Luận văn Criticism in American and Vietnamese e-Newspapers

Metaphor is a rhetorical trope or a figure of speech, where a comparison is made between two seemingly unrelated objects without using “like” or “as”. It is transference on one object’s characteristics onto another.

Metaphor also appears frequently in American newspapers. They use the phrase “star to steer by” (The Washington Post) when complaining about a lack of strategic vision from government; or “full-speed ahead” (USA Today) when 92 local banks committed wholeheartedly to a project.

The following example is also considered a typical kind of metaphor:

“Đáng buồn thay, trong cuộc sống cũng hay gặp những căn bệnh nhờn thuốc như thế. Nói ngay như trong thế giới học đường, trí thức vốn thanh bạch xưa nay, vậy mà bệnh nhờn thuốc có tha đâu. Nguy hiểm hơn, những con người ấy sớm được “làm quen” với tiêu cực, khi ra đời hẳn dễ “tiếp thu” và ứng xử hòa vào “dòng đục” mà không ngỡ ngàng.” (Vietnamnet)

(It’s so sad as “medicine’s ineffectiveness” can also be found in our society. Even the intellectual world which used to be pure and upright is still interfered. More dangerously, those who early get familiar with bad habits and tricks will be easily adaptive with the “dirty trend” without any abashment)


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effect on the reception of information. Moreover, it wastes time for both the writers and readers because in this era of information explosion, it is better to get as much information as possible in the shortest time. Chapter 3: CRITICISM IN AMERICAN AND VIETNAMESE NEWSPAPERS Major factors affecting direct/indirect criticism Communication styles It has been proved that American society values simple, direct verbal and written communication while the Vietnamese consider directness as lack of subtlety and sophistication. Gary M. Wederspahn, a leader in the field of intercultural relations and communications, has characterized the American style of communication as strongly oriented towards content (facts, numbers, dates, and precise, explicit meanings). Their speech reflects the high value they place on words and the need for clarity. Wederspahn (2000) states: “Americans focus may be compared to a spotlight intensively illuminating a narrow band of the communication spectrum. In contrast, the communication style in Asia is more like a floodlight that takes in the context in which the communications occur.” This means the situation and the relationship of the people involved plus the time and place all carry a large part of the meaning in the conversation of the Vietnamese. The actual words tend to be less important and need to be understood in terms of the contextual factors. Individualism vs. Collectivism One of the most distinctive characteristics of the American is their devotion to individualism. They have been trained since very early in their lives to consider themselves as separate individuals who are responsible for their own situations in life and their own destinies. They are not socially obliged to see themselves as members of a close-knit, toughly interdependent family, religious group, tribe, and nation. They have strong belief that all people are of equal value according to some philosophical or spiritual standard. Their tendencies to use their boss’s first name, to challenge authority easily, and to expect equal treatment reveal a low power distance value. However, such cultures with high power distance as Vietnam frequently take American individualism and egalitarianism as an unwillingness to show proper deference and respect to those who deserve it. The Vietnamese always consider themselves as a member of community. They think that people not only live with nature but also live with each other to establish a society. They are sunk in the relationship with family, morals, laws, politics, etc. While the American appreciate role of individuals, the Vietnamese value role of community. The Vietnamese are observed treating people around as kin, as those who come from the same source, the same origin. This, for thousand years, has been an immutable principle - individuals are dissolved in community, they are nothing when isolated. This explains why the Vietnamese pay much attention to the “how” of their communication so that they do not leave any mistake which damages the relationship between them and others. Indirectness, especially in criticism, is an effective way to avoid making others feel unpleasant. Generally, collectivism vs. individualism leads to two ways of communication. While the Americans find it comfortable to express their ideas, feelings freely, the Vietnamese have to take notice of others’ reaction before speaking and writing. Attitudes towards criticism According to Wederspahn (2000), the American consider criticism itself a neutral thing when one starts to use it in order to create a certain experience and feeling. And no one needs defense against something that is neutral. Additionally, they tend to think of themselves before taking notice of others’ reactions because of their individualism. For this reason, the American are not resistant to express their critical opinions. For the Vietnamese, regardless of how 