B06NguyenThiBichHang-English and Vietnam

Contrastive Analysis: English and Vietnamese Greetings
Nguyen Thi Bich Hang
University of Education
As we all know, differences in culture are one of the main problems leading to a
failure of communication. Thus, if learners want to develop their communicative
competence in the target language, besides listening and speaking, they should
improve a wide knowledge about sociolinguistics. Usually in daily life, people tend to
use the illocutionary act rather than the locutionary act. Therefore, learners have
difficulties in using the target language appropriately in different contexts. A greeting is
not an exception. It is considered as the important aspect in cultural life of each nation.
There are many different ways of greeting. In Western countries such as France, Spain
or Italy, people greet friends by kissing on both cheeks while in the Middle East,
Muslims always hug persons of the same sex when greeting each other. What an
interesting thing! How about Asians like us? The peoples in Asian countries are quite
reticent. So, the way they greet is also discreet and respectful. In Vietnam, greetings are
part and parcel of everyday life. Vietnamese ancestors said: “Lời chào cao hơn mâm
cỗ”. The statement reveals that greetings played an important role in the old days of our
According to Goffman, greetings provide the means of the opening conversations
appropriately, establish and maintain social relationship (as cited in Li, 2009, p.1), for
example “Hello” or “Hi”. In addition, the basic functions of greetings are also to identify
the presence of communicators and to show their concern. However, modes of
communication in all languages are not the same. That is the reason why imposing the
rules of one language on another’s can cause negative transfer which leads
awkwardness and misunderstanding.
In this paper, I focus on English and Vietnamese greetings and draw out some
differences in terms of content, semantics, syntax and lexis. Then, some implications for
language teaching are discussed so that learners can avoid pragmatic transfers from
their native language to the second one. I hope that through the paper, you will have a
deep look into two languages in greetings, an indispensable culture in the world.
Greetings in English and Vietnamese
The definition of greeting is illustrated in terms of linguistics, sociology, and
According to two linguists, Schegloff and Sacks (1973), greetings are considered
as a speech event constituted by two parts side by side such as Greeting-Greeting:
A: Hi
B: Hi
Or Greeting- Request for information
A: Hi
B: Do you have a class today?
Unlike the linguists’ outlook, Goffman (1971), the sociolinguist stated that
greetings consist of several interlinking behaviors:
(3) Non verbal
(2) Term of address
(4) Social context
Meanwhile, in anthropological linguistics perspective, Fieg and Mortlock (1989)
defined greetings as “ritualistic expressions” which are affected by social factors,
particularly cross-cultural differences (as cited in Williams, 2001).
In Vietnamese, greetings, as stated by professor Ngan (2005), mean that people
speak or use gesture in order to show their respect and sociability when they meet
someone. Or in Vietnamese proverbs, we can see that how important greetings are in
comparison with “mâm cỗ”.
“Lời chào cao hơn mâm cỗ”
In brief, no one can give the accurate definition which satisfies other people. It is
obvious that each nation has different ways to greet, so there are variances in greeting
Greetings in English
In English, there are some main formulaic expressions frequently used in
informal contexts such as “Hi”+ (first name) and “Hello”+ (first name). In addition, people
tend to greet each other according to the time of a day (see Table).
Greetings according to time
Good Morning +
From midnight to
- Good morning, Mr
(title/ first name)
- Mornin’ Jerry
Or Mornin’ (short
Afternoon Good afternoon +
After midday until 5p.m
- Good afternoon,
(title/ first name)
professor Mike
Or Afternoon
- Afternoon Mary
Good Evening
After 5p.m until people
- Good evening, Ms
+(title/ first name)
have gone to sleep
Or Evenin’
- Evenin’ Jones
In the Evaluation of Greeting Exchanges in Textbooks and Real Life Settings,
Williams (2001) classified greetings into two types: (1) a mirrored greeting, a response
is an exact duplicate of a greeting and (2) a greeting- response, a response is a
A: Hi
B: Hi
A: Good morning.
B: How are you?
