Canadian and Cameroonian English-Speaking University Students’ Compliment Strategies

There are numerous studies on the realization patterns and functions of compliments in English (Holmes 1986, Manes & Wolfson 1981), Chinese (Ye, 1995; Yu, 2005), German (Golato, 2005) French (Kerbrat-Oreechioni, 1998; Traverso, 1996; Mulo Farenkia, 2009), and many other languages. To the best of my knowledge, there is no study on compliments in Canadian English. Also, there is a growing body of research on the performance of speech acts in different regional varieties of the same languages and such studies are undertaken within the framework of variational pragmatics (Schneider & Barron, 2008). With regard to the types of speech acts examined, much research has focused on requests, apologies, thanks, invitations, etc. in pluricentric languages such as English, German, Spanish, French etc.1 As far as the speech act of complimenting is concerned, the very few studies available dwell on compliment strategies in Cameroon French and Canadian French (Mulo Farenkia 2012a, 2012b, 2012c). The recent years have witnessed a rapid growth in the number of studies in variational pragmatics2 dealing with the realization of speech acts such as offers (Barron, 2005), responses to thanks (Schneider, 2005), requests (Barron, 2008), expressions of gratitude (Jautz, 2008), etc. in two or more varieties of English. Nevertheless, a great deal of work still remains to be done on speech act performance in Canadian English and Cameroon English. Also, compliments have been widely investigated in several regional varieties of English. However, there seems to be very little or no information on how English-speaking Canadians and Cameroonians express admiration. The present study attempts to provide such an analysis, by comparing the ways English-speaking Cameroonian and Canadian University students express admiration in six different situations.

According to Holmes (1986:485) a compliment is “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 etc.) which is positively valued by the speaker and the hearer”. In most studies, compliments are considered as expressive speech acts with multiple functions. According to Kerbrat-Orecchioni (2005) compliments are “verbal gifts”, offered to enhance the face of the recipient, to negotiate or affirm solidarity between speaker and hearer (Herbert, 1989, Holmes, 1988, etc.) and to encourage desired behavior in specific situations. Compliments also serve as intensification or indirect forms of speech acts such as apologizing, thanking, advising, asking for information, etc. or mitigating devices of face-threatening acts like criticism, reprimanding, etc. (Jaworski, 1995: 74). While compliments serve as conversation openers as well (Traverso, 1996: 107), they are also employed to mitigate face-threatening acts in written discourse (Gea Valor, 2000). Although compliments can generally be seen as positive politeness devices, they may more specifically be considered as examples of some of the positive politeness strategies developed by Brown and Levinson (1987: 102 – 128). As a matter of fact compliments function as “prime examples of the first positive politeness strategy, that is, ‘Notice, attend to H (his interests, wants, needs, goods’ [...] since complimenters indicate that they have noticed and attend to the recipients’ needs and interests and attempt to make the addressee feel good” (Sifianou, 2001: 396). Compliments could also be interpreted as “the output of [the] second positive politeness strategy, that is, ‘Exaggerate (interest, approval, sympathy with H)’” (ibid.) and this aspect is usually reflected in the use of intensifiers such as adverbs and interjections in compliment utterances. A compliment can also function as an example of strategy 7, that is, “Presuppose / raise / assert common ground”, in the sense that the compliment indicates a kind of commonality with regard to taste, values, etc. Compliments may also function as examples of the last positive politeness strategy, that is, “Give gifts to H”, which consists in offering goods, sympathy, understanding, cooperation, etc. In other words by giving a compliment, the speaker indicates that s/he knows “the addressee’s ‘human relation wants’ to be liked and admired and tries to satisfy them” (ibid.). In brief, “irrespective of the particular strategy they are outputs of, compliments are clearly positive politeness devices” (ibid.: 398). Compliments also have negative politeness functions. This is the case when they are employed to mitigate face-threatening acts such as requests, criticism, etc.

For full text: click here

(Author: Bernard Mulo Farenkia

Published by Macrothink Institute)