Academic journal article International Journal of English Linguistics

Approaches to Identifying the Compliment Data

Academic journal article International Journal of English Linguistics

Approaches to Identifying the Compliment Data

Article excerpt


Scholars' interest in the speech act of complimenting has grown over the years for many reasons one of which is its being robust with sociolinguistic information. However, it appears that many studies still grapple with what the compliment is because of its nature which has been described to be naturally ubiquitous and many times overlapping with other speech functions. In addition, fieldwork experiences have also called for the need to define the compliment although some scholars have argued that there is no need to define the act. In this paper, we glean from fieldwork experiences and data analysis in a study of 1200 compliments in Nigerian English to support the claim that a definition is needful and to propose some defining characteristics (termed approaches) that might be useful for those researching on the compliment data.

Keywords: Approaches, Defining, Compliments, Socio-pragmatics

1. Introduction

Although many researchers have studied the speech act of complimenting it appears that, generally speaking, most works give little or no attention to defining the compliment. This has not been very helpful as many similar positive statements like congratulations, praises, flatteries, and other speech functions are often confused with compliments. In fact, in spite of Holmes's (1986) observation that stressed the need to define the compliment when collecting and analyzing examples of a particular speech act, it is important to have a clear definition in order to decide what counts and what does not count as compliments, no work (to the best of my knowledge) has given due attention to defining the compliment. The reason for this neglect might be traced to the position of some scholars who argue that defining the compliment is not necessary. Their position has been anchored on some of the reasons explicated in the proceeding paragraphs.

Their first reason is based on their fieldwork experience. For example, according to these scholars, the students who were involved in the collection of their American compliments were reported to have asked nothing about describing or defining compliments, and did not indicate confusion concerning what was expected of them. The data which they collected, (going by the report) with almost no exception, were unambiguously identifiable as compliments (Manes and Wolfson, 1981, p. 127). Other studies have also reported that the ease with which compliment sets were collected.

In addition, these scholars also argue that the mobility of compliments in natural conversation makes them easy to identify. Compliments, unlike greetings are said, to be rarely tied to any fixed position within interaction: they occur at the beginning, middle and end of a conversation.

This school of thought has added that aside from the ease with which they collected their compliment data and their natural mobility in interaction, compliments are said to be independent of the utterances that precede them. Manes and Wolfson (1981) reported that:

If a compliment appears as an aside, in the middle of a conversation or, as is frequently the case, begins the conversation, the listener may well be confused as to the intended object of the compliments, but whether compliments occur at the beginning of a conversation, in isolation or during an interaction of which they are not integral part, their independence from what precedes (them) makes it imperative that they somehow be readily identifiable as compliments (p.125).

In other words, because compliments stand out as a distinct speech unit within interactions that feature makes them easy to identify; therefore, collectors seem to assume that they do not require any description or definition.

Finally, they have adduced from the formulaic nature of the speech act of complimenting that describing the act is uncalled for. They claim that as a formulaic speech act like greetings, apologies, thanks, and farewells, compliments make themselves readily identifiable in discourse. …

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