Condolences in Cantonese and English: What People Say and Why

John C. Wakefield*, Winnie Chor, Nikko Lai

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in book/report/conference proceedingChapterpeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)


This study used the ethnopragmatics approach to examine the cultural-based knowledge that guides Cantonese and Anglo-English speakers when offering death-related condolences, or what we refer to here as ‘condolence routines’. The data came from discourse completion tasks, the existence of cultural key phrases, and the authors’ native-speaker intuitions. We examined condolences that are offered to a good friend who has recently lost someone close to him or her. We present cultural scripts that are proposed to account for the linguistic contrasts in Cantonese versus English condolence routines. The Cantonese script is entirely new while the English script is revised from a previous study. Based on our analysis, we conclude that the primary contrast is that Anglo-English condolences typically focus on expressing that the condoler feels sad because of the bereaved’s loss, while Cantonese condolences typically focus on telling the bereaved not to be sad and to take care of his-or herself. Knowledge of this contrast in sociopragmatics is not only a meaningful contribution to the study of pragmatics; it is also of practical help to people in regular contact with Cantonese and/or Anglo-English speakers. It can help one to understand how to avoid saying something during a condolence routine that may sound inappropriate, or even insensitive, to speakers of these two languages.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationStudies in Ethnopragmatics, Cultural Semantics, and Intercultural Communication
Subtitle of host publicationEthnopragmatics and Semantic Analysis
EditorsKerry Mullan, Bert Peeters, Lauren Sadow
PublisherSpringer Singapore
Number of pages24
ISBN (Electronic)9789813299832
ISBN (Print)9789813299825, 9789813299856
Publication statusPublished - 24 Oct 2019

Scopus Subject Areas

  • Arts and Humanities(all)
  • Social Sciences(all)

User-Defined Keywords

  • Cantonese culture
  • Condolence routines
  • Condolences
  • Cultural scripts
  • Ethnopragmatics
  • Sociopragmatics


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