A Comparative Study of Pragmatic Properties of the English and Chinese Language Term Paper Examples

Type of paper: Term Paper

Topic: China, English, Language, People, Conversation, Linguistics, Rhetoric, Theory

Pages: 10

Words: 2750

Published: 2023/04/10

A Comparative Study of Pragmatic Properties of the English and Chinese Language

Just like humans and knowledge, language is able to evolve. The question to consider is that are these changes good or bad? The establishment of a language take years to perfect and right now, no language in this world is flawless. Two best examples are two of the most spoken language in the world Chinese and English. Fact Monster (2014) uploaded a list of the most spoken language in the world, Chinese took the top spot with over 1,197,000,000 speakers around the world. English only came in third with 335,000,000 after Spanish.
One might assume that English is the most spoken language since it’s considered as the universal language. Chinese is divided with individual languages for example Mandarin, Hakka, Yue, Min, and more. English on the other hand is different when it comes to accent. Most people practice fluency and grammar when it comes to speaking or writing English or Chinese. However, confusions may arise because of several reasons like words with multiple meanings and new emerging or made up words. This is what Pragmatics deal with, the deeper interpretation and understanding of certain words. The main subject being tackled in Pragmatics is knowing the meaning of words. According to Birner (2013), people need to consider semantics and syntax of a word before giving it meaning or using it in a sentence. There are different branches of field according to pragmatics for example speech acts, information structure, anaphora, deixis, and more.
This comparative study will discuss the several pragmatic properties affecting the Language English and Chinese to determine the similarities and differences between the two. According to O’Driscoll (2014), a comparative study compares and contrast two texts or in this case languages and dissect all possible factors to generate results, either the same or different.

English and Chinese Implicature

Paul Grice’s theory of implicature evaluates words and expressions uttered in a way that contradict or hide its meaning (Pynn, 2011). In the English language there are some words with multiple meanings. Interlocutors or speakers tend to say something different from the message they want to submit to someone. For example, the word “take” might means to steal something or grab an opportunity.

You must take it before someone else does.

This sentence might be understood differently from other people, first interpretation is, you must steal it, before someone else does, second interpretation is, you have to grab the opportunity before someone else take it and then it’s gone forever. Some people might not be direct so it’s important to always understand a message the way it’s said.
The same goes with some Chinese words, multiple meanings and success in interpretation lies in the detail of how the word was use in a sentence or the current situation of the interlocutors or speaker.
Make use of your 常识 chángshí (general knowledge or common sense) in solving this logic problem, remember your lesson.
One might assume that the speaker instruct the listeners to make use of the facts and knowledge they know or think outside the box with their common sense to solve the problem. “Remember your lesson” might say to make use of general knowledge generated from learning but the speakers really wants the listeners to think deeper using common sense.
Speaking of common sense, this issue regarding some English and Chinese words might be resolved if listeners are able to easily understand the word or sentence immediately without further clarification from the speaker.

Here are some other examples of English and Chinese words with multiple meanings:

Set – to prepare or to put something in a certain surface or area
Crane – a type of bird, lifting machine or stretch out
Engage – pledge into a contract for marriage, attract or participate
Break – separate something into pieces, recess or a breakthrough for someone’s career or profession
These English words are different according to their usage in a sentence, the setting of the situation, or the person who uttered the words.


Chángshí – pollute or stain
Tíxǐng – warn or remind

Xiang – to miss, to want, little or elephant

Ma – mom, toad, numb, stack, or horse
Most of these Chinese words differ mostly in the way of their pronunciation.
Thinking about it, this theory is similar to the idea of sarcasm or irony. Saying something but meaning the opposite to confuse or ridicule someone. The theory of implicature focus on what is implied not what was said, spoken, or uttered.
In a long dialogue or conversation, it is ideal to make use of pronouns to refer to a person, a thing, a place, or time. It would sound off if someone didn’t use pronouns to refer to someone, for example. “Martin went to college to work on martin’s master degree. Martin decided to pursue a double major program so martin can finish up early.” It appears and sounds confusing. “Martin went to college to work on his master degree. He decided to pursue a double major program so he can finish up early.” It is important to be very accurate in using pronouns when referring to someone mentioned earlier in a sentence. This property helps clarify information structure and for listeners to understand or follow people’s train of thoughts.
In Chinese some there are two words for “we” Zánmen and Wǒmen. Zánmen is used to refer to “we or us” including the one speaking. Wǒmen don’t include the one speaking. So it is important to use the write Chinese pronouns when referring to the people involve. The important thing to consider is uniformity with terms especially pronouns and the subject it refers to (Gundel and Fretheim, n.d.). This idea is utilized mainly in research papers, thesis proposals, news stories, and other published materials. This example came from the popular comedy TV series The Big Bang Theory. Here’s the dialogue between Leonard Hofstadter (Johnny Galecki) and Sheldon Cooper (Jim Parsons) in the episode The Hamburger Postulate Big Bang Theory Quote 2016):
Leonard:  If Penny didn't know that Leslie had already turned me down then that would unambiguously mean that she, Penny, thought I should ask her, Leslie, out, indicating that she, Penny, had no interest in me asking her, Penny, out but because she did know that I had asked Leslie out and that she, Leslie, had turned me down then she, Penny, could be offering me consolation. "That's too bad, you would have made a cute couple" but while thinking "good, Leonard remains available."

