INDIRECT SPEECH IN ENGLISH AND VIETNAMESE: A Contrastive Analysis
Instructor: Ph.D Nguyen Ngoc Vu
Student: Le Thi Thu Quynh
December 25, 2010
Contrastive Analysis (CA) or Contrastive Linguistics: "In the study of foreign language learning, the identification of points of structural similarity and difference between two languages" (Crystal, 1992, p. 83). “Language comparison is of great interest in a theoretical as well as an applied perspective. It reveals what is general and what is language specific and is therefore important both for the understanding of language in general and for the study of the individual languages compared.” (Johansson and Hofland). CA describes similarities and differences among two or more languages at such levels as phonology, grammar, and semantics.
In this paper, I would like to analyze one of language aspects - that is grammar and specifically indirect speech in both Vietnamese and English in order to show the similarities and differences between two languages, point out some common mistakes made by Vietnamese learners and the implications of this study.
I. Basic similarities and differences in indirect speech between English and Vietnamese: 4
1) Similarities: 4
a) Function of the indirect speech: 4
b) Reporting Verbs 5
c) The change of pronoun from direct to indirect speech 6
d) The change of adverbs of time and places from direct to indirect speech: 7
2) Differences 9
a) The use of tense: 9
b) Possible changes in auxiliary verbs: 11
II. Differences and similarities in indirect speech of some particular kinds of sentences in English and Vietnamese. 13
1) Suggestions, requests and commands 13
2) Questions: 15
a) Yes/no questions: 15
b) Wh-Questions: 15
3) Exclamation: 16
III. Teaching implication 17
1) Some common mistakes 17
2) Implication in teaching English 17
3) Implication in translation: 19
Basic similarities and differences in indirect speech between English and Vietnamese:
Function of the indirect speech:
Indirect Speech (or “reported speech”) refers to a sentence reporting what someone has said without using the exact words. It is almost always used in spoken English and Vietnamese.
Indirect speech does not use quotation marks to enclose what the person said and it does not have to be word for word.
Jim says to you...
"I don't feel well."
"My parents have gone on holiday."
“I’m busy doing my school work.”
You tell your friend what Jim said...
Jim said (that) he didn't feel well.
He said (that) his parents had gone on holiday.
He said (that) he was busy doing his homework.
Direct: Lan nói với mẹ qua điện thoại:
Lan: “Hôm nay con đi học về trễ. Ba mẹ đừng chờ cơm con.”
Indirect: Mẹ Lan nói lại với bố Lan:
Lan nói nó đi học về trễ, vợ chồng mình đừng chờ cơm nó.
Said, told and asked are the most common verbs used in indirect speech in both English and Vietnamese (hỏi, kể, nói).
We use asked to report questions:
For example: I asked Lynne what time the lesson started. ( tôi hỏi Lynne mấy giờ thì bắt đầu học)
We use told with an object.
For example: Lynne told me she felt tired. (Lynne kể với tôi (rằng/là) cô ấy bị bệnh)
We usually use said without an object.
For example: Lynne said she was going to France. (Lynne nói (rằng) cô ấy sắp đi Pháp.)
If said is used with an object we must include to :
For example: Lynne saidto me that she'd never been to China.(Lynne nói với tôi (rằng) cô ấy chưa bao giờ tới Trung Quốc)
There are many other verbs we can use apart from said, told and asked.
In Vietnamese: kêu, mời, gọi, tâm tình, thỏ thẻ, đề nghị, than thở, phàn nàn…
Using them properly can make what you say much more interesting and informative.
He asked me to go out for dinner ( anh ấy kêu tôi đi ra ngoài ăn tối)
He invited me to the party.(anh ấy mời tôi đi ra ngoài ăn tối)
He begged me to go out for dinner. ( anh ấy năn nỉ tôi ra ngoài ăn tối)
He ordered me to go out for dinner. (anh ấy yêu cầu tôi ra ngoài ăn tối)
He advised me to go out for dinner.(anh ấy khuyên tôi nên ra ngoài ăn tối)
He suggested me to go out for dinner. (anh ấy đề nghị tôi ra đi ra ngoài ăn tối)
The change of pronoun from direct to indirect speech
When changing one direct sentence into indirect sentence, we need to change the personal pronouns and possessive adjectives. The reason is that two persons who give speeches in two situations are not the same.
Moreover, the first and second person pronouns are changed to the third person. For the third person we don’t make any change in the indirect sentence.