Both types make use of adjacency pairs that the second utterance is expected to
follow up the first one.
On the research of Eisenstein and Bodman (1988), speakers don’t always utilize
the formulaic expressions mentioned above. According to this research, greetings can
be divided into 8 forms.
Greetings on the run
This is a greeting between two people who have a close relationship. They meet
by chance and have no time to talk much. So, they just say in a few words.
Example: Friends meet by accident.
A: Hi, how ya doin’?
B: Hi! Gotta run, I’m late for a class
Speeding greetings
This form is quite common for colleagues. They greet and exchange information
briefly while they are going to somewhere.
Example: Two colleagues greet each other
A: Hi, How are things going?
B: Not bad. ‘N you?
A: So-so.
The chat
This is quite similar to the speedy greeting but enclosed with a topic for
A: Good morning, Mr. Tony.
B: Good morning, Mr. Pike.
A: Did you watch the football match yesterday. I missed it.
B: What a pity! MU played well. They won.
The long greetings
The purpose of this kind is to warm up the relationship after a long time. It
includes mixed greetings and talks.
A: Mary!
B: Catherine!
They hug each other.
A: Long time no see!
B: Yes, too long. Where’ve you been?
A: Well, I had the project in Japan and stayed there one year…
The intimate greeting
It occurs between people who know each other well. Sometimes, thanks to their
intimacy, they may use a great deal implied or unsaid, non verbal gesture and ignore a
greeting itself.
Example: a husband and a wife
The husband kisses his wife: Well?
A wife: Yes.
A husband: Great. You know today I have been promoted to a manager.
A wife: Oh, really! Let’s celebrate.
A husband: Of course. Where do you want to go?
The all-business greeting
This typically happens between people who have non-social relationship.
Because of the other’s time limit, they show respect and consideration by starting their
business right away.
Clerk: Mr. Jones.
Director: Yes?
Clerk: Mrs. Sabrina has come here.
Director: Really. What’s up?
The introductory greeting
It relates to people who meet for the first time. Its primary function is to allow the
participants to find a connection. The opening is not always a greeting but probably a
A: Nice party!
B: Yes.
A: Who do you know here?
B: Mary. I work with her…
The re-greeting
It involves acknowledging someone you have greeted earlier and see many
times during the day. It also encompasses non-verbal gesture or a few quick words.
Example: one co-worker having known earlier in the day that her co-worker was
not feeling well greets again:
A: Lorie? Feel better?
B: Yes, thanks!
In the book TESOL Techniques and Procedures (1985, p. 102), Bowen, Madsen
and Hilferty define greetings as a part of phatic communication. “They communicate
attitudes rather than just bare facts” (as cited in Gass & Neu, 1996, p. 90), so greetings
express both sincerity and insincerity. They are often accompanied by a friendly smile, a
hug or a kiss. Such the non verbal greetings are highly used.
Greetings in Vietnamese
According to Professor Ngân (2005), greetings, based on the presence of
performative verbs, are divided into two kinds: locutionary and illocutionary ones.
Locutionary greetings or direct greetings
According to Thành, they are “ritualistic greetings” used to open or end a meeting
so that parties can show their courtesy and modesty (as cited in Ngan, 2005). It
includes performative verbs such as “chào”, “kính chào”….In Vietnamese, greetings are
diversified due to participants, age and social hierarchy. Especially, Vietnamese people
attach great important to social positions. There are some relationships constituting the
warp and woof of social life which are those between parent and child, husband and
wife, senior and junior etc. These relationships are asymmetrical, or what is called the
hierarchical order. This is the reason why different people have different ways to greet.
Syntactic patterns and lexical distribution are used for emphasis on this feature.
Greetings to senior addressee
In the asymmetric communication between seniors and juniors, people in lower
social positions have to greet first in order to show their respect for those in higher
(Dạ) “yes” + (First person) + chào “hello” + title/kinship term + polite particle “ạ”
Chào “hello” + title.
Chào bác
Title/ kinship term + ạ.
Ông ạ!