'true' the criticism is, it seems, for a moment, there is something wrong with those who are criticized, and seen from the perspective of one’s personality this is never a pleasant experience. What is not pleasant should be avoided, diverted, hidden or otherwise be experienced as little as possible. Hence, many of the activities aim at prevention from being criticized. Criticism in American newspapers As discussed in Chapter 2, the American are generally open and straightforward in communication. They often speak or write directly about things they dislike. They are not taught that they should mask their emotional responses. They do not think it improper to display their feelings. Hence, in American media in general and in American e-newspapers in particular, voice of criticism is usually strong, straight and direct. Some critical articles even sound aggressive, severe and sharp. Most articles of criticism in the US e-newspapers have a very clear style. They give the main points and state the criticism at the top in the headline and the lead paragraph(s). The body of the articles then adds details, statements, and comments from people involved in the articles, plus any background the writer feels necessary to support the criticism more strongly. This means one gets at least three chances to understand the main points of the article. It is said “at least” because many articles have accompanying picture and captions (text explaining the pictures) as well which produce much stronger impact on readers. The content of the next part is collected and classified through an investigation into three most popular American online newspapers: USA Today ( The New York Times ( and The Washington Post ( Criticism in Vietnamese newspapers As regards culture, “Indirectness” is believed to be common in Vietnamese communication. It is hard for somebody to find a conversation without indirectness or hedges. For instance: “Tớ biết là cậu rất bận, nhưng khi cậu đi ra ngoài, cậu có thể tiện thể gửi lá thư này cho mình được không?” (I know you are busy, but when you go out, will you send this letter for me by the way?) The phrases as “Tôi đoán là...” (I guess), “Tôi không biết nói ra điều này có phải không, nhưng...” (I’m not sure if this is right, but...), “Những gì tôi sắp nói có thể sẽ xúc phạm cậu...” (What I am going to say may offend you...) are examples of hedges and indirectness. Newspapers reflect the daily life, and are influenced by it. In the essay “Cultural elements in newspapers” published in “Sai Gon Giai phong” newspaper (The Saigon Liberation) on February 20, 1999, it is indicated that each article contains many cultural factors such as ways of thinking, observing, evaluating and writing, which is different from culture to culture. Therefore, indirectness in Vietnamese newspapers is a matter of course, and the frequency of indirectness is much higher in case of criticizing. It is well-known that the first and foremost function of newspapers is providing information. However, if in newspapers, writers only use stereotypes of words and ways of expressing to report events, or to give out problems, the articles will be so much dull. In addition, critical articles mention sensitive aspects that may cause unforeseeable reactions from readers. In daily communication, the Vietnamese tend to avoid straight talks, so do they in written communication. Therefore, we do not often see direct criticism in Vietnamese newspapers. In the most popular websites of e-newspapers such as VnExpress ( Vietnamnet ( Dân Trí Online ( etc., critical articles occupy an important position. However, criticism, in comparison with American newspapers, is still general, light, indirect and not strict, but it is acceptable to Vietnamese readers. Chapter 4: RESEARCH AND DATA ANALYSIS Methodology Research questions This research aims at answering the following questions: - What are the ways that American and Vietnamese online newspapers use to express criticism? - How different are the degrees of directness and indirectness of criticizing between American and Vietnamese online newspapers? Sources of linguistic input - 3 of most popular American online newspapers: USA Today ( The New York Times ( and The Washington Post ( - 3 of most popular Vietnamese online newspapers: VnExpress ( Vietnamnet ( Dân Trí Online ( Data collection procedure - Investigation of “Nation” column in American e-newspapers and “Xã hội” column in Vietnamese e-newspapers from November 26th to December 2nd 2008 to find out the number of critical articles and compare the percentages of direct/indirect criticism between American and Vietnamese online newspapers through the layout and illustrations of articles as well as the language used. Data analysis and findings Structure of the articles Each of the three main part of an article (the headline, the lead and the body) has its own distinctive style and content. The headline The headline is the extra large opening statement used as the title of an article or press release. With the large, bold words, headline is the most eye-catching part of an article. Besides giving the main idea of the article, it has the function of drawing readers’ attention. Headlines are incredibly important