Direct: Last week, Nam said to me, “I come from Vung Tau”.
(The person who says this sentence is Nam.)
Indirect: Nam said to me he came from Vung Tau.
(This sentence was said by me when I and my friends talked about Nam yesterday.)
Direct: Hà: “ tôi sẽ mua một cái áo sơ mi mới cho ba tôi nhân dịp sinh nhật ông.”
Indirect: Hà nói rằng cô ấy sẽ mua một cái áo sơ mi mới cho ba cô ấy nhân dịp sinh nhật ông.”
The change of adverbs of time and places from direct to indirect speech:
In both English and Vietnamese, if the reported sentence contains an expression of time or place, we all must change it to fit in with the time or place of reporting.
For example we need to change words like here and yesterday if they have different meanings at the time and place of reporting.
However, there are still some differences in the way of change of “last year/month” (năm ngoái/ tháng trước); “next year/month” (năm tới/ tháng tới) or “anhour ago” (cách đây vài giờ) because Vietnamese speech sometimes do not have any changes in these adverb phrase when changing from direct speech to indirect speech, but preserve them as “năm ngoái/ tháng trước”; “năm tới/ tháng tới” or “cách đây vài giờ”.
E.g. Minh nói: “ Năm ngoái tôi đi về Bắc thăm quê nội.”
Minh nói rằng năm ngoái anh ta về Bắc thăm quê nội.
The use of tense:
Several changes are made in converting direct to indirect speech. The most important alteration takes place, however, in the verb phrase: this is the change of tense that is referred to as back – shift. When the reporting verb is in the past tense (said, told, asked…), verbs in the reported speech are changed as follows:
He whispered, “you are beautiful.”
He whispered that she was beautiful.
Marry said, “I’m making some cookies.”
Mary said that she was cooking some cookies.
Present perfect simple
They said, “we have gone to this cinema for several times.”
Past perfect simple
They said that they had gone to that cinema for several times.
David said,” I have been living in Los Angeles for ten years.”
Past perfect continuous
David said that he had been living in Los Angeles for ten years.
They said,” we went camping yesterday.”
They said that they had gone camping the day before.
Lan said, “My family was driving to Vung Tau last weekend.”
Past perfect continuous
Lan said that her family had been driving to Vung Tau the previous weekend.
Helen explained, “the tickets had been sold before.”
Past perfect (no change)
Helen explained that the tickets had been sold before.
Past perfect continuous
The professor said to Jim, “The lesson had been starting for half an hour.”
Past perfect continuous
The professor said to Jim that the lesson had been starting for half an hour.”
If, on the other hand, the reporting verb is in the present, there is no tense change:
E.g. She keeps saying, “I am a failure.’
She keeps saying that she is a failure.
When direct speech is reported very soon afterwards, there is often no backshift in any tenses. As one might expect, this lack of backshift is characteristic more of the spoken than of the written language, in which it may take some time to “report”.
E.g. “I’m so glad I went to the Sates,” said Susan on her return. “I’ll tell you all about it in this evening when I’ve got over my jet lag.”
Susan said she’s very glad she went to the States and that she’ll tell us all about it this evening when she has got over her jet lag.
(Reported verbally and perhaps immediately or in any case before “this evening”.)
Sometimes the present tense is used as an alternative to the past tense in reported speech if the verb in question refers to what is (or was) believed to be a regular occurrence or existing fact:
a. Nam said, “Americans are generally very hospitable people.”
Nam said that Americans are/ were generally very hospitable people.
b. He said, “I will show you how the television works.”
He explained how the television works/worked.
The past tense does not undergo backshift when used to express non-fact and therefore not directly related to time:
Christine said, “I’d visit Disneyland if I went to the States.”
Christine said that she’d visit Disneyland if she went to the States.
‘I wish I knew someone over there,” she sighed.
She added with a sigh that she wished she knew someone over there.
The subjunctive “were”, used sometimes instead of “was” for non – fact, does not undergo backshift either:
“Ah, if only I were Mary!” cried Susan.
Susan said with some feeling that she wished she were Mary.
Kathy said that tom would go abroad the following week.
Although He would go is not the past of He will go, it is the backshifted form in indirect speech. So too with the other modal auxiliaries:
“May I go?” she asked
She asked if she might go.
“I can eat fifty apples” said John.
John said he could eat fifty apples.
