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Review of  Compliments and Compliment Responses

Reviewer: Çiler Hatipoğlu
Book Title: Compliments and Compliment Responses
Book Author: Andrea Golato
Publisher: John Benjamins
Linguistic Field(s): Discourse Analysis
Subject Language(s): German
Book Announcement: 16.3583

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Date: Mon, 12 Dec 2005 21:07:36 -0800 (PST)
From: Ciler Hatipoglu <>
Subject: Compliments and Compliment Responses

AUTHOR: Golato, Andrea
TITLE: Compliments and Compliment Responses
SUBTITLE: Grammatical Structure and Sequential Organisation
SERIES: Studies in Discourse and Grammar
PUBLISHER: John Benjamins Publishing Company
YEAR: 2005

Çiler Hatipoglu, Department of Foreign Language Education, METU,
Ankara, Turkey


''Compliments and Compliment Responses: Grammatical Structure and
Sequential Organization'' lives up to its name and provides a well-
organised, detailed and comprehensive analysis of compliments and
compliment responses in German. This book is not only an excellent
example of research on talk-in-interaction but also a work that sets an
agenda for future developments in the field. One of the main
contributions of this conversational analytic work is that it raises the
standards of research in this area and introduces readers to
innovative scientific reasoning.

The book consists of seven well-written, interesting and stimulating
chapters and each one of them deals with compliments and/or
compliment responses from a different perspective: Chapter 1:
Preliminaries (pp. 1-9), Chapter 2: Methodology (pp. 11-25), Chapter
3: Giving Compliments: The Design of First Compliment Turns (pp. 27-
84), Chapter 4: Giving Compliments: Sequential Embedding and
Function of First Compliment Turns (pp. 85-132), Chapter 5:
Compliments in Multi-party Interactions: Third Parties Providing
Second Compliments (pp. 133-166), Chapter 6: Compliment
Responses (pp. 167-199), Chapter 7: Concluding Discussions (pp.
201-212). Notes, references, name and subject indices are given at
the end of the book. This review will first, present a concise
description of the content of each of the chapters and will then offer
critical assessment of the book as a whole.


In Chapter 1, Andrea Golato prepares the audience to read the book.
She starts by briefly outlining the previous research on compliments
and compliment responses (henceforth C&CR) and presents the
relationship between the earlier studies and her own research. She
also shows, however, how different her study is from prior research on
compliments. The data collection procedure (i.e., recordings of
naturally occurring conversations between family and friends), the
methodological framework (i.e., Conversational Analysis (CA)), the
new approach to the analysis of the relationship between 'interaction
and grammar' creates a golden combination that allows the author to
analyze C&CR from a newer, more detailed, more exciting perspective
which lets her to uncover relations and results not mentioned in work
on this topic before. The chapter ends with an outline of the following
sections in the book.

Chapter 2 entitled ''Methodology'' consists of two main parts. In the
first part, the author discusses a topic which is of vital importance for
studies based on the analysis of data, i.e., various data collection
procedures utilized in different studies on C&CR. A good data
collection method for a study is the one that is able to shed light on
the research questions under investigation (Yuan 2001). However,
studies done in this area also show that linguists should choose wisely
since as Kasper and Dahl (1991:215) put it researchers in the area of
pragmatics are dealing with ''a double layer of variability'': the first of
these layers being the sociolinguistic properties of the speech event,
and the second being the variability induced by different data
collection instruments. Each data collection procedure has its
strengths and weaknesses and the quality of the gathered material
and the validity of the obtained results may be affected by the
selected data collection procedure (Fukushima 2000; Golato 2003;
Kasper 2000; Lorenzo-Dus 2001). Therefore, while discussing the
different data collection tools (i.e., discourse completion tasks and
questionnaires, role plays, recall protocols, field observations, and
recordings of naturally occurring talk-in-interaction), Golato presents
both their advantages and disadvantages. She also warns
researchers about the problems they may encounter in using each of
these data gathering techniques if the aim is to study 'actual language

In the latter section of this chapter, the author introduces the
informants and the characteristics of the data collected for the present
study (i.e., 30 hours of non-elicited videotaped face-to-face
conversations and 6 hours of audiotape telephoned conversations
between close friends and family members) and the methodological
framework (i.e., CA) chosen for the analysis of the gathered material.
Golato explains that the main objective of CA methodology is to
comprehend the sequential organisation of talk-in-interaction.
Therefore, while analysing her data the researcher did not aim at
making probability-based assertions and/or broad generalisations.
The major goal in this study is to present ''an adequate level of
description of the organisation of talk-in-interaction'' (p. 24).

