Academic journal article International Journal of Linguistics

Strategies Employed by the Vietnamese to Respond to Compliments and the Influence of Compliment Receivers' Perception of the Compliment on Their Responses

Academic journal article International Journal of Linguistics

Strategies Employed by the Vietnamese to Respond to Compliments and the Influence of Compliment Receivers' Perception of the Compliment on Their Responses

Article excerpt


This research explores the strategies employed by the Vietnamese to respond to compliments and the influence of compliment receivers' perception of the compliment on their responses. Three hundred and sixty compliment/compliment response sequences were obtained from 120 extended interviews with 126 participants (6 interviewers and 120 interviewees). The conversations were tape-recorded. The interviewees' interpretation of their compliment responses was also recorded. The results show the Vietnamese have a high tendency to reject compliments because they want to be perceived as modest people by the compliment giver. The analysis of the compliment/compliment response sequences and of the participants' interpretation of their responses indicates that responding to compliments in Vietnamese is a complex speech act. Besides three major strategies used in compliment responses (i.e., acceptance, rejection and deflection), there are cases where the two opposite strategies acceptance and rejection appear in the same response. This reflects the Vietnamese tension between modesty/self-denying and self-appreciation. In other words, different principles involved in replying to compliments interact both between responses and within responses. The act of responding to compliments in Vietnamese is also complicated in that the receiver of the compliment can use the same strategy to convey different meanings. For example, in deflecting compliments the compliment receiver tends to shift the praised credit to other people, luck, fate or God to acknowledge their contribution. However, compliment receivers also tend to use this strategy to show themselves to the complimenter as modest and tactful people, especially when they know that their credit shift does not influence the way the complimenter perceives the praised attribute.

Keywords: Vietnamese, Complimenting, Speech act, Strategies

1. Introduction

1.1 The Act of Complimenting and Responding to Compliments

Complimenting (Cs) is defined as "a speech act which explicitly or implicitly attributes credit to someone other than the speaker, usually the person addressed, for some "good" (possession, characteristic, skill, and so on) which is valued by the speaker and the hearer (Holmes, 1988a). In other words, compliments refer to polite verbal expressions of praise or approval of other people and normally attribute the value "good" to the addressee. It represents "one means whereby an individual or more importantly, society as a whole can encourage, through...reinforcement, certain desired behaviors" (Manes, 1983, p. 7). Based on Brown & Levinson's (1987) politeness model, complimenting is largely a positive politeness strategy, since it signals the complimenter's noticing of and attending to the complimentee's interests and needs. For instance, a compliment on one's appearance can be seen as evidence that one is paid attention and even admired. Nevertheless, Cs as expressions of envy or admiration could threaten the addressee's negative face in the sense that addressees may have to say something that they do not really like to protect the object of the speaker's desire. In this case, Cs may imply the complimenter would like to have something belonging to the complimentee, and hence Cs can be regarded as face threatening acts (FTAs).

Compliment responses (CRs) are defined as verbal reactions that acknowledge that the interactant hears and responds to a compliment. In responding to a compliment, the addressee may feel constrained to downgrade the object of the compliment or to self-denigrate and hence, may damage his negative face. For instance, to avoid self-praise (Pomerantz, 1978) and/or to be considered humble (Chen, 1993), people may sometimes find it hard to accept a compliment on their personality. As a result, they may refuse it by self-deprecation regardless of the possibility that they may value themselves highly. As potential FTAs, Cs and CRs have been investigated in several contrastive and non-contrastive studies. …

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