End-of-Dinner Food Offering: A Three-Way Contrastive Study
Authors: Rong Chen and Chunmei Hu
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This paper presents a three-way contrastive study of the structure of the end-of-dinner food offering event – hosts asking guests to eat more food when the latter have indicated that they have finished eating – across three population groups: Chinese residents of the City of Xi’an as of 1995 (as reported in Chen, 1996), American residents of Southern California as of 2019, and Chinese residents of Xi’an as of 2019. It is found that, in 2019, Americans living in Southern California only infrequently offer their guests more food at the end of a dinner, while the Chinese residents of Xi’an (the Xi’an Chinese) offer their guests food much less often than in 1995, although still more frequently than their American counterparts. The difference observed between the Chinese and American groups is attributed to the different notions of politeness that are held in the two cultures: the Xi’an Chinese still maintain elements of hospitality and warmth as key notions of politeness, in a similar way to Libyan Arabic speakers, as discovered by Grainger, Mansor and Mills (2015), while the offering behaviour of Southern Californians is motivated by the respect they hold for another person’s freedom of action. The noticeable change in the way food is offered at the end of a Chinese dinner between 1995 and 2019 – which can be seen to be a process of ‘deritualisation’ (Kádár, 2013) – is due to the influence of Western cultures. The significance of our work thus goes beyond the understanding of both food offering in Chinese and Chinese politeness: it adds to the scant literature on the structure of the offering event across cultures and places Chinese politeness in the context of other languages; it brings insights from language contact into the field of pragmatics, a decades-long research paradigm; and it demonstrates the value of diachronic contrastive pragmatics, a direction that will no doubt aid the advancement of contrastive pragmatics in particular and, as a consequence, pragmatics in general.