In ''Giving Compliments: The Design of First Compliment Turns''
(Chapter 3), the author aims to uncover the attributes of the
compliment speech act and the place of the first compliment turn in a
particular interactional sequence. She bases her analysis on two
assumptions: (1) the assessable (i.e., the ability, characteristic, object
that the compliment is about) has to be identified/referred to by the
speaker so that the receiver of the compliment knows what the
compliment is about and (2) the positiveness of the compliment has to
be conveyed and this can be done semantically and/or syntactically.
The analysis of the referring expressions in compliments reveals their
systematic and context dependent nature. Speakers produce
references that are tailored to the needs of the recipient and to the
requirements of the ongoing interaction. In this respect, Golato's
study yields support for the anaphora studies initiated by Fox (1996)
and Schegloff (1996) and shows that analysis based on notions such
as 'topic' or 'distance to the last mentioned item' fails to account for
her talk-in-interaction data.

In the section devoted to the syntactic features of 'first compliment
turns' the author focuses on 'verb-first constructions' and 'right
dislocated elements'. Golato draws attention to the fact that many of
the first compliment turns in her corpus did not include overt
references to the assessable (i.e., their topic slots were empty) and
had some elements of the sentence moved from their normal position
to a position beyond sentence bracket or sentence field. Similarly to
Auer (1993), she argues that spoken German allows empty topic slots
in syntactic environments in which topics are normally obligatory due
to pragmatic reasons. Speakers (i.e., those who give the compliment)
in Golato's study used 'verb first constructions' when they assumed
that all participants in the conversation shared a common orientation
to the assessable and that, as a result of this, the receiver of the
compliment would be able to locate the referent without any
ambiguity. Those who gave compliments also tended to put the
positive evaluation of somebody/something at the end of the first turn
(i.e., used right-dislocated elements) since they believed that in doing
so they would make compliments more accessible to the next speaker
and, therefore, would better recipient's chances of understanding the
compliment. When discussing the semantic features of German
compliments Golato, first, lists features such as: (1) formulaic in
nature, (2) positive value not carried by the verb but by appreciation
sounds (either gustatory such as mmmh or other sounds of
appreciation such as ohh, aah), (3) usually include positive degree
adverbs such as 'schon' and 'gut', (4) most of them lack first person
pronouns; but then, she points to the fact that these features do not
render them obviously different from general assessments. According
to Golato, what really makes a compliment a compliment is the context
within which it is uttered.

Therefore, in the following chapter she sets out to prove this point.
Similarly to the preceding chapter, Chapter 4 (Giving Compliments:
Sequential Embedding and Function of First Compliment Turns) deals
only with first compliment turns. Differently from Chapter 3, however,
here the author focuses not only on the syntactic and semantic
features of compliments but on the relationship between the structural
features of compliments and the overall organisation of the sequence
in which compliment turns are situated. Drawing on data coming from
a multi-party talk, Golato shows that the syntactic and semantic
features of compliments alone do not suffice to disambiguate the
function of the turns in question. She points out to the fact that turns
with the same structural properties can function not only as
compliments and general assessments, but also as interruptions,
reproaches, sarcasm and teases. What is more, she shows that
within multiparty interactions compliments can perform a number of
(sometimes conflicting) functions at the same time. A compliment for
one interlocutor can serve as a criticism/reproach of another
interlocutor in the multiparty talk, for instance.

The dual function of this speech act is also illustrated by the fact that
compliments, in Golato's corpus, occurred in both preferred and
dispreferred turns. In dispreferred sequences they mostly preceded
or followed rejections of offers, disagreements and criticisms. That is,
they were used to either delay the dispreferred element or to convert
the potentially face threatening utterance into a more positive one.
Stated differently, compliments in dispreferred responses fulfilled/had
the function of social solidarity builders. In preferred environments, on
the other hand, compliments served as expressions of appreciation
(e.g., they are used to disagree with self-depreciations, to respond to
announcements, to support or replace thanks), transition acts from
one activity/topic to another, or conversation closings. These findings
in Golato's study support Brown and Levinson's (1987), Holmes's
(1995), and Wolfsons's (1983) claims that compliments can both
strengthen or soften other speech acts. Nonetheless, differently from
these earlier studies, Golato goes beyond the observational stage,
and by using the sequential organisation of talk-in-interaction
framework, she is able to explain why and how compliments can carry
out these multiple tasks successfully.

Differently from the previous two sections, Chapter 5 (Compliments in
Multi-party Interactions: Third Parties Providing Second Compliments),
focuses on 'second compliments' (i.e., compliments that are given by a
third party either before or after the compliment recipient has
responded) in multi-party talk. More specifically, the author tries to
uncover when and what type of compliments third parties produce,
and where they place these compliments in the interactional sequence.