as they make the scanning process easier. Figure 1: Comparison of Directness and Indirectness in the Headlines. Of all 33 critical articles collected from November 26th to December 2nd in three Vietnamese online newspapers, there are 17 articles using indirect titles as the following: Xăng giảm giá, xe ôm Hà thành vẫn “chém đẹp” (Vietnamnet) (Hired motor-bike keeps fee high despite of gas’s lower price) 9x, 10x “khoe mình” trên mạng (Vietnamnet) (Teens post nude photos on blogs) Việt Nam thu nhận nhiều ngành công nghiệp 'bẩn' (VnExpress) (Many polluted industries shipped into Vietnam) The titles above makes foreign readers confused for not understanding the phrase “chém đẹp” means “unreasonably raising the price” while 9x, 10x “khoe mình” points out the trend of teenagers self-posting unclothing photos on their personal websites (blogs). Whereas, the quotation mark in the third headlines reduces the negative impression of the word “bẩn” (dirty). In contrast, more than 75% (19/25) of headlines in the American e-newspapers are direct to the point: Mr. Bush and the pardon power (The New York Times) Forgotten lessons from 9/11 (The Washington Post) Stop asking for money, Obama (The Washington Post) As can be seen from the three examples above, the titles concentrate on the main point (the ‘what’) and the language is simple, specific and clear. Headlines of critical articles in American online newspapers from November 26th to December 2nd have no slang with quotation mark (which is so popular in Vietnamese newspapers), although they are sometimes troublesome. For example, the writers try to catch the readers’ attention and some of the methods used like humor, question mark, word plays, or idioms can be difficult for non-native readers to figure out: Expert or Shill? (The New York Times) Black Friday: Is your cashier cranky? (USA Today) Nevertheless, this way of writing headline is so rare (2 in all 25 headlines in the US e-newspapers) because Americans prefer direct titles so that they will immediately know what the article is going to mention to save their time. The lead The lead refers to the first (and occasionally the second) paragraph of an article. It is usually one information-packed sentence which expands on the story’s main point as introduced in the headline. The lead gives enough information to allow readers to make an important decision whether they want to read the story or to skip it and move on to another more interesting story: “We have "only one President at a time," Obama said in his debut press conference as President-elect. By mid-November, with the financial crisis growing worse by the day, it had become obvious that one President was no longer enough (at least not the President we had)”. Just reading the lead of the article “Bush's Last Days: The Lamest Duck”, readers can immediately know that the article is about to look down the role of US President George Bush in helping America overcome the current economic depression through some strong words and phrases as “obvious”, “no longer enough”, “not the President we had”. In addition, the writer hopes the president-elect Obama take action even though he will not move to the White House until next spring. In the American e-newspapers, readers can generally find out what happened and one or two prominent details through the headline and the lead. Their critical opinions are shown in each sentence with strong comments and recommendation like: With the Bush administration drawing to a close, it is presidential pardon season. Presidents have become increasingly shameless about issuing pardons to insulate political cronies from prosecution, even to protect themselves. We hope President Bush will not abuse the pardon power by putting his appointees, political supporters or friends above the law. (The New York Times) Congress must remove unjustified subsidies to inefficient private health insurance plans that have added to the cost and complexity of the Medicare program. (The New York Times) Figure 2: Comparison of Directness and Indirectness in the Leads. As can be seen in the graph from the previous page, there still exist 4 leads of hesitance and hedge when expressing criticism. For example: This is not easy to write, because I consider the election of Barack Obama to be one of the most inspiring political and social developments of my lifetime. I truly mean no disrespect when I say: Stop asking for money. (The Washington Post) Or the author uses a long letter to explain his point before writing the lead: "But most of all I feel terrified even now when I leave the house. I pause for a moment before I go out the door and say a prayer before I leave. I know that not all the people in the world are bad; it's just the ones that do bad to others. Living is a good thing, going to work has been ok so far, but when I think about what the defendant did to me with the gun pointed at my stomach I thought . . . 