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Thursday, February 3, 2011

Linguistic Study: Speakers of Vietnamese and An Age Referent's Obligation

Another semester is upon me as I tackle new anthropology classes and gain greater insights into the field. In my Language and Culture class, we've been debating several issues including the hegemony of English as a global language, nonverbal cues used by past and present politicians, and understanding Shakespeare in the African Bush (I know you've heard of that study).

I intend to share with you my experiences in this challenging and fascinating class. To begin, I wanted to discuss the Vietnamese language.

Part of acquiring Vietnamese language and understanding their culture is by making a distinction between the father's side of the family and the mother's. A distinction constantly reinforced by the terms that must be used when referring to these people. There are also differing expectations of these people as a result of the way Vietnamese reckon kinship and descent.

What is the world do you mean? Simply, there's a way in which to approach or speak to someone, as this works about the same way in American culture.

In Vietnamese society, the predominant sentiment in the relation between members of a social group is respect.

Speakers of Vietnamese must choose the appropriate word depending upon relative age, social status, gender, degree of acquaintance, respect, and affection between speakers and hearers who are not related to each other by blood or marriage.

This form of respect, so to speak, has its roots in the teachings of Confucianism, whereby the Vietnamese describe a position of a person in society. Their behavior towards age and seniority is an obligation or form of respect they must pay to one another, based upon their relationship. Not showing this respect for elders or persons of higher position shows an insolent attitude.

Example and Possible Consequences:

Americans, when writing letters to individuals they don’t know, will address the person as “Dear NAME”.  Vietnamese people, by contrast, use only terms expressing respect such as “kính”, “kính thưa” and never address the person by name, for this would convey a disrespectful attitude.

A parallel can be seen with the use of family names. A father’s name is typically used in Vietnamese and American households.

As a show of respect, Vietnamese use their father’s name first, not last like Americans. Family name always comes first in Vietnamese and the individual name second, followed by the middle name, if one exists
Do you share this similar distinction in your own household? Please share with the readers.

Picture © marleen1951


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