If a modal auxiliary in direct speech has no past tense equivalent (this includes auxiliaries which are already past, such as could, might, as well as must, ought to, need and had better), then the same form remains in indirect speech:
“I would like some tea,” he said.
He said that he would like some tea.
The element of speaker involvement which is often present in the meaning of some modal auxiliaries (e.g. may = “permission”) is naturally assigned in indirect speech to the subject of the indirect statement. Thus,
John said that I might go -> would mean that John was giving me permission to go (corresponding to the direct “you may go”), whereas
I might go -> outside indirect speech would mean that I was considering the possibility of going.
If the reporting verb phrase is modal and perfective, it counts as past for purposes of the backshift rule. Compare:
He asks what John is doing.
He has asked what John is doing.
He may have asked what John was doing.
In Vietnamese we have no tenses. So when we change from direct speech to indirect speech, we don’t need to consider anything about tense changes.
Example: Hoa than thở với mẹ, “hôm qua con làm rơi mất tiền ăn sáng.”
Hoa than thở với mẹ rằng cô ấy (đã) làm rơi mất tiền ăn sáng vào ngày hôm trước.
Nam nói lớn, “con có thể ăn được 5 ổ bánh mì.”
Nam nói lớn rằng nó có thể ăn được 5 ổ bánh mì.
Differences and similarities in indirect speech of some particular kinds of sentences in English and Vietnamese.
For this section we will not mention statements because our examples have so far been of indirect statements.
Suggestions, requests and commands
In Vietnamese and English when you make indirect speech from direct speech for suggestions, requests and commands, it seems to have some similar changes in the sentences. Common reporting verbs for this case are ask, order, advise, tell, order, warn, suggest,… the verb “say” is not much preferred or maybe inappropriate when people give suggestions or requests. For example:
Nam hét to: “đừng chạm vào đó.”
Nam yêu cầu đừng chạm vào đó.
However, in English you need to use an infinitive verb with “to” after these reporting verbs.
He shouted, “Don’t drink that water.”
He advised me not to drink that water.
Usually in indirect speech for suggestions and requests we express the same meaning as direct speech but in a different way.
Mai rủ: “Hay là tụi mình đi công viên chơi đi.”
Mai rủ đi công viên chơi
“Could you,” said Sheila to a passing driver, “give me a lift into town? My car has broken down.”
Sheila asked a passing driver to give her a lift into town, as her car had broken down. (Do not write Sheila asked a passing driver if he could give her a lift into town. Her car had broken down.)
“What about the blue shirt?” Ann said to me.
Ann suggested me to buy the blue shirt. (Do not write Ann suggested what about the blue shirt.)
Additionally, the reporting verb, in the case of indirect commands, has to be followed by an indirect object or prepositional object: for the indirect speech version of “sit down,” I snapped, one would write not I snapped to sit down, but I snapped at him to sit down. With a verb like sneer one could render an indirect command with tell and an appropriate adverbial:
“Go back to the nursery,” he sneered
He told them sneeringly (or with a sneer) to go back to the nursery.
In Vietnamese, the way we express a yes/ no question in both direct and indirect similarly except for pronoun and time/ place changes.
Hoa hỏi tôi : “ Ăn cơm chưa?”
Hoa hỏi tôi ăn cơm chưa.
However, in English you have to add whether or if and reverse word order in addition to tense, pronoun, time and place changes.
“Are you ready yet?” asked Joan.
Joan asked me whether/ if I was ready yet.
“Have you ever been to France?” asked David.
David asked me if I had ever been to France.
Dung hỏi mẹ: “Đó là hoa gì vậy?”
Dung hỏi mẹ rằng đó là hoa gì vậy.
“How long have you both been living here?” they said.
They inquired how long we had both been living there.
From these examples, the biggest differences between English and Vietnamese in indirect speech for Wh-Questions are word order and tense changes. Specifically, in English when people make an indirect speech for questions, they have to put the verb after subject. Meanwhile in Vietnamese the word order remains the same.
Some common reporting verbs in English are exclaimed, say, remark, complain, wish…
Some common reporting verbs in Vietnamese are khen, ca ngợi, chúc,…
Minh nói: “ Cô ấy đẹp quá!’
Minh khen cô ấy đẹp quá.
There are few changes in the structure in Vietnamese while in English what has been said about back shift also applies to exclamations.
“What a hero you are!” Margaret told him.
Margaret told him what a hero he was.
Sometimes we need to add a subject.
He said, “What a dreadful idea!”
He exclaimed that it was a dreadful idea.
