How the cultural understanding of death affects what one says in the condoling process in Cantonese and English

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review

Abstract

The concept of death is said to be codified in all languages (e.g., Wierzbicka 1996; Ameka 2008). Each culture has its own beliefs about the meaning and purpose of life and what happens after death. This informs how people in those cultures approach others who have recently lost their loved ones. There is no correct way to offer your condolence. What is normal to say in one culture may seem strange in another. Drawing from data obtained from 60 sets of Discourse Completion Tasks (28 from English and 32 from Cantonese) involving how participants respond to contexts in which their friend has recently lost i) their uncle and ii) their mother, this study investigates what English and Cantonese speakers would say and why when condoling bereaved people who have recently lost someone close to them. Through analyzing the speech acts expressed in these condolences, we observed that two speech acts, namely “Speaking for the deceased” and “Inquiry of the deceased’s post-death arrangements”, are specific to Cantonese. We propose that social beliefs and cultural values surrounding death determine what people would say, and should say, in the condoling process. As the Chinese saying Sǐzhě wèi dà (lit. the dead be big) suggests, the deceased should be respected the most. Rooted from the Chinese culture, it is believed that death is not the end but the beginning of the next life; a fine memorial service will better prepare the deceased for the afterlife. This respect for the deceased is supported by our data that 27% of the Cantonese participants have inquired about the deceased and their post-death circumstance (e.g. the funeral arrangements). In order to express our condolence in a more appropriate, sensitive, and adequate way, specific socio-cultural knowledge about grief and death is thus essential.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 12 Jun 2022
EventThe 9th International Conference on Intercultural Pragmatics and Communication (INPRA-9) - University of Queensland, Hybrid Conference (Online & In-person), Australia
Duration: 21 Jun 202223 Jun 2022
https://languages-cultures.uq.edu.au/INPRA2020 (Conference website)
https://languages-cultures.uq.edu.au/files/27514/INPRA%209%20-%20Book%20of%20Abstracts%20%5BFinal%5D%20%281%29.pdf (INPRA 9 Book of Abstracts)

Conference

ConferenceThe 9th International Conference on Intercultural Pragmatics and Communication (INPRA-9)
Country/TerritoryAustralia
Period21/06/2223/06/22
Internet address

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