Sheldon: You're a lucky man Leonard.

Leonard: How so?Sheldon: You're talking to one of three men in the western hemisphere capable of following that train of thought. (Big Bang Theory Quote 2016)

Speech Acts

This can be considered as a battle between literal and semantic utterance. Taking and understating words in a literal way all the time is wrong since same words can have different meaning. There are certain factors to consider first with this concept. The way the words were uttered, interlocutor expression and behavior, and performatives. It’s is very important to consider truth-conditional semantics which are ideas uttered based on facts. In a conversation or proposition it is important to maintain the credibility of the words being uttered to the listeners to keep everyone interested. Speech acts talks about how an individual informs other about the things he wants to do using words. Taking this literal, an individual simply talk like:

“I want some fried chicken from KFC.”

“I feel like going on a road trip.”
This is easy to understand since the sentence is conveyed specifically. However, there are some cases wherein some people might fail to understand what someone desires simply by understanding the words being uttered by that someone. For example, “I’m a little lost.” This sentence might mean that someone is either lost and can’t navigate his/her current situation or someone is confused. The listeners then should take the situation when the speaker uttered those words. The speaker might be in a rush meaning he/she is lost; the speaker might be someone from a crowd listening to a lecture.
This is similar to the property called Anaphora which is also set of words and expressions to replace or refer to a subject mentioned earlier in a proposition. For example, “The boy was able to practice hard so he won one of his boxing matches.” The pronoun “he” refers to the “boy” who is the subject of the sentence.

Face and Politeness

Politeness in general means showing a respectful manner when talking to someone or performing a certain act. Facework and politeness is taken seriously in the field of linguistics regarding conversation between people. The politeness theory introduced by Penelope Brown and Stephen Levinson in 1978 has been guiding people for years on how they interact with other people. Politeness theory is simple, the addresser simply transmit or utter the words with a respectful and calm manner for the listeners or audience to understand (Vilkki, n.d.). One external example is the issue with call center or customer service representatives. Most of the callers asking for assistance might be angry or irritated about something, which may lead to weak communication understanding between the caller and representative.
In Chinese some phrases or words differ in the way they are uttered either formal or casual. Under the speech act theory, it is important to consider politeness and facial expressions. When saying excuse me in Chinese, most people say qǐng ràng yí xià (excuse me in a formal way). While others prefer to use jiè guāng (excuse me in a casual way) to someone of the same age or a close friend. In English, speakers tend to combine words with other words showing respect for someone. For example, if a kid says excuse me to an elderly, he or she would say “excuse me ma'am or sir” rather than “excuse me.” In Chinese there are several ways of saying sorry according to several situations like, if someone bothered someone say “má fan nǐ” meaning “sorry to trouble you,” and “bù hǎo yì si”saying sorry for feeling embarrassed. Politeness in English is mostly shown with the way of saying or uttering the word. For example if someone yelled “Wake up!” it clearly shows anger or irritation, but if someone said it with a normal and calm voice, then it’s a whole different scenario.
Some languages have certain words to show respect to elderly like in Tagalog, Filipinos often talk to elders and adults with the words “po” and “opo.” For example, “Kumusta na kayo” means “How are you?” When a child asks this to someone older he or she would say “Kumusta na po kayo?” In Japanese, people use the words “Senpai” or “Sensei” to address teachers as a sign of respect. “Shi” is used when talking to someone you have never met before to show respect.

Pragmatic or Discourse Markers

Pragmatic or discourse markers are considered pronouns or words used to elevate a certain proposition as if to agree with someone. The main example of pragmatic and discourse markers are so, right, anyway, and more. For example, A refers to the boss and B refers to the employee in this sample conversation.

So, looks like everything is set up for tomorrow’s presentation.

Right, everything is organized and ready to go.
Great, make sure to prepare for your lecture tomorrow.
Ok sir, will do.
These words are used by individuals who are agreeing on something to show commitment on the proposition introduced by someone. In Chinese, the discourse markers are similar and only needs to be translated, “fanzheng” means anyway, “ranhou” means then, “dui” means yeah, and more. According to Liu (2009), the study and research with Chinese discourse markers is often disregarded; most scholars prefer to study the English language because it’s considered as the universal language. The effectiveness and function of pragmatic or discourse markers is better tested with classrooms that studies English as a foreign language according to Castro (n.d). There isn’t much difference between the English and Chinese language when it comes to this property.