The unique feature in Vietnamese greetings is that a speaker can express his or
her emotion toward an addressee through a politeness intensifier “ạ”.
In addition, the phrases such as “xin kính chào”, “kính chào”, “chào mừng”, “nhiệt
liệt chào mừng” … are commonly used in a ceremony or a meeting.
Greetings to junior addressee
As mentioned above, hierarchy in Vietnamese society is extremely respected.
Usually, a junior greets first and then a senior responds by re-greeting or nodding. This
kind of greeting omits a first person and a polite particle “ạ”.
Chào + kinship term .
Chào cháu, Chào em…
Greetings to an equal addressee
A greeting is simpler than two previous kinds of greetings due to the equality of
age and social status.
(Chào) + name/nickname/title.
(Chào) Lan.
Chào bác sĩ.
Illocutionary greetings
According to Searle (1969), a greeting is defined as an illocutionary act which is
simpler than other speech acts due to the lack of propositional content (as cited in Gass
& Neu, 1996, p. 90). However, in reality, people usually greet each other by using
questions, suggestions, comments, compliments etc as a normal greeting. Despite
different forms, they are served as greetings.
Greetings by using questions
Using questions is a common way Vietnamese people show their concerns in the
different level which is up to intimacy between parties. The main content of the
questions is health, family, job or activity.
Cụ đang làm gì đấy ạ?
(What are you doing?)
Bác đi đâu sớm thế?
(Where are you going so early?)
In such these questions, it is no need for a speaker to listen to an addressee’s
response. They don’t intend to know exactly what an addressee is doing or whether he
or she has eaten or not. Therefore, to response the greeting can be a gesture (nodding
or smiling), a vague answer or sometimes a re-question.
Cô đi thể dục về đấy àh?
Vâng, thế bác đi chợ ạ?
Greetings by using exclamations
Accompanying with happiness or surprise, such greetings in the form of
exclamations usually occur when an addressee turns up.
Ôi! Bác Vân đấy àh!
A! Mẹ đã về.
Intonation and gestures are also significant to express emotion and behavior. In
semantic formulas, it always includes an addressee and exclamation mark to express
the feeling of a speaker: “Kìa!. Trời!, Ôi!...”
Greetings by using compliments
“Chúc mừng ông”
(Please “Xin”) + Congratulation +title/ kinship term
chúc mừng
It occurs when an addressee has good news such as a promotion and a speaker
knows it. Usually they have a close relationship with each other.
Greetings by using offers
“Mời bác vào xơi cơm ạ!
Or Mời cô chú vào xơi nước !”
The performative verb “mời” is obligatory in such greetings. These offers are
quite common in Vietnamese daily life. When a family is having a meal, a guest comes
unintentionally. People invite them to “xơi cơm” … in order to show their hospitality.
Therefore, an addressee doesn’t intend to accept the invitation. Instead, they refuse and
thank to the host: “Vâng, cám ơn bác” or “Vâng mọi người cứ tự nhiên đi ạ!...”
Greetings by using comments or compliments
According to Professor Quang, this salutation is “used to start a conversation, to
win the popularity of someone or to show the admiration…” (as cited in Ngan, 2005).
The politeness strategies support the relationship between participants. Greeting by a
compliment makes parties pleased and maintains the relationships.
“Hôm nay xinh thế!
Or Áo mới nha!”
Within this paper, I would like to discuss the contrast between English and
Vietnamese greetings in two aspects: forms and topics.
Firstly, English salutation is simpler and more standard than Vietnamese one
thanks to its informality. In reality, “Hi” is the most frequent linguistic form used. In
addition, “Good morning, Good afternoon…” are the certain ways of greetings in formal
contexts. In contrast, Vietnamese ones are very flexible because they are respectful of
hierarchical relationships. So, there are plenty of ways to greet. In her research on
Politeness Strategies in Hanoi Vietnamese Speech (2003), Srichampa counted up to 26
patterns in Vietnamese greetings. Different people have different strategies of greetings.
English: Hi,Jone.
Good morning, Ms.Lorie.
