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There was a time when philosophy of language was concerned less with language and its use
than with meanings and propositions. Meanings were abstracted from the linguistic items that
have them, and (indicative) sentences were often equated with statements, which were in turn
equated with propositions. It is no exaggeration to say that such philosophers as Frege,
Russell, and the early Wittgenstein paid only lip service to natural languages, for they were
more interested in deep and still daunting problems about representation, which they hoped to
solve by studying the properties of ideal (logically perfect) languages, where forms of
sentences mirror the forms of what sentences symbolize. As Austin complains at the
beginning of How to Do Things with Words, it was assumed by philosophers (he had the
logical positivists in mind, like Schlick, Carnap, and Ayer) that the business of a [sentence]
can only be to describe some state of affairs, or to state some fact, which it must do either
truly or falsely. Austin and the later Wittgenstein changed all that.
Austin made it abundantly clear that there are all sorts of speech acts besides statements.
And the Wittgenstein of the Philosophical Investigations, rebelling against his former self,
came to think of language not primarily as a system of representation but as a vehicle for all
sorts of social activity. Dont ask for the meaning, ask for the use, he advised. Here he went
too far, for there is good reason to separate the theory of linguistic meaning (semantics) from
the theory of language use (pragmatics), not that they are unconnected.
Speech acts are characteristically performed in the utterance of sounds or the making or
marks. What is the difference between just uttering sounds or making marks and performing a
speech act? One difference is that the sounds or marks one makes in the performance of a
speech act are characteristically said to have meaning, and a second related difference is that
one is characteristically said to mean something by those sounds or marks. Characteristically
when one speaks one means something by what one says, and what one says, the string of
morphemes that one emits, is characteristically said to have a meaning. Here, incidentally, is
another point at which our analogy between performing speech acts and playing games
breaks down. The pieces in a game like chess are not characteristically said to have a
meaning, and furthermore when one makes a move one is not characteristically said to mean
anything by that move.
In Malaysia, we have various language and races. Every of them has their own slangs,
sounds, speech act and many more. The difference is not only at the basic level such as
sounds, words and syntax but also the more complex level such as pragmatic and discourse

level practically. Hence, in this assignment, a detail discussion will be done about the
difference between two chosen languages based on its pragmatic and discourse level from the
Malaysian context.
Malaysia is popular with its various races. Every races has its own language, way of speak,
culture, foods and so on. Thus, every race also has its own speech act. For this assignment I
choose Chinese language and English language.
Chinese language
As a whole, Standard Chinese (Mandarin) is most widely spoken among Malaysian Chinese,
due to it being the lingua franca for Chinese from different dialect groups, the language of
instruction in Chinese schools and an important language in business.
As most Malaysian Chinese have ancestry from the southern provinces of China, various
southern Chinese dialects are spoken in Malaysia. The more common dialects in Peninsular
Malaysia are Hokkien, Cantonese, Hakka, Hainanese, and Hokchew.[8] Hokkien is mostly
spoken in Penang, Northern Perak and Kedah whereas Cantonese is mostly spoken in Ipoh
and Kuala Lumpur. In Sarawak, most ethnic Chinese speak either Hokchew or Hakka while
Hakka predominates in Sabah except in the city of Sandakan where Cantonese is more often
spoken despite the Hakka-origins of the Chinese residing there.
As with Malaysian youths of other races, most Chinese youth are multilingual and can speak
at least three languages with at least moderate fluency - Mandarin, English and Malay, as
well as their native Chinese dialect and/or the dominant Chinese dialect in their area.
However, Chinese dialects are losing ground to Mandarin, due to the prestige of Mandarin
and its status as language of instruction in school. Some parents speak Mandarin with their
children and do not pass down their native dialects. Some of the less-spoken dialects such as
Hainanese are facing extinction.

English Language

Malaysian English, also known as Malaysian Standard English (MySE), is a form of English
derived from British English, although there is little official use of the term except with
relation to education. Malaysian English also sees wide usage in business, along with
Manglish, which is a colloquial form of English with heavy Malay, Chinese dialect and Tamil
influences. Most Malaysians are conversant in English, although some are only fluent in the
Manglish form. The Malaysian government officially discourages the use of Manglish. Many
businesses in Malaysia conduct their transactions in English, and it is sometimes used in
official correspondence. Examinations are based on British English.
English was the predominant language in government until 1969. English served as the
medium of instruction for Maths and Sciences in all public schools per the PPSMI policy, but
reverted to Bahasa Malaysia in national schools and mother-tongue languages in 2012. [10]
The Parent Action Group for Education and former Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir
Mohamad has called for science and math to be taught in English again.
Speech act theory (SAT) is one of the core issues of modern pragmatics, as stated particularly
by the Oxford philosopher, Austin (1962) and expanded by his student Searle (1969) and
other scholars such as Back, and Harnish (1979). The speech acts of any language provide its
speakers with culture-specific categories of verbal interaction. Speech acts can shed a great
deal of light on broader cultural themes, but equally the significance of any particular speech
act category can only be fully understood in broader cultural context (cf. Goddard, 2004).
Further, cultures may differ in the rules when certain speech acts can be appropriately
performed (Benthalia and Davies, 1989:102).
Searle (1979) proposes another classification of illocutionary Acts and this classification is
considered to be the most influential one and the most widely adopted by many scholars for
further investigations (Cf.Mey, 1993: 170). Searle categorizes illocutionary acts into:


