An Overview into the Semantic of Questions in English and Vietnamese

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An Overview into the Semantic of Questions in English and Vietnamese Nguyen 1 An Overview into the Semantic of Questions in English and Vietnamese Student: Nguyễn Thanh Thảo 4B07 Lecturer: Nguyễn Ngọc Vũ University of Pedagogy December 2010 Nguyen 2 Abstract As early as the 18 th century, studies on comparing and contrasting linguistics became popular thanks to the emergence of new lands, new communities, and new languages. Sine 1970s, comparing and contrasting linguistics has been playing a more and more important role to meet the rising demand for language learning to communicate and scientific developments in the direction of multi-lingual research. In Vietnam, along with economic growth, more and more people pick up learning a new language so that they can have more advantages in running their business. Nevertheless, most of language learners have the same obstacle in comparing and contrasting their mother tongue with a foreign language, which prevents them from acquiring a new language easily and effectively. It is found that question is one of the most frequently used types of sentences and English learners have encountered a lot of difficulties practicing questions in speaking and learning. Therefore, this paper aims to compare and contrast the differences and similarities of various types of questions in English and Vietnamese and thus, suggest some application for language teachers and learners. Nguyễn Thanh Thảo Nguyen 3 Lecturer: Nguyễn Ngọc Vũ University of Pedagogy December 2010 In conversations, questions are used to clarify and seek information. That’s why questions are sometimes referred to as interrogative sentences because we ask for something we are unclear about (wikipedia, 2010). However, in fact, asking doesn’t mean inquiring for new information. We tend to use questions as a function for greeting each other (Thiêm, 2004). For example, Vietnamese people may ask “anh đi đâu đó?” when we meet our friends. It functions as a greeting instead of a request for information about the place that person is heading to. Thus, questions can be defined as sentences which are followed by a question mark at the end and used for seeking information. However, there are some sentences in the form of questions but they don’t require an answer. We often use those sentences for greeting purposes. In terms of speaking purposes, there are 2 types of questions: Questions that function as a request for information and questions used for a variety of speaking purposes (Thiêm, 2004). This paper mainly focuses on the semantics of questions that function as a request for information. The semantics refers to the close and intense relationship between the form and the meaning of a sentence (Thiêm, 2004). Comparing and contrasting questions in terms of their semantics enable us to point out the question framework, the devices and operators that contribute to forming questions (Thiêm, 2004). 1. Types of questions in Vietnamese and English a) Types of questions in Vietnamese Nguyen 4 Basing on their semantics, Vietnamese linguists have classified two main types of questions (Thiêm, 2004). They are alternative questions and questions that offer no choice. First of all, let us have a look at alternative questions. Alternative questions are those that offer options, which are signposts used for marking the sphere of oscillation in the speaker’s consciousness (Thiêm, 2004). Particularly, alternative questions require the respondent to answer by picking out the information that is being sought. In Vietnamese, there are three main sub-types of alternative questions. They are questions formed by “Là/ hay là”, questions formed by “Có … không, phải không”, questions using model particle “à, ư, nhỉ, nhé” (Thiêm, 2004). Following are examples and features of each sub-type.  Alternative questionsQuestions with: là / hay là à Tôi, hay anh đi mua đồ cho lớp mình? à Ngày mai lớp mình kiểm tra toán hay văn? à Bây giờ chúng mình đi ăn phở hay là về nhà làm bài tập? à Sống hay là chết? The options can be obviously mentioned in the questions: anh / tôi, toán / văn, ăn phở/về nhà làm bài tập, sống / chết. In some cases, there can be a group of choices, e.g. cả chị cả em; exclusion, e.g. không phải anh, không phải em, không ăn phở, không làm bài tập; or turn-taking, e.g. học rồi ăn, tôi rồi đến lượt bạn … (Thiêm, 2004). The most important thing is that we should not present so many options or objects at a time. E.g. Mẹ nên nấu canh bầu hay canh bí, canh khổ qua, canh chua …? Chúng ta cần tài liệu về Trung Quốc, hay là Việt Nam, Mỹ, Canada …? Also, objects or options that do not belong to the same category or reference should not be included in the question due to the