'This is it. No one around to see this. Dear Judge Richter. I hope and I wish you will give him everything you can give him by law and that it will give him time to think about what he did to me, and possibly someone else he may have hurt." - A handwritten victim-impact statement, Oct. 2 It's easy to overlook a crime victim if there's no body or blood on the floor -- or if the victim lives to tell about what happened. Just another case of someone someplace at the wrong time. One more sad example of life in a city where the bad are bolder than the good and the victim is an afterthought. (The Washington Post) Similarly, indirect writing style is chosen in only 7 leads in Vietnamese e-newspaper. It seems the writers have made use of all the limited space and number of words in the lead to draw a whole picture for the readers: Cho dù giá xăng liên tục giảm trong thời gian gần đây, nhưng những người thường phải di chuyển bằng xe ôm thì vẫn phải trả mức giá cao ngất ngưởng. (Xăng giảm giá, xe ôm Hà thành vẫn “chém đẹp” – Vietnamnet) (Although gas price is continuously reduced, passengers still have to pay a lot of money for the hired motorbike’s owner). The body American journalists are concerned with “the 5Ws and the H” (who did what, when, where, why, and how). Any good article will provide information to all of these. Meanwhile, Vietnamese writers do not answer every question if they think it is not necessary, especially they answer the question ‘who’ in a very indirect way. “It's 2 a.m. (when) in a jam-packed New York City nightclub (where), and Britney Spears (who) is giving what may be her wildest, rawest, sweatiest (how) performance (what) yet. It sure is a far cry from the girl in braids the world first met just years ago. She exactly did go from good Britney to bad Britney. Probably, she is just a young girl growing up. However, it is more like a down and dirty marketing master plan (why)”. (The New York Times) “Chiều 17/11 vừa qua, tôi có mặt tại một sân chơi ca nhạc và tôi đã phải "hết hồn" khi các ca sĩ nam xuất hiện. Đầu tiên là ca sĩ B.T, khi B.T xuất hiện thì những tiếng cười cợt từ dưới sân khấu bắt đầu nổi lên. B.T mặc bộ trang phục màu trắng làm cho khán giả liên tưởng đến một vị đại hiệp trong phim Hồng Kông. Ca sĩ này hát xong thì nam ca sĩ V.H bước ra với giọng cười thật ấn tượng, nhưng "ấn tượng" hơn hết là trang phục anh mặc…”. (Dân Trí Online) (In the afternoon of November 17, I went to a live show and was amazed when I saw the male singers. First is B.T; he wore white clothes like a Hong Kong great hero. When he finished his performance, V.H continued with an impressive smile, but his clothes are even more impressive…) The first example answers clearly all the question a reader may require, whereas, in the second the questions “who” and “where” are mentioned vaguely and ambiguously. The names of singers are abbreviated and the place of the live show is unknown. Illustration of the articles Photographs, pictures, maps, graphs, and drawings are an important supplement to an article in general, and to a critical article in particular. In paying attention to different photographs, noticing the size and placement of each is necessary. Photographs that accompany stories contribute to the reader’s understanding, or possibly supply any additional information they would like to have. Some critical photographs and cut-lines stand alone and give readers a glimpse of what is going on in other parts of the world. They are called human-interest photos. In both Vietnamese and American newspapers, photographs used for criticism are usually real and lively. They tell the readers what has really happened. The above photograph illustrates the article “Phung Hung temporary market unable to attract customers” (Vietnamnet). It shows the tiredness of kiosk owners for not selling anything in 3 days. Meanwhile, “He’s not black” in The Washington Post criticizes racial discrimination via the picture of their new president Barack Obama and the confirmation that “we’ve moved beyond race”. Also, graphs and maps are used to clarify data presented in a critical story and to clarify where certain events are happening. They are especially helpful because readers do not have chances to witness them. Drawings appear on the majority of the pages in every newspaper. From cartoons, advertisements to critical stories where photographs are inappropriate or unavailable, drawings are a helpful tool in any section. This above drawing is an illustration for the dishonesty in implementing state-owned projects. Figure 3: Comparison of Directness and Indirectness in the Illustrations In American newspapers, there still exist 4 indirect images while this appears 9 times in Vietnamese ones, such as blurred pictures or with the caption “Hình ảnh trên chỉ mang tính minh hoạ” (this photograph above is just for illustration): Here is the image of the article 9x, 10x “khoe mình” trên mạng (Teens post nude photos on blogs) revealing an issue that even 7-9 year old girls show off the body in the Internet, but their faces have been blurred by the reporter. Whereas, the below does not look like a critical picture, it seems to be used for decoration only. The comparison of illustration shows that both feel free and daring to express what they think but the Vietnamese tend to avoid things which are considered sensitive. Especially, when mentioning about sex, Vietnamese writers only post the pictures that will not cause embarrassment or strain for readers. On the contrary, sexual