Following the previous classification, the speech act of offering is regarded as a commissive
act in which the speaker commits himself to a certain future course of action. The direction of

fit is world-to-words i.e., the speaker wants the world to be changed to fit his words. Sincerity
condition is intention (speaker intends to do the action). The propositional content is always
speaker does some future action (Searle, 1979: 14), e.g.: - Can I help you? Fraser (1975:
193) highlights that in making an offer, the speaker proposes to place themselves under an
obligation to bring about the state of affairs expressed in the proposition. This type of speech
act is being labeled under acts of committing as Fraser argues. Hickey (1986: 74-75),
likewise, states that offering is among the set of acts that express commitment. His argument
is that the commitment is independent of the hearer and his reaction to it is irrelevant because
the hearer may accept or refuse the offer as in: The doctor: I would like to take you to your hostel.
No, thanks
For Hickey, the doctor has only the readiness for commitment and if the offer is accepted by
the hearer, the doctors commitment comes into effect. By making an offer then, the
speakers commitment becomes bound with the hearers wish for doing the act.
Speech Act of Refusal
The speech act of refusal is identified as a response to four specific speech acts: those of
request, invitation, offer and suggestion (Beebe, Takahashi and Uliss-Weltz, 1990; Chen, Ye,
and Zhang, 1995) rather than one which initiates this act by itself (Zhou Geyang, 2007).
Refusal is characterized as an act by which a speaker refuses to engage in an action proposed
by the interlocutor (Chen, Ye, and Zhang, 1995). For example, in refusing to an invitation to
go out, one might say, Sorry, I have an exam tomorrow.
A response to refusal can be expressed either directly, e.g. No, I cant, or indirectly. An
indirect response to refusal may increase the degree of complexity, as the speaker has to
choose the appropriate form or forms to soften the negative effects of a direct refusal (FelixBrasdefer, 2008). Refusals may be mitigated by giving reasons (e.g. I have to do my
assignment), expressing regret (e.g. Im so sorry), or promising future acceptance (e.g. I hope
I can make it next time). Refusals can also be accompanied by expressing positive remarks or
feelings (e.g. Congratulations on your promotion. I am very happy to hear that but), an
expression of gratitude (e.g. Thanks for your invitation), an expression of willingness (e.g. Id
love to but).

Overall, refusals are complex speech acts which require not only long sequences of
negotiation and cooperative achievements, but also face-saving manoeuvres to
accommodate the noncompliant nature of the act (Gass and Houck, 1999, p.2). According to
Tanck (2002), refusal occurs when a speaker directly or indirectly says no to a request or
invitation (p.2). Refusal is described as a major cross-cultural sticking point for many
non-native speakers (Beebe, Takahashi, and Uliss-Weltz, 1990). It is a complicated act since
it is affected by several factors including gender, age, level of education, power, and social
status (Fraser, 1990; Smith, 1998, cited in Wannaruk, 2008).
In politeness theory, refusal is a face-threatening act since it contradicts listener/ requester /
inviters expectations and is realized through indirect strategies (Tanck, 2002). In crosslinguistic or cross-cultural communication, people are different in terms of the language they
employ in each speech community. In these communities, pragmatic failure sometimes
occurs when the speaker uses a face-threatening speech act (e.g. request, apology, refusal).
According to Takahashi and Beebe (1987, p.133), the inability to say no clearly and
politely has led many non-native speakers to offend their interlocutors. The speech act of
refusal is a universal phenomenon. However the realization of this speech act may be
culturally- specific.
These two situations explained the use of speech act of refusal from perspective of a Chinese
and Malaysian using English Language.
Situation 1:
Example by Chinese responses:
- Thank you to invite me, but there is some reasons I cant join your party. Im sorry
(gratitude + reasons + negative ability + statement of regret).
Example by English Malaysians responses:
- Im sorry; I cant come to your birthday party. Ive got other important things to do; I really
cant postpone it to other day. (Statement of regret+ negative willing/ability+ reasons).