fact that the form of the question, though grammatically correct, goes against common sense and doesn’t conform to its content. E.g. Vietnamese people never say: “ Em nên mua máy tính hay nấu cơm?” Nguyen 5 Neither do we say: “Sóng thần do động đất dưới đáy biển hay là suy thoái kinh tế gây ra?” • Questions with “có… không, … phải không, đã … chưa, …” E.g.: Hôm nay thầy có dạy không? Con có ăn cơm không? Mẹ đã đi làm về chưa? Em đã làm bài chưa? Cô là cô giáo chủ nhiệm của lớp em phải không? Đây là nhà anh ấy phải không? As we can see from the above examples, questions of this type contain two opposite clauses, in which the positive one normally stand at the front and the negative one is often in the back (Thiêm, 2004). However, for questions like these: Em có muốn ăn bánh mì không? Chúng ta có tiếp tục dự án này không? There is no distinction between two clauses, that is we cannot tell which one is more positive. In this case, the particle không is put at the end of the question. • Questions with particles and complementary groups E.g.: Hôm nay con không đi học à? Tên bạn là gì thế nhỉ? There are some modal particles contributing to forming alternative questions. They are: à, nhỉ, hả, nhé, ư, chứ, sao, nha, vậy, … (Thiêm, 2004). We often find them at the end of the questions. These modal particles functions as the intonation for ending a question. E.g.: Bây giờ chúng ta bắt đầu nhé? Cô ấy lại mất tiền nữa ư? Hắn làm hỏng bữa tối thật chứ? Nếu em có ở đây bây giờ thì vui lắm nhỉ? Those questions using modal particles also functions as exclamative sentences. Interestingly, alternative questions require answers while exclamative sentences don’t.  Questions in which there is no options in the predicative Questions of this type often contain question words or groups of question words like gì, nào, ai, đâu, sao, bao giờ, như thế nào, ra sao, lúc nào … There is no option in this type of questions; therefore, the answer contains as much information as possible, concerning the question and the possible contexts (Thiêm, 2004). For instance: Ai là lớp trưởng của lớp 4B? Bạn muốn gì? Chừng nào khoá học này kết thúc? Nguyen 6 Bài toán này giải như thế nào? Vụ án này tình tiết ra sao? Trường Đại học Sư Phạm ở đâu? There is a wide variety of topics for questions of this type. • Questions about people: Ai vậy? Ai đang ở đầu dây đó? Ai là chủ công ty này? Ai là lớp trưởng lớp 4B? • Questions about things or objects: Cái gì đây? Cái gì ở trên bàn vậy? Bạn cần gì? Điều gì quan trọng nhất trong cuộc sống? • Questions about manners, features, qualities: Ngôi nhà này như thế nào? Kết quả cuộc hành trình ra sao? Toà tháp được xây bằng cách nào? • Questions about position: Nhà bếp ở đâu? Cửa hàng điện ở chổ nào? Ngươi là người nơi nào? Em phải tìm anh ở chốn nào? • Questions about time: Bao giờ cho đến tháng ba? Khi nào mẹ về nhà? Buổi họp kết thúc vào lúc nào? • Questions about causes Tại sao lại như vậy? Vì sao con khóc? Anh nghỉ làm vì lí do gì? • Questions about quantities Táo bao nhiêu một kí? Nhà em có mấy người? Mấy giờ em tan học? We should also notice that when asking about time, we can combine the question word with a preposition to indicate the point of time (Thiêm, 2004). E.g.: Từ lúc nào bà ấy mắc căn bệnh hiểm nghèo đó? Câu chuyện diễn ra vào thời điểm nào? b) Types of questions in English In English, there are many ways to categorize and define questions. In “Practical English Usage”, questions are classified into 4 main types (Swan, 2003): Nguyen 7 • Declarative questions: E.g.: “That’s your girlfriend? I thought she was someone else.” “I’m going to America next year.” “You are going to America?” • Reply questions including short questions, questions with question words like who, what, how …, echo questions, attention signals. • Rhetorical questions including questions that do not expect an answer, questions with why / how should …?, negative yes/no questions. • Question tags According to Longman English Grammar Practice, there are six types of questions (Alexander, 1990): • Yes/No questions E.g.: Is he leaving? Did they see the new building in town? Has Ms. Ann seen her daughter yet? • Negative questions Depending on the intonation and stress, we can use this type of questions to persuade, invite, make exclamations, express disbelief, surprise or annoyance … E.g.: Can’t you really ride a bicycle? Don’t you remember our first date in Paris? Wouldn’t you mind me sitting here? Can’t you ever turn off the light when you leave the room? Isn’t it cool to be a movie star? • Tag questions and echo tags E.g.: She’s late, isn’t she? You locked the door, didn’t you? “He’s resigning.” “Is he?” “I’ve just lost 100$.” “Have you?” • Question-word questions E.g.: When does the plane take off? What are you looking at? Which books do you prefer? How long have they known each