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Face Saving Differences Between Vietnamese And Americans Cultural Studies Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Cultural Studies
Wordcount: 1690 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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There are many definitions of face. But in general, face is an image of self delineated in terms of approved social attributes (Goffman, 1963). In addition, he conceptualizes face as “the positive social value a person effectively claims for himself or herself by the line others assume he or she has taken during a particular contact” (as cited in Stella Ting-Toomy, 1994, p. 49). He also (1955) also argues that face can be lost, saved and or given. He (1967) further suggests two foci of face: self-face (one’s own face) and other-face (other’s face). One not only defends self-face but also protects other-face during interactions (p.49).

Based on Brown and Levinson’s politeness theory, George Yule (1996) in “Pragmatics” stated that there are two types of face:

Negative face: A person’s negative face needs to be independent and to have freedom of action, and not want to be imposed on by others (George Yule, 1996, p. 61).

Positive face: A person’s positive face is the need to be accepted, even liked, by others, to be treated as a member of the same group, and to know that his or her wants are shared by others (George Yule, 1996, p. 62).

Other terms:

Cross-cultural communication:

Hall (1959) indicated that “Culture is communication and communication is culture”.

“Cross-cultural communication is communication (verbal and nonverbal) between people from different cultures; cultural values, belief, attitudes, etc has an impact on communication” (as cited in Ho Thi My Hau. (2001). Cross-cultural communication). And we can realize cross-cultural communication on people through their reactions and responses to each other.


As James R. Silkena, Jeffrey M.Aresty & Jacqueline Klosek (2009) stated that “Face-saving may be defined as the act of preserving one’s prestige or outward dignity” (p.154).

Face-saving is one of the ways to preserve politeness when people joining in conversation. As George Yule (1996) states that face-saving act is “given the possibility that some action might be interpreted as a threat to another’s face, the speaker can say something to lessen the possible threat” (p. 61).


Politeness is an act of awareness of other people’s face. Brown and Levinson are two major representatives on politeness and when we talk about them, we no doubt talk about their model’s politeness that is considered as the greatest impact on language research in general and on intercultural communication in particular.

And according to Brown and Levinson, two main sides of politeness include positive politeness and negative politeness.

Positive politeness:

People joining communication want to be praised and respected.


a. How about lending me some money?

Hey, Bucky, I’d appreciate it if you’d let me borrow you money.

This kind of politeness is seen in every life and the speakers want the others to be pleased and glad. That can lead to be easy for every issue for both speakers and listeners.

Negative politeness

In contrast to positive politeness, people joining communication want to be independent and not to be treated.


Could you lend me your money?

I’m sorry to bother you but can I ask you for your money?

Face saving act is more commonly performed via a negative politeness (George, 1996, p.64).

In conclusion, in Brown and Levinson’s model the complement hope and self-control are the most fundamental force of politeness.

Face-saving function as politeness:

Socio-norm view:

Face-saving has functions as politeness. People in communication consider preserving face-saving as one of politeness’s issues. Face-saving is concerned all over the world. And it is a universal one; however, the characteristic of face-saving is so different through the world. And that is reason why it is concerned as socio-norm view in our society. Preserving face-saving for ourselves and others plays an important role in preserving social relations among people. As a result, people avoid losing face while communicating with others.

Face-saving function as politeness:


Person engaging in communication tries to save his/ her face in front of the others. In this regard, the speakers appreciate their independence or individualism. And preserving their face in front of other people is the most important thing. As a result, they try to avoid being caused to lose face by themselves among people.


Person engaging in communication tries to save the other face in front of the others. Partner avoids lose the politeness and tries to follow the conversational principles. In communication, other-face may be the most concerned one than self-face. This is one of the important issues in preserving politeness. In brief, as in a study of Baxter (1984), the Japanese often concerns much more on self-face than others. In contrast, the American people seem to concern much more on other-face than self -face one.

