Do more, say less: Saying i love you in Chinese and American cultures

Catherine Caldwell-Harris, Ann Kronrod, Joyce Yang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

  • 3 Citations

Abstract

Reticence to express emotions verbally has long been observed in Chinese culture, but quantitative comparisons with Western cultures are few. Explanations for emotional reticence have typically focused on the need in collectivist culture to promote group harmony, but this explanation is most applicable to negative emotions such as anger, not positive expressions such as Wo ai ni [I love you]. A survey on verbal usage of Wo ai ni was administered to university students in Beijing and Shanghai, and compared to uses of I love you by American students in the United States. Chinese respondents were not only overall more reticent than Americans in their love expressions, but differed from Americans in avoiding I love you expressions with family (especially parents). Interviews revealed that Chinese and American students, the two groups endorsed different reasons for saying Wo ai ni/I love you. The reasons Americans provided most often related to the inherent importance of saying I love you, while this was the least frequently mentioned reason by Chinese. Bicultural Chinese interviewees observed that one could perform nonverbal actions or even say English I love you as substitutions for saying Wo ai ni. Chinese survey respondents did not endorse these options, and instead consistently minimized both verbal and nonverbal love expressions. The pattern of responses is consistent with theoretical proposals about high vs. low context cultures, especially with regards to the usefulness of saying I love you for relationship management purposes, and for asserting (or avoiding) statements of one's individual autonomy.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)41-69
Number of pages29
JournalIntercultural Pragmatics
Volume10
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - Dec 1 2012
Externally publishedYes

Profile

love
Students
Chinese
US citizen
culture
Chinese culture
Reticence
Substitution reactions
student
Beijing
Saying
Anger
American culture
Shanghai
Substitution
Usefulness
Harmony
Western culture
measurement method
emotion

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Communication

Cite this

Caldwell-Harris, C., Kronrod, A., & Yang, J. (2012). Do more, say less: Saying i love you in Chinese and American cultures. Intercultural Pragmatics, 10(1), 41-69. DOI: 10.1515/ip-2013-0002

Do more, say less : Saying i love you in Chinese and American cultures. / Caldwell-Harris, Catherine; Kronrod, Ann; Yang, Joyce.

In: Intercultural Pragmatics, Vol. 10, No. 1, 01.12.2012, p. 41-69.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Caldwell-Harris, C, Kronrod, A & Yang, J 2012, 'Do more, say less: Saying i love you in Chinese and American cultures' Intercultural Pragmatics, vol 10, no. 1, pp. 41-69. DOI: 10.1515/ip-2013-0002
Caldwell-Harris C, Kronrod A, Yang J. Do more, say less: Saying i love you in Chinese and American cultures. Intercultural Pragmatics. 2012 Dec 1;10(1):41-69. Available from, DOI: 10.1515/ip-2013-0002

Caldwell-Harris, Catherine; Kronrod, Ann; Yang, Joyce / Do more, say less : Saying i love you in Chinese and American cultures.

In: Intercultural Pragmatics, Vol. 10, No. 1, 01.12.2012, p. 41-69.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

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