other? • Subject-questions E.g.: Who tipped the waiter? Which hats suits him best? Whose number did you ring? • Questions about alternatives, emphatic questions with “ever” E.g.: Did you laugh or cry? Did you take it, or didn’t you? Where ever did you buy that tie? What ever does she see him? Nguyen 8 In many other studies about linguistics, questions are also put into three main groups (Thiêm, 2004): • Yes/No questions à Genuine Yes/No questions (questions with auxiliary verbs at the front) à Tags questions à Rhetorical questions à Declarative questions • Wh. Questions • Alternative questions In general, the table below can give us a clear overview about questions in English and Vietnamese (Thiêm, 2004). Languag e Vietnamese English Type of questions Alternative questions Questions that offer no choice Alternative questions Questions that offer no choice Yes/No questions Alternative questions Wh.questions In some other studies, there is another way to classify questions in both languages: Questions in English Questions in Vietnamese 1. Yes-no questions 1. Câu hỏi tổng quát 2. Alternative questions 2. Câu hỏi lựa chọn 3. Declarative questions 3. Câu hỏi có dùng ngữ điệu 4. Wh- questions 4. Câu hỏi có từ nghi vấn 2. Similarities and differences in questions in Vietnamese and English In this section, we will investigate the similarities and differences of questions in terms of their semantics. Specific semantic-syntactic frameworks are necessary for linguistic comparison and contrast (Thiêm, 2004). These frameworks can either belong to a certain type of questions or illustrate their constituents. Below are some specific semantic question frameworks: Nguyen 9 a) Questions about objects and activities In Vietnamese, there are many question words and question frameworks used for asking about objects and activities (Thiêm, 2004). Some frequently used question words are: điều gì, cái gì, việc gì, chuyện gì, thứ gì, vật gì … Contexts and speaking purposes decide which question words can be used. However, in English, only the interrogative pronoun what is often employed in this type of questions. • Some frameworks of questions about objects: Question words function as subjects: E.g.: What made you cry? Cái gì ẩn giấu phía sau vẻ mặt thân thiện và nụ cười duyên dáng ấy? What caused the fire in the department building last night? Điều gì sẽ xảy ra với tình hình ngoại giao thế giới sau vụ rò rỉ thông tin từ WikiLeaks? The question framework is the same in English and Vietnamese (Thiêm, 2004). S – V – O Intonations are employed in both English and Vietnamese (Thiêm, 2004). On the other hand, in Vietnamese, modal particles like à, ư, thế, nhỉ, như vậy … are added into questions. Positions of question words are similar in both languages. Noticeably, in some cases, the speaking purpose is shifted from asking about objects to inquring about reasons or causes (Thiêm, 2004). E.g.: What caused the president to declare war between two countries? Vì sao nhà nước phải thắt chặt quản lí nhà đất? What is it for? Tại sao vẫn còn tình trạng người lái xe không đội mũ bảo hiểm? When we study questions about direct objects, that are objects affected by actions of the verbs, there are some differences between the two languages. What functions as an object or complement and so does gì in Vietnamese. gì often goes with verbs like làm, nói, cần, muốn, ăn, nghĩ, học, … and is placed at the end of the sentence while what always stands at the front. E.g.: Em đang nghĩ gì vậy? What are you thinking about? Để phát triển kinh tế nhà nước cần làm gì? What does the government do to develop the economic? Cái này được gọi là gì? What is this called? Nguyen 10 Ba bạn làm nghề gì? What does your father do? Bây giờ em phải nói gì đây? What should I say now? From the above examples, we can conclude that question frameworks vary from Vietnamese to English. Vietnamese: Subject – Predicative – Object? English: Object – Verb – Subject? In general, in terms of word order, the frameworks are the same for questions about objects, yet there are some contrasts about the positions of the question words in questions containing direct objects. b) Questions about people Ai and who / whose are question words for this type of questions. E.g.: Anh là ai? Who are you? Ai đó? Who’s that? Chị muốn nói chuyện với ai? Who do want to talk to? Chiếc này của ai vậy? Whose car is it? Ai về ai có nhớ không? (Hữu, 2000) Who was given the prize? The above examples show us the general framework for questions about people in Vietnamese and English. Vietnamese: Subject – Predicative – Object / complement? English: Object – Verb – Subject? The framework is similar for both languages if the question word acts as a subject, yet the frameworks vary for complement and object (Thiêm, 2004). c) Questions about places, time, manners, features Basically, the frameworks for questions in English and Vietnamese are below: Vietnamese: Subject – Predicative – Object / Complement? English: Object – Verb – Subject? E.g.: Anh đi đâu đấy? Where are you going? Chị ấy công tác ở đâu? Where does she work? Bưu điện nằm ở đâu vậy? Where is the post office? Khi nào em về quê? When are you coming home? [...]