pictures are usual images in American newspapers. Six major ways to express indirect criticism Writers make great effort to find different methods of indirect criticism when expressing their point of view. This, on one hand, reduces negative reactions; and, on the other hand, the information becomes more vivid and interesting to readers. Ways of expressing criticism indirectly in e- newspapers can be: using literature materials, proverbs and precepts, punctuations, metaphors, abbreviation, and playing on words. Metaphors Metaphor is a rhetorical trope or a figure of speech, where a comparison is made between two seemingly unrelated objects without using “like” or “as”. It is transference on one object’s characteristics onto another. Metaphor also appears frequently in American newspapers. They use the phrase “star to steer by” (The Washington Post) when complaining about a lack of strategic vision from government; or “full-speed ahead” (USA Today) when 92 local banks committed wholeheartedly to a project. The following example is also considered a typical kind of metaphor: “Đáng buồn thay, trong cuộc sống cũng hay gặp những căn bệnh nhờn thuốc như thế. Nói ngay như trong thế giới học đường, trí thức vốn thanh bạch xưa nay, vậy mà bệnh nhờn thuốc có tha đâu. Nguy hiểm hơn, những con người ấy sớm được “làm quen” với tiêu cực, khi ra đời hẳn dễ “tiếp thu” và ứng xử hòa vào “dòng đục” mà không ngỡ ngàng.” (Vietnamnet) (It’s so sad as “medicine’s ineffectiveness” can also be found in our society. Even the intellectual world which used to be pure and upright is still interfered. More dangerously, those who early get familiar with bad habits and tricks will be easily adaptive with the “dirty trend” without any abashment) In this case, “nhờn thuốc” is a metaphorical symptom of those who are dishonest and deceptive in examinations; copy others’ works, etc. The writer continues his metaphorical method, claiming that they will get on well with “dirty trend”. “Dòng đục” - “dirty trend” - refers to negative and passive lifestyles. Here the writer combines metaphor, innuendo and quotation mark to criticize a painful phenomenon of society. From the very beginning, he uses hedge as a softening – up process: “So sánh chuyện nhờn thuốc của vi khuẩn với chuyện con người, xã hội có điều “bất kính”, nhưng trong thiên nhiên vốn có những hiện tượng bất tương đồng.” (Comparing the medicine’s ineffectiveness towards bacteria to a social phenomenon of human beings seems to be “disrespectful” but there are many phenomena that are unpaired in nature.) This sentence of hedge makes the critical article less stressful and intensive. Using metaphors shows the creativeness of the writer; therefore, it bears the stamp of individuals. It can be said that using metaphors as a means of contrast may make the readers get lost but bring great impressions. Literature materials Newspapers and Literature have a close relationship because literature is a precious source for newspapers’ creativeness. Literature materials are used widely in almost all kinds of articles with variable forms such as borrowing plots, images, words and expressions in literature works. Nevertheless, they appear more frequently in critical articles. The usage of literature materials in newspapers are usually realized through the following methods: Borrowing plots or episodes The most popular way of this method is to summarize the content of a literature work or just take one part of it and use as a bridge for the writers to get to the point. Example 1: “Trong một cuốn tiểu thuyết của nhà văn Soviet Solokhov miêu tả ông chủ tịch không chịu được tiếng gà gáy của mụ hàng xóm. Không chịu nổi, ông dùng quyền hành tìm đến nhà bóp chết con gà. Thói đời vẫn vậy, con gà tức nhau tiếng gáy tất sinh lắm chuyện. Trước hết là chuyện thể diện, sau đến hao tiền tốn của...” (VnExpress) (In one of his novel, Solokhov - a Soviet writer - described a chairman who could not stand the noise of a neighbor’s cock. So he used his power to kill the cock. As a matter of fact, envy causes chaos. It results in losing face and wasting money...) Even the readers have never heard about that story, they still know what the writer means through the way he summarizes the story. Hence, with this writing style, the articles are usually easy to be understood by both Vietnamese and foreign readers. This way makes the articles highly artistic. The transfer from the past to the present with its color of contrast interests the readers. They are not only reminded of the old tales, but also receive the new information related to a hot issue in society. However, it sometimes wastes of space and of time, especially for impatient readers. Borrowing characters and images “Cảng Sài Sòn: đâu là Gót chân Asin?” (VnExpress) (Saigon port football team: where is Asin’s heel?) “Bản quyền âm nhạc: cuộc chiến của chàng Don Kihote chống lại cối xay gió” (Dân Trí) (Music copyrights: the fight of Don Kihote against windmills.) For the two examples above, the character Don Kihote or the image of Asin’s heel have become so familiar, famous among the public that writers can take them without any explanation. Nevertheless,

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