Situation 2:
Example by Chinese responses:

- Dear sir, thank you for your invitation. Id like to but I am sorry I cant attend. But Ill try
my best to attend (Alerters+ gratitude+ statement of positive feelings+ statement of regret+
negative ability+ promise of future acceptance).
Example by English Malaysians responses:
- Congratulations for your promotion. Thank you for inviting me to a party, but Im really
sorry I cant come because I really have an important thing to do with my family (Greetings +
gratitude+ statement of regret+ negative willing/ability+ reasons).
From these two situations, we can see the differences. For example, in the first situation,
expressions of excuses, the reasons or explanation and statement of regret were the first and
second most frequently used strategy by Chinese students in refusal to an invitation while
Malay respondents used statement of regret followed by expressions of excuses, reasons or
explanation as the first and second most frequently used strategies in refusal to an invitation.
It is also indicated that expressions of negative ability or willingness was the third most
frequently used strategies by both Chinese and Malaysian students. The Chinese used
greetings as the fourth frequently used strategy in their responses while their Malaysia
counterparts used repayment followed by greetings in the frequency pattern of strategies. The
results showed that expressions of positive opinions, feelings or agreement had been the fifth
frequently used strategy by both Chinese and Malaysian respondents. Moreover, Chinese
used expressions of future acceptance of invitation and expressions of gratitude more often
than their Malaysians counterparts.
Meanwhile, in situation 2, it displayed that excuses, reasons or explanation and statement of
regret were the first and second most frequently used strategies by Chinese students in
refusing an invitation while the frequency pattern of strategies for Malaysian students were
statement of regret followed by excuses, reasons or explanations. Expressions of negative
ability or willingness was the third frequency of used strategy for both Chinese and
Malaysian students. With regard to the use of adjuncts, the Chinese respondents preferred to
state their positive opinions, feelings or agreement for refusing an invitation and use
expressions of gratitude and appreciation more than Malaysians did. On the other hand,
Malaysian used more alerters in their responses and attempted to redress the threatening face
of refusal by offering and inviting the superior with another event or gatherings.

From the situations, it display that expressions of excuses, reasons or explanation , statement
of regret and expressions of negative ability or willingness were the most frequently used
strategies for Chinese and Malaysian students in Situation number 1 and Situation number 2.
Moreover, it were in line with the findings of refusal studies on Malaysian students (Farnia
and Abdul Sattar, 2010, Abdul Sattar, Salasiah Chel Lah, and Raja Rozina, 2010) in which
statement of regret followed by excuses, reasons or explanations were the most frequently
used strategy among Malaysian respondents.
According to the findings, the degree of elaboration of strategies varied for each group of
respondents and this could be conditioned by the students level of grammatical competence.
The analyses display that Malaysian respondents used longer and elaborated responses than
their Chinese counterparts. It might lie for the fact that Chinese student lack of control of the
L2 grammar prevented them from conveying and elaborating their language compared to
their Malaysian counterparts.
Another conditioning factor for the planning and execution of a refusal to an invitation was
the selection of thought. The most common pattern for more than 50% of students was to
start thinking in the native language (i.e. planning the refusal) and then to translate from
Chinese or Malay into English (i.e. executing the refusal in English). Thus, contrary to the
popular belief that learners should not consult their L1 during speech act production, the
results of the present study are consistent with the ideas expressed by Cohen (1998) which
demonstrated that consulting the native language may be beneficial for the following strategic

to chunk material into semantic clusters;

to help learners keep their train of thought;
to create a network of associations;
to clarify grammatical roles; and
to make the input more familiar and consequently more user-friendly (p.5).

According to Bardovi-Harlig (1996), one of the goals in facilitating the development of

pragmatic competence to provide learners with enough input and classrooms can be the
source of input especially for foreign language learners. Teaching how to communicate
appropriately both pragmalinguistically (using appropriate form) and sociopragmatically
(using appropriate meaning) is of great importance since native speakers often forgive

linguistics errors (phonological, syntactic or lexical) but they may interpret sociolinguistic
errors as learners rudeness and impoliteness rather than as the transfer of different
sociolinguistic rules (Thomas, 1983; cited in Boxer, 1996, p.128).
Both Chinese and English speakers have their own way in expressing the refusals. However,
the purpose is the same which is to deliver the message of refusal in nice way so that the one
who offers does not offended or hurt by the refusals. Thus, I agree with the statement that
languages not only differ at the basic level such as sounds, words and syntax but also at the
more complex levels such as pragmatics and discourse levels particularly.
(2708 words)
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