abstracts for the 2005 Symposium on Intercultural Communication held at Nanjing Normal University in Nanjing, China, between May 19 and May 22, 2005, and the Chinese English abstract writing for the 8th CAFIC (China Association for Intercultural Communication) International Conference held in Beijing, between June 11 and June 14, 2009. Those who attended the 2005 Symposium and the 2009 Conference are college teachers and postgraduate students. Most of them are Chinese college teachers of English language, culture or literature, intercultural communication, or other subjects relevant to those fields; some are postgraduate students from colleges in China; a few are famous scholars from China and foreign countries.

Our hypothesis is that there is a predominance of the indirectness, or inductive style, in these abstracts of the Chinese, however, there is an incorporation of directness, or deductive style in a certain number of abstracts of the Chinese.

Except five abstracts whose English version and Chinese version do not correspond with each other, all abstracts for the 2005 Symposium are examined. The majority of the attendants of the symposium submitted abstracts both in English and Chinese; some submitted abstracts only in English, while some only in Chinese. The former two kinds of abstracts are put into two categories in the analysis. Totally there are 176 abstracts analyzed. For the 2009 Conference, there are 221 abstracts written by Chinese participants (not including the abstracts for special panels). Among them, 180 are written by the Chinese from mainland and 41 are written by the Chinese studying or working abroad. Abstracts from mainland and from abroad are analyzed separately.

To determine whether the indirectness/inductive style, or the directness/deductive style, is adopted, here we have used the theme summary notion introduced by Tirkkonen-Condit and Lieflander-Koistinen (1989). According to this notion, if the theme summary is in the first one-third of an abstract, it is considered to be in the beginning; if the theme summary is in the second one-third, it is considered to be in the middle; and if the theme summary is in the final one-third, it is considered to be in the end position. When the theme summary is located in the beginning of an abstract, the abstract is considered to follow the deductive style. When the Intercultural Communication Studies XX: 1 (2011) Jia & liu theme summary is delayed until the middle or the end of an abstract, the abstract is considered to follow the inductive style. Besides the two categories, there is another category. For a certain number of abstracts, the theme summary is buried or implied instead of being clearly and directly stated in the passage. Those abstracts are considered to follow the quasi-inductive style.

From Table 1 we can see that for the 2005 Symposium, among the 176 abstracts, 70 have the theme summary in the beginning, adopting the deductive style, with a percentage of 39.8%.

Totally 70 abstracts have the theme summary delayed until the middle and 22 abstracts until the end, both adopting the inductive style, with a percentage of (39.8%+12.5%=) 52.3%. Totally 14 abstracts have the theme summary buried or implied in the passage, adopting the quasiinductive style, with a percentage of 7.9%. So totally (70+22+14=) 106 abstracts adopt the inductive and quasi-inductive styles, with a percentage of (39.8%+12.5%+7.9%=) 60.2%.

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