Deixis Phenomenon and Expressions

It is important for all the content of the message to be present within the body of the message for the reader or receiver to fully understand what the message says. For example, is someone anonymous sent you a message that says, “Please save me,” the reader wouldn’t be able to act immediately since the sender’s identity, whereabouts, and situation is unknown.
Deixis is considered a symbol in linguistics referring to the “point” or the subject. It’s important to make use of words like this, that, these, or those to refer to something. Another example, someone said “This is the best thing in my life.” One might fail to see what is “this” refers to. Deixis expressions are categorized by first, second, and third person either singular or plural. English and Chinese language differs mostly with the first-person plural and singular terms. One example is what was mentioned earlier on this paper regarding the word “we.” The word “we” refers to a group of people including the speaker, that’s the case in English. In Chinese, there are two words for “we,”Zánmen and Wǒmen. Zánmen is similar to the common we used in English, but the Wǒmen refer to a group of people without the speaker. Another example is the word “I.” In English “I” refers to one, the speaker referring to himself as only one. In Chinese, “Yishi” is the official word for “I” in Chinese which is similar to the “I” in English. There is another term, “zan.” This term refers to an individual who is part of a certain group or community. According to Zhang, Wu, and Feng (2013) this is cause of pragmatic stance wherein the speaker sees himself as part of the group rather than as a functioning individual. This is also a difference within the culture of a certain individual.
It’s relevant to know the subject these deixis expressions or words are referring or indicating for the sake of understanding.


When it comes to pragmatics, credibility is essential when it comes to conversing with someone or a group for a healthy communication. Presupposition tackles certain contradictions to this element of truth. Presupposition isn’t actually talking about words or their formation in a sentence; it tackles about the accurate flow of information uttered by interlocutors in a certain proposition. Presupposition can be considered as assumptions of something. For example, someone said, “The king of United States was assassinated this morning.” Will someone believe this statement without considering the facts? The US government is led by the President and if something as big as that news, the whole country would be in turmoil. One might consider that the one who uttered those words might refer to someone called or considered “King” in the country like the basketball player Lebron James or King James.
In this property, the factors needed to be considered as the elements that triggers presuppositions in the English and Chinese language. There are four elements that trigger presuppositions; denial of facts, defeasibility, context sensitive, and culture sensitive. Denial of facts or negation refers to contradictions to stated statements. For example, “Aliens are welcome/ not welcome in this planet.” This might lead to another presuppositions, “Do aliens exist/ does not exist?” Defeasibility refers to unreliable sources leading to the possible revision of the presuppositions in the near future, inconsistency with information. Context sensitive refers to the confusions that might emerge with the way words are said. A same sentence might have different meanings in the manner it is said or if a certain word is intonated. It’s also important to pay attention to certain words in a sentence which are intonated or capitalized. Culture sensitive talks about the difference with opinions because of different beliefs and customs. This is where the English and Chinese languages are mostly different.


There isn’t much difference when it comes to semantic and pragmatic between the English and Chinese language. The ways of understanding and interpreting is similar for all languages, an individual just needs common sense and general knowledge. Chinese is harder to become familiar with because the language is divided with specific dialects from different areas in China. Most people are eager to study the English language because it’s considered as the universal language. All in all, English and Chinese are different when it comes to beliefs and customs, causing both languages to say different things.
It’s important to study the whole concept of pragmatics and its connection to language. With pragmatics, individuals are able to expand their knowledge and understand all languages deeper than content of lecture books. Castillo (2009) asserts that the role of pragmatics is big especially for students learning second languages.
Future researchers might consider expanding the domain of pragmatics by including the idea of newly introduced words. For example, Selfie, which means a picture taken of oneself. Before that certain picture is considered as an image, photo, or a picture, now there’s a specific term for it. It would contribute so much to the field of linguistics if future researchers tackled this certain topic.


Big Bang Theory Quote, 2016. [online] Available at: < http://the-big-bang-theory.com/quotes/quote/2130/> [Accessed 6 January 2016]
Birner, B., 2013. Introduction to pragmatics. Hoboken, NJ: Blackwell Publishing LTD.
Fact Monster, 2014. Most widely spoken languages in the world. Available at:
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Castro, C. M. C., n.d. The use and functions of discourse markers in EFL classroom interaction
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Zhang, S., Wu, X., and Feng, Y.,2013. An analysis of cultural differences in Chinese and English
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