‘Your care and concern are my burden!’

Accounting for the emic concepts of ‘attentiveness’ and ‘empathy’ in interpersonal relationships among Taiwanese females


  • Wei-Lin Melody Chang University of Queensland
  • Saeko Fukushima Tsuru University




im/politeness, attentiveness, empathy, Mandarin Chinese, female discourse


While the enactment of gendered identities has been a key focus in the field of sociolinguistics and im/politeness (e.g. Holmes, 1995; Lakoff, 1975; Mills, 2003), research specifically investigating females’ emic understanding in relation to im/politeness has not been paid much attention. Building on prior work on ‘attentiveness’ (Fukushima, 2004, 2009, 2011, 2013, 2015; Fukushima & Haugh, 2014), this article aims to further examine the emic understandings and evaluations of ‘attentiveness’ and ‘empathy’ in relation to ‘im/politeness’ by female speakers of Mandarin Chinese. It is suggested that, although the concepts of attentiveness (zhoudao) and empathy (titie) are intrinsically polite, these two concepts are found to be discursively disputable through the emergence of the three folk notions, meddlesomeness (jipo), familiarity, and reciprocity in the course of metapragmatic interviews. These notions give rise to cultural nuances in the evaluations of im/politeness which are thus grounded in a particular language or culture.

Author Biographies

Wei-Lin Melody Chang, University of Queensland

Wei-Lin Melody Chang is Lecturer at the University of Queensland, Australia. She is the author of Face and Face Practices in Chinese Talk-in-Interactions: An Empirical Analysis of Business Interactions in Taiwan (Equinox, 2016). Her research interests include politeness, intercultural communication, and business discourse and teaching Chinese as second language.


Saeko Fukushima, Tsuru University

Saeko Fukushima is Professor in the Department of English at Tsuru University in Japan. She has published Requests and Culture: Politeness in British English and Japanese (Peter Lang, 2000/2002/2003) and articles in edited volumes and international journals such as Journal of Politeness Research, Journal of Pragmatics, Language Sciences, Multilingua, Pragmatics, and World Englishes. Her research interests include cross-cultural pragmatics, intercultural pragmatics, sociopragmatics, pragmalinguistics, politeness, and metapragmatics.


Batson, C. D., Chang, J., Orr, R., & Rowland, J. (2002). Empathy, attitudes, and action: Can feeling for a member of a stigmatized group motivate one to help the group? Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 28, 1656–1666. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/014616702237647

Chang, W.-L. (2016). Face and face practices in Chinese talk-in-interaction: A study in interactional pragmatics. London: Equinox.

Chang, H.-C. & Holt, R. (1994). A Chinese perspective on face as inter-relation concern. In S. Ting-Toomey (Ed.), The challenge of facework (pp. 95–132). Albany: State University of New York Press.

Chang, W.-L. M., & Haugh, M. (2011). The strategic embarrassment and face threatening in business interactions. Journal of Pragmatics, 43, 2948–2963. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pragma.2011.05.009

Cialdini, R. B. (2012). The focus theory of normative conduct. In P. A. M. Van Lange, A. W. Kruglanski, & E. T. Higgins (Eds.), Handbook of theories of social psychology (Vol. 2, pp. 295–312). London: Sage. http://dx.doi.org/10.4135/9781446249222.n41

Clancy, P. (1986). The acquisition of communicative style in Japanese. In B. Schieffelin & E. Ochs (Eds.), Language socialization across cultures (pp. 213–250). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Clancy, P. (1990). Acquiring communicative style in Japanese. In R. C. Scarcella, E. S. Andersen, & S. D. Krashen (Eds.), Developing communicative competence in a second language (pp. 27–35). New York: Newbury House Publishers.

Eelen, G. (2001). A critique of politeness theories. Manchester: St. Jerome Publishing.

Fukushima, S. (2004). Evaluation of politeness: The case of attentiveness. Multilingua, 23(4), 365–387. https://doi.org/10.1515/mult.2004.23.4.365

Fukushima, S. (2009). Evaluation of politeness: Do the Japanese evaluate attentiveness more positively than the British? Pragmatics, 19(4), 501–518. http://dx.doi.org/10.1075/prag.19.4.01fuk

Fukushima, S. (2011). A cross-generational and cross-cultural study on demonstration of attentiveness. Pragmatics, 21(4), 549–571. http://dx.doi.org/10.1075/prag.21.4.03fuk

Fukushima, S. (2013). Evaluation of (im)politeness: A comparative study among Japanese students, Japanese parents and American students on evaluation of attentiveness. Pragmatics, 23(2), 275–299. http://dx.doi.org/10.1075/prag.23.2.04fuk