Vietnamese: Cháu chào bà ạ.
Đi đâu đấy?
In addition, addressee forms in English are not as complicated as ones in
Vietnamese. Summons like Mary, Tom or politeness intensifiers Mr, Mrs are commonly
used in English greetings. Different usage to junior and senior addressee forms in
English is not very clear since English culture puts high value on equal or horizontal
relationships. “All men are created equally” and liberation of each individual is what
everybody wishes. Consequently, the relationships between people are symmetrical.
“Just call me by my first name” is a slogan illustrating the value of individualism and
equality. For instance, Hi, Jack! or Good morning, Ms Lorie. In contrast, Vietnamese
has more complex system of address terms in kinship than English does. The reason is
that Vietnam has a long history of feudalism. Thus, Vietnamese sociopolitical life has
been strongly influenced by the theory of Confucianism which lays great emphasis on
relationship. Moreover, the Vietnamese society is hierarchical in nature. Therefore, the
differences in age and paternal and maternal relationship are reflected in kinship
address terms. There are plenty of forms of the second personal pronoun, i.e., “cô, dì,
chú, bác, ông”, whereas English has only one form “you”. In “Chào xuân 67” by Tố Hữu,
we can observe how varied the Vietnamese second personal pronouns are:
“Chào cô dân quân vai súng tay cày
Chân lội bùn mơ hạ máy bay
Chào các cụ bạch đầu quân trồng cây chống Mỹ
Chào các mẹ già rua tay vá may cho chiến sĩ
Chào các em những đồng chí tương lai
Mang mũ rơm đi học đường dài”
Additionally, both English and Vietnamese greetings use the form of question,
usually in informal settings.
A: Hi, how’s it going?
B: Oh, this is my worst day.
A: Anh đi đâu đấy?
B: Àh, tôi đi đằng này 1 lát.
As we can see, a greeting is normally accompanied with a gesture. Kissing,
hugging or shaking hands are quite popular in English. Similarly, Vietnamese people
use lots of body language, gesture and even intonation. Based on the hierarchical
relationships, for old people, a greeting is followed by a slight bow or folding their aims.
For a couple, they habitually hug and kiss each other instead of “Hi” in English;
meanwhile the Vietnamese express their sentiment in a reticent way from time
immemorial. A couple rarely hugs or kisses in public when greeting. This is one of the
typical features in Vietnamese greeting culture.
“Đi qua nghiêng nón không chào”
This proverb doesn’t mean that one is indifferent to another and doesn’t greet
each other. They greet implicitly through their eyes lovingly. This is the way couples say
Secondly, one major difference in greetings between English and Vietnamese
lies in a topic. In English culture, personal matters are regarded as one’s privacy and
people do not talk about them except with close friends. Thus, English speakers get
accustomed to greeting each other with linguistic routines such as “How’ve you been?”
or “Nice day, isn’t it?” or some other greetings that do not infringe on private issues.
These talks are traditionally about health questions, weather or food. Vietnamese
people, on the other hand, like to greet people with “Bác đi đâu đấy” (Where are you
going?) or “Bác đang làm gì đấy” (What are you doing?). These are questions about
what people are doing at the time they meet each other to show politeness and mutual
care according to Vietnamese custom and tradition. Obviously, people in English culture
as well as Vietnamese culture have appreciation in “speaking politely”. Yet some
English people may find Vietnamese greetings unacceptable or even offensive because
it seems to be concerned about personal business although they are appropriate and
friendly in Vietnamese culture. Another example is that a Vietnamese can greet a
longtime departed friend:
A: Chị Phương đấy àh! Lâu quá không gặp,trông chị vẫn không thay đổi.
(Phương! Long time no see. You look the same as before)
In contrast, this will offend a native speaker by implicating that he or she should
have been old. The above examples reflect the different communication rules between
the two cultures.
Through a contrastive view into Vietnamese and English greetings in two aspects
as mention above, I would like to discuss some implications for English and Vietnamese
teaching at high school in our country.