He said, “Thank you!”
He thanked me.
Some common mistakes
Because of the differences above, Vietnamese people who want to learn English as well as English people learn Vietnamese will get some difficulties in grammar structure when they want to express an indirect speech. Vietnamese people cannot avoid some mistakes. People may not take them into account when you use spoken language. However, if they happen in your written paper, you will get into trouble. These mistake are made mainly on tense of verbs or the word order such as not changing the tense of verbs into the appreciate form; choosing wrong tense for the indirect speech or not reverse the word order and so on.
These mistakes cause many disadvantages for studying and teaching foreign language. Students sometimes impose their tongue language on the foreign one and accidentally make the mistake. Therefore, the first implication of distinguishing indirect speech in both languages in language teaching is help student avoid mistakes in writing and further in speaking.
In addition to avoiding mistakes, this research also improves students’ writing skill. Nowadays in most articles of newspapers and magazines, it is noticeable that not only direct speech but also indirect speech are widely used to create a diverse writing style. Let’s take the following article as an example:
North Korea: US rules out resuming nuclear talks
The US has ruled out resuming talks with North Korea unless it shows it is serious about meeting its obligations on halting its nuclear activities.
The White House said Pyongyang must stop its "belligerent actions". (…)
Mr Richardson, the governor of US state of New Mexico, said that the North's gesture to allow international inspectors back in to its main nuclear complex, and its restraint in not retaliating for South Korean live-fire drills, could provide a basis for new six-party talks.
But White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said the North was not "even remotely ready" for such talks.
"Right now the action must come not from their words, but from their deeds," he said.
(…)"We're not going to get a table in a room and have six-party talks just for the feel-good notion of having six-party talks."
He said that the US would "continue to work hand in hand" with South Korea. (…)
Mr Gibbs said there were no plans for Mr Richardson to talk with the president following his unofficial trip to North Korea, which was made at Pyongyang's invitation(…) (BBC news)
Moreover when Vietnamese students learn English, they always have difficulties in finding vocabulary to express their ideas. Beside some verbs like ask, tell, say, they rarely know how to say thủ thỉ, phàn nàn, thì thầm, nhỏ to, đề nghị, hét to, càu nhàu, yêu cầu, mời, rủ… in English. But now this study provides them with a variety of reporting verbs to make the essay more interesting.
He asked me to go swimming with him
He offered me to go swimming with him
He suggested me to go swimming with him
He invited me to go swimming with him
He begged me to go swimming with him
Lastly, it will be a useful tool for Vietnamese students to master the grammar structure: how to make indirect speech for statements, requests, suggestions and exclamations. Acknowledging the similarities and differences in structure between two languages analyzed in this essay helps students learn the grammatical rule easily and memorably.
Implication in translation:
Studying the similarities and differences in indirect speech between English and Vietnamese brings us a chance to get a higher level in translation.
Here are some examples:
Translating from English into Vietnamese:
He said that the US would "continue to work hand in hand" with South Korea. (Cited from the article above)
Ông cho biết (rằng) chính phủ Mỹ sẽ tiếp tục sát cánh với Hàn Quốc
Because in Vietnamese we do not have tense, it is still natural although we do not add any words stating the past here.
Translating from Vietnamese into English:
Ann giải thích rằng buổi triển lãm đã kết thúc tuần trước rồi.
Before learning the differences between English and Vietnamese in indirect speech, students may translate like Ann explains that the exhibition finished last week or Ann explained that the exhibition finished last week.
After getting the backshift rules of tenses in English, students can do this sentence correctly Ann explained that the exhibition had finished the previous week.
To sum up, in the indirect speech, Vietnamese is partly simpler, not so many changes as English. Maybe it is a convenient point for English people who want to learn Vietnamese. Vietnamese people, however, have to pay more attention in grammar structure when they want to change an English indirect speech into the direct one.
References Murphy, R. (1994). Grammar in Use. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Gethin, H. (1990). Grammar in Context Proficiency Level English. London: Collins ET.
Randolph Quirk & Sidney Greenbaum. (1976). A University Grammar of English. England: Longman House, Essex.
Nguyen Thien Giap, (2000) Dụng học Việt ngữ.Hanoi National University Press.
Albertus, T. (1996) Reported Speech: Forms and Functions of the Verb.John Benjamin Publishing Co.
Elizabeth, H. (2007) Reporting Talk: Reported Speech in Interaction .Cambridge University Press