Fukushima, S. (2015). In search of another understanding of politeness: From the perspective of attentiveness. Journal of Politeness Research, 11(2), 261–287. http://dx.doi.org/10.1515/pr-2015-0011

Fukushima, S. (2016). Emic understandings of attentiveness and its related concepts among Japanese. East Asian Pragmatics, 1(2), 181–208. https://doi.org/10.1558/eap.v1i2.31762

Fukushima, S., & Haugh, M. (2014). The role of emic understandings in theorizing im/ politeness: The metapragmatics of attentiveness, empathy and anticipatory inference in Japanese and Chinese. Journal of Pragmatics, 74, 165–179. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.pragma.2014.08.004

Gabrenya, W. K. J., & Hwang, K.-K. (1996). Chinese social interaction: Harmony and hierachy on the good Earth. In M. H. Bond (Ed.), Chinese psychology (pp. 309–321). New York: Oxford University Press.

Garfinkel, H. (1967). Studies in ethnomethodology. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Gao, G., Ting-Toomey, S., & Gudykunst, W. B. (1996). Chinese communication processes. In M. H. Bond (Ed.), Chinese psychology (pp. 280–293). New York: Oxford University Press.

Goodwin, C., & Tang, C. S.-K. (1996). Chinese personal relationships. In M. H. Bond (Ed.), Chinese psychology (pp. 294–308). New York: Oxford University Press.

Gouldner, A. W. (1960). The norm of reciprocity: A preliminary statement. American Sociological Review, 25, 161–178. https://doi.org/10.2307/2092623

Grainger, K. (2011). ‘First order’ and ‘second order’ politeness: Institutional and intercultural contexts. In Linguistic Politeness Research Group (Ed.), Discursive approaches to politeness (pp. 167–188). Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

Grainger, K. (2014). Rethinking conventional indirectness: The view from interactional sociolinguistics. Paper presented at the 8th International Symposium on Politeness, University of Huddersfield, 9–11 July 2014.

Greenberg, M. (1980). A theory of indebtedness. In G. Kenneth, M. Greenberg, & R. Willis (Eds.), Social exchange: advances in theory and research (pp. 3–26). New York: Plenum Press. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-1-4613-3087-5_1

Gu, Y. (1990). Politeness phenomena in modern Chinese. Journal of Pragmatics, 14, 237–257. https://doi.org/10.1016/0378-2166(90)90082-OHaugh, M. (2012). Epilogue: The first-second order distinction in face and politeness research. Journal of Politeness Research, 8(1), 111–134. http://dx.doi.org/10.1515/pr-2012-0007

Haugh, M. (2016). The role of English as a scientific metalanguage for research in pragmatics: Reflections on the metapragmatics of ‘politeness’ in Japanese. East Asian Pragmatics, 1(1), 39–71. https://doi.org/10.1558/eap.v1i1.27610

Haugh, M., Kádár, D., & Mills, S. (2013). Interpersonal pragmatics: Issues and debates. Journal of Pragmatics, 58, 1–11. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.pragma.2013.09.009

Holmes, J. (1995). Women, Men and Politeness. London: Longman.

Hsiang, T. C. (1974). Research on Chinese characteristics. Taipei: Shang-wu Publishing Company.

Intachakra, S. (2012). Politeness motivated by the ‘heart’ and ‘binary rationality’ in Thai culture. Journal of Pragmatics, 44, 619–635. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.pragma.2011.07.016

Kádár, D. Z. (2013). Relational rituals and communication: Ritual interaction in groups. New York: Palgrave. https://doi.org/10.1057/9780230393059

Kádár, D. Z., & Haugh, M. (2013). Understanding politeness. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/CBO9781139382717

Kádár, D. Z., & Pan, Y. (2011). Politeness in China. In D. Kádár & S. Mills (Eds.), Politeness in East Asia. (pp.125–146). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511977886.008

Krone K., Garrett, M., & Chen, L. (1992). Managerial communication practices in Chinese factories: A preliminary investigation. The Journal of Business Communication, 29, 229–52. https://doi.org/10.1177/002194369202900303

Lakoff, R. (1975). Language and woman’s place. New York: Harper & Row.

Lebra, T. S. (1976). Japanese patterns of behavior. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press.

Lebra, T. S. (1993). Culture, self, and communication in Japan and the United States. In W. Gudykunst (Ed.), Communication in Japan and the United States (pp. 51–87). Albany: State University of New York Press.