Firstly, I want to take a view of some failures in greetings. It is observable that
learners can perform a greeting well because it takes place very often in daily life,
especially at the beginnings of interactions. Thus, there are more chances for them to
learn greetings than other speech acts. However, sociopragmatic failures sometimes
occur. It is common that most students tend to transfer their native language into the
target one mechanically. It can lead to misunderstanding due to differences in many
aspects between two languages. For example, when they intend to say “How are you?”,
they use the phrase “How do you do?”. The inappropriate use of titles is also a problem
of learners. When talking to the head of a company, they say “Hi, director” instead of
“Good morning Mr …”. It is clear that students just know how to greet in some familiar
situations like in a classroom, but they have a few opportunities to greet people in real
social settings such as a meeting or a ceremony. They reveal that they don’t know what
to say and if possible, the greeting is not natural in the way native speakers accept. In
addition, Vietnamese learners don’t usually use stress or intonation properly according
to particular contexts. One big problem is that students may violate cultural values if
they don’t know well about distinct features of the new culture. For instance,
Vietnamese learners fail to achieve the communication goal and give a bad impression
in the first time they meet a native speaker when mentioning individual matters which
are considered as “a taboo” in English greetings although they don’t mean to be curious
about personal affairs.
Example: What are you doing, Jerry?
Or where are you going, Jerry?
Not only Vietnamese people but also native learners make the same
communication problems.
Example (as cited in Ngan, 2005): One Dutch scientist lives in a Vietnamese
village for several months in order to study Vietnamese rural areas. When Vietnamese
farmers see him, they greet:
Where is John going?
(Bác John đi đâu đấy?)
He said: Go straight.
(Đi thẳng)
In short, the pragmatic failure, in intercultural communication, has aroused much
attention since there is always a misunderstanding between people from different
cultures. This is the reason why I come to the second part- some implications for
language teaching. In order to minimize the linguistic problems, there should have
cooperation between teachers and students.
For teachers, they need to exploit document sources useful in real life, providing
input as much as possible to develop students’ sociopragmatic and pragmalinguistic
competence. Thanks to the advanced technology in language teaching, it is easy for
teachers to provide different greeting patterns and strategies. Real situations can be
found in the Internet or a television. This is also a good way to raise student’s
awareness of cultural similarities and differences between English and Vietnamese
greetings. The contrast patterns need to have a clear explanation in order to avoid
communication failures. Moreover, in classroom, creating communicative opportunities
for students to practice is always the best method. Role plays in a variety of contexts
from informal to formal are given so that students are accustomed to greeting in
different ways. Through a role play, furthermore, students become more active and
confident. As a result, they are bold in opening a conversation with other people. One
important thing is that teachers should have sound knowledge in language transfer in
order to help students’ pragmatics.
For students, they should be aware that learning only grammar does not mean
success in communication. Therefore, they incessantly learn more about culture and life
style of other peoples in the world in order to be confident in communicating.
Additionally, it is advisable to know the reason why there are differences in pragmatic
linguistics in different cultures, which helps them understand the nature of the problem.
Last but not least, they should be encouraged to learn about Vietnamese history and
linguistics which are served as the foundation to comprehend clearly English. Such
contrastive knowledge in student’s mother tongue and the second language also give
them a clear distinction in order to avoid misunderstanding in transference.
In conclusion, greeting is a socially significant event in universal terms.
Especially in Vietnamese, greeting plays an important role in cultural life. Through a
greeting, people can evaluate one’s academic standard and a community’s civilization.
A contrastive analysis in this area between English and Vietnamese show many
similarities as well as differences in strategies, contexts or addressee forms. Some
issues considered as “a taboo” in English are used popularly in Vietnamese. These are
the specific cultural features in two languages. Obviously, it shows that Vietnamese has
a wider range of greetings, which makes it an interesting, plentiful language.
Furthermore, the studies also suggest some sociopragmatic failures and implications for
teaching methods. I hope that this paper, to some extent, will provide useful knowledge
about greeting and improve language teaching in a classroom.
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