Golato's analyses indicate that 'third party compliments' are usually
agreements. That is, similarly to Ruhi (2001, 2002), she concludes
that compliments define ingroupness or alignment with the compliment
speaker. 'Second compliments' are minimal in nature (i.e., consist of
only one turn construction unit), hence, non-intrusive. In other words,
they do not disturb the flow of the conversation and do not require a
shift in the participants' roles. Speakers continue to speak and
listeners to listen, while the member of the group who utters
the 'second compliment' just shows his/her alignment with the
complimenter. In most of the contexts 'third party compliments' are
expressed as gustatory mmmhs, confirmation markers (e.g., yes, mm
hm, or a head-nod), response pursuit markers (e.g., German 'ne?',
English 'right?') or additional assessments (i.e., adjective).

Further examinations of the data reveal that third parties are highly
sensitive to the function performed by 'first compliments'. Golato
points out to the fact that in her corpus 'second compliments' never
occurred in situations in which the 'first compliment' was a part of a
dispreferred turn. The author states that all second compliments
occurred in preferred environments, but she also calls for attention to
the fact that not all compliments given in such environments were
accompanied by a second compliment. She argues that in most of the
cases where a second compliment was absent, it was not noticeably
missing since in these contexts the non-intended participants either
did not have access to the assessable (e.g., did not see it/him/her)
or ''the participation context made the compliment implausible'' (e.g.,
the non-intended participant was a host) (p. 204).

The penultimate chapter in the book (Chapter 6: Compliment
Responses) has two main goals. First, to examine the features of
compliment responses in German, and second, to compare and
contrast them with Pomerantz's (1978) compliment response data
coming from American English. The comparison of these two corpora
is made possible because both studies are conducted within the
conversational analytic framework.

Golato mentions that in her analysis of American English, Pomerantz
(1978) concludes that recipients of compliments face a dilemma
between agreeing with compliments as the preferred next turn for
positive assessments and avoiding engagement in self-praising
behaviour. In attempt to solve this predicament, compliment recipients
respond to positive assessments (i.e., compliments) with expressions
that partly agree and partly disagree wit the complimenter's statement
(e.g., 'A: Gee, Hon, you look nice in that dress.', 'B: Do you really think
so? It's just a rag that my sister gave me', p. 170). According to
Herbert (1986, 1989), Herbert and Straight (1989), and Pomerantz
(1978), there are a number of formulae Americans use to achieve
this 'in between' effect: (1) shifting the evaluation, (2) shifting the
evaluation in form of a qualification, (3) deflecting the compliment to
an object or to a third party, (4) giving a non-evaluative comment, (5)
reinterpreting the compliment.

When discussing the compliment responses in German, Golato points
out to the fact that differently from the example compliment responses
in etiquette books and against native speakers' intuitions, German
native speakers 'overwhelmingly' accepted compliments. Again,
contrary to all recommendations in etiquette books, none of the
informants in her study accepted the compliment by using an
appreciation marker/token such as 'Danke' (Thank you). What is
more, none of the German compliment response types were parallel to
ones found in American English. The two most common German ways
of expressing an appreciation of a compliment, encountered in the
current corpus, were to provide an assessment of the compliment or
to agree with the compliment assertion by confirming the assertion
(i.e., by saying 'ja'). What the author concludes at the end of this
chapter is that even though both Americans and Germans have a
number of ways of accepting compliments, 'the design of these
acceptance turns differ drastically across the two speech communities'
(p. 207), a fact which might cause conversation breakdowns (i.e.,
misunderstandings and misinterpretations) when interlocutors from
those two cultures interact with each other.

In the last chapter of the book (Chapter 7: Concluding Discussions),
before discussing the limitations of the current study and presenting
some suggestions for further research, Golato summarizes the
findings of the study and presents the broader implications of her
results in terms of sequence organisation and grammar and
interaction research.


''Compliments and Compliment Responses: Grammatical Structure and
Sequential Organization'' is a thought-provoking research which looks
at compliments and compliment responses (C&CR) from a newer,
more dynamic, more sophisticated perspective. Therefore, this work
will undoubtedly stimulate future research in this area. By combining
finely the data collection procedure, the methodological framework
and the approach to the examination of data, Golato is able to not
only illustrate but also to explain the multifaceted, often covert nature
of the relationship between the structure, place in the sequence and
function of C&CR in German. The issues raised and discussed in the
book are important for the study of talk-in-interaction and for the study
of interactional linguistics as well as for the fields of cross-cultural
communication, speech acts and foreign/