... English and their Vietnamese equivalents: In English, as seen in the categories above, yes-no question belongs to a separate group and includes many sub-groups Therefore, questions with có/không in Vietnamese are not 100% the same as yes/no questions in English, which means we cannot presume they are alike and that different strategies should be applied in interpreting this type of questions from English. .. of something they are uncertain about As a result, the speaking contexts play a vital role in interpreting and translating these questions from English to Vietnamese and vice versa Moreover, we also have to pay attention to the speaking purposes as well as conversational functions of the questions being used, so that an accurate and relevant translation can be produced Teachers should provide for the. .. provide for the students the appropriate strategies to explore all kinds of questions in English and their Vietnamese equivalents In particular, to provide students an insight into different interpretations of yes-no questions, Wh- questions, alternative questions, etc., it’s advisable for teachers to show the students the approach to analyze the semantic meanings of the sentence basing on its situations,... forming yes-no Nguyen 12 questions Instead, intonation and interrogative operators like may, can, be, have … are included (Thiêm, 2004) E.g.: Have you seen her lately? Are you the girl she’s been talking about? May I have a drink? Can you pass me the salt, please? As we can see from the examples above, interrogative operators are placed at the beginning of the questions, accompanied by a rising intonation... quan tâm đúng mức đến việc đầu tư, nâng cấp công trình giao thông? On the other hand, in English, a rising intonation is important when using tag questions In fact, rising intonation is the only feature that makes this type of questions distinct from declarative sentences On the contrary, in Vietnamese question words are required E.g.: They are coming by bus? Họ đến bằng xe buýt à? You guys are dating?... presuppositions, and implicature In terms of translation, translators often have a tendency to convert yes-no questions to questions with “có … không?” despite the speaking context This can lead to some cross-cultural misunderstanding since, as mentioned earlier, yes-no questions in Vietnamese and English are not entirely the same Nguyen 16 Works Cited Alexander, L (1990) Longman English Grammar Practice... are dating? Tụi bây đang hẹn hò phải không? Nguyen 15 4 Applications in language teaching Many types of questions in English contain a variety of meanings which are almost the same, thus it is hard to tell them apart in some cases For examples, yes-no questions that can be used for seeking information, expressing the speaker’s concern or hesitation share one thing in common, that is the speaker’s search... from the question, while in Vietnamese the tag is mainly replaced by phải không?, đúng thế không?, à? (Thiêm, 2004) As a result, we have the frameworks for this type of questions: English: S – V (negative), positive? S – V (positive), negative? Vietnamese S – V à / phải không…? Interestingly, in Vietnamese, to emphasis a confirmation, we can reverse the position of the tag to the beginning of the question... cánh? When does the plane take off? Bao giờ cho đến tháng ba? When does March come? When asking about manners, we use these question words: như thế nào, ra sao, thế nào, bằng cách nào in Vietnamese, and how in English For questions about causes and reasons, question words like vì sao, tại sao, lý do gì, vì lý do gì – Why are employed Noticeably, in English and Vietnamese, there are a variety of equivalent... alternative questions in English and Vietnamese lies in questions with or, hay- hay là, hoặc-hoặc là…, that is the options are manifested on the surface of the question itself (Thiêm, 2004) E.g.: Em chỉ được chọn học thêm một trong hai thứ tiếng, tiếng Anh hoặc tiếng Nhật? Anh thích du lịch Anh hay Mỹ? Would you like tea or coffee? Will they buy a new laptop or try to fix the broken one? 3 Yes-no questions in . between the form and the meaning of a sentence (Thiêm, 2004). Comparing and contrasting questions in terms of their semantics enable us to point out the. differences in questions in Vietnamese and English In this section, we will investigate the similarities and differences of questions in terms of their semantics.
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