As a result, Stella Ting – Toomy (1994) confirms that “There were also differences in the situations individuals thought maintaining self-face was important. Japanese wanted to preserve self-face in private, informal, and intimate situations. North Americans, in contrast, wanted to maintain self-face in public, formal, and non-intimate settings” (p. 56).

Socio-cultural impacts on face-saving:

“The positive social value a person effectively claims for himself or herself” (Goffman, 1995, p.213)

The concept of face-saving through is different from cultures worldwide. In such a culture with strong face-saving viewpoint, all business could end up if one side or another is leaded to lose face. In this culture, face-saving plays a more important role than business issues. On the other hand, in such a culture with weak face-saving viewpoint, all business could continue if one side or another is leaded to lose face. In this culture, business issues play more important than face-saving.

In Ho’s view, face “is never a purely individual thing. It does not make sense to speak of the face of an individual as something lodged within his (her) person; it is meaningful; only when his (her) face is considered in relation to that of others in the social network” (as cited in Stella Ting – Toomy, 1994, p. 51).

To Vietnamese culture, although C.kerbrat – orecchioni did not arrange Vietnam as in negative politeness society, we can realize it in some Vietnamese folk verses and proverbs like:

1. “Ta về ta tắm ao ta

Dù trong dù đục ao nhà vẫn hÆ¡n”

” Trâu ta ăn cỏ đồng ta

Tuy rằng cỏ cụt nhÆ°ng là cỏ thÆ¡m”

(Vu Ngoc Phan. (2007). Vietnamese proverbs and folk-songs. p.81)

The view of face-saving is always associated with face-losing in Vietnamese viewpoint that is performed in:

“Tốt danh hÆ¡n là lành áo”

” Người ta hữu tá»­ hữu sinh,

Sống lo xứng phận, thác danh tiếng thÆ¡m “

“Đem chuông Ä‘i Ä‘ánh xứ người

Chẳng kêu, cÅ©ng đấm má»™t hồi lấy danh “

In addition, vietnamese folk verses and proverbs also reflect the reverse side of face-saving like:

“Tốt đẹp phô ra, xấu xa đậy lại”

“khi lành không gặp, khi rách gặp lắm người quen”

Vietnamese often consider face-saving to be a survival issue of each and vice versa losing face is considered to be more serious than death. And Vietnamese absolutely avoid being lost face or they make all ways to avoid losing other-face that is performed as followed:

“Hoa thÆ¡m ai nỡ bỏ rÆ¡i

Người khôn ai nỡ nặng lời vá»›i ai”

“Lời nói chẳng mất tiền mua

Lá»±a lời mà nói cho vừa lòng nhau”

“Thua trời má»™t vạn không bằng thua bạn má»™t ly”

(Vu Ngoc Phan. (2007). Vietnamese proverbs and folk-songs. p.64-81)

As well as the Vietnamese in particular and in Asian culture in general, the American also have their face-saving. They also do not want to lose face in front of other people. American people appreciate the individualism and they often do not concern on the others ‘thought. Saying “no” in front of the others is not considered to be rude that is a necessary demand to avoid misunderstanding tomorrow. A typical example is that in Asian financial crisis in 1997, many Japanese managers suicide because they think their action is one of the ways to protect their human dignity. But to the American, at the same circumstance, they are not to do like that. As a result, they want to make the others progress then.

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Through the study, we can realize that American communications in face-saving often appreciate each person’s individualism and they seem not to focus on collectivist face-saving. Vietnamese, on the other hand, often appreciate collectivist face-saving than self-face saving. That does not mean I indicate which is better, I want to say in general one issue. That is also appropriate to the two cultural communications American and Vietnam.

If we can understand clearly this face-saving in communication that can help us contribute to having proper communication style and avoid regrettable mistakes and conflicts in a cross-cultural communication. In this study, I give you the comparison between the two cultures Vietnamese and American that is not to judge which culture is more polite in face-saving while communication. That is the reason why we could not consider this culture to be higher than the other one.


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