Lebra, T. S. (2004). The Japanese self in cultural logic. Honolulu: University of Hawai’I Press.

Li, X.-J. (2004). Xiandai hanyu guifan cidian. Beijin: Waiyu jiaoxue yu yanjiu chubanshe.

Liu, J.-R. (2011). Taiwan hua de yuyuan yu liju.[Blog post] Retrieved from https://taiwanlanguage.wordpress.com/2011/04/14, viewed on 4 September 2016.

Mills, S. (2003). Gender and politeness. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Ohashi, J. (2008). Linguistic rituals for thanking in Japanese: Balancing obligations. Journal of Pragmatics, 40, 2150–2174. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pragma.2008.04.001

Ohashi, J., & Chang, W.-L. M. (in press). (Im)politeness and relationality. In J. Culpepper, M. Haugh, & D. Kádár (Eds.), Handbook of linguisitc (im)politeness. London: Palgrave Macmillan.

Ogiermann, E., & Suszczy?ska, M. (2011). On im/politeness behind the iron curtain. In F. Bargiela-Chiappini & D. Z. Kádár (Eds.), Politeness across cultures (pp. 194–215). Basingstoke: Palgrave MacMillan. https://doi.org/10.1057/9780230305939_10

Potter, J., & Hepburn, A. (2005). Qualitative interviews in psychology: Problems and possibilities. Qualitative Research in Psychology, 2, 281–307. https://doi.org/10.1191/1478088705qp045oa

Ran, Y. (2016a). ‘Equity rights im/politeness’ revisited: Evidence from rapport management in Chinese folk mediation. Plenary lecture at the 4th Linguistic Impoliteness, Aggression and Rudeness Conference (LIAR IV) at Manchester Metropolitan University, 12–14 July 2016.

Ran, Y. (2016b). Personal communication (An email message to S. Fukushima, 8 September 2016).

Schneider, M. J. (1985). Verbal and nonverbal indices of the communicative performance and acculturation of Chinese immigrants. International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 9, 271–283. https://doi.org/10.1016/0147-1767(85)90029-X

Scollon, R., & Scollon, S. W. (1991). Topic confusion in English–Asian discourse. World Englishes, 10(2), 113–125. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-971X.1991.tb00145.x

Sifianou, M., & Tzanne, A. 2010. Conceptualizations of politeness and impoliteness in Greek. Intercultural Pragmatics, 7(4), 661–687. https://doi.org/10.1515/iprg.2010.029

Spencer-Oatey, H., & Kádár, D. 2016. The bases of (im)politeness evaluations: Culture, the moral order and the East–West debate. East Asian Pragmatics, 1(1), 73–106. https://doi.org/10.1558/eap.v1i1.29084

Su, H.-Y. (2009). Code-switching in managing a face-threatening communicative task: Footing and ambiguity in conversational interaction in Taiwan. Journal of Pragmatics, 41: 372–392.

Tao, L. (2010). Komyunikeshon koudou hyouka gainen ‘omoiyari’ no nicchu hikaku ?????????????????????????? [Omoiyari as an evaluative concept of communicative behaviour: A contrastive analysis of Japanese and Chinese]. Kanagawa daigaku gengo kenkyu, 32, 93–108.

Wierzbicka, A. (1997). Understanding cultures through their key words. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Yang, K. S. (1992). Do traditional and modern values coexist in a modern Chinese society? Proceedings of the Conference on Chinese Perspectives on Values. Taipei: Centre for Sinological Studies.

Yang, M. M.-H. (1994). Gifts, favors and banquets: The art of social relationships in China. New York: Cornell University Press.

Ye, Z.-D. (2004). Chinese categorization of interpersonal relationships and cultural logic of Chinese interaction: An indigenous perspective. Intercultural Pragmatics, 1, 211–230. https://doi.org/10.1515/iprg.2004.1.2.211

Yuuki, T. (1991). Omoiyari no shisoo ??????? [Thought on omoiyari]. Gendai no esupuri, 291, 161–170.

Zhu, Y. (2015). The role of qing (positive emotion) and li (relationality) in Chinese entrepreneurial decision making: A Confucian ren-yi wisdom perspective. Journal of Business Ethics, 126, 613–630. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10551-013-1970-1



How to Cite

Chang, W.-L. M., & Fukushima, S. (2017). ‘Your care and concern are my burden!’: Accounting for the emic concepts of ‘attentiveness’ and ‘empathy’ in interpersonal relationships among Taiwanese females. East Asian Pragmatics, 2(1), 1–23. https://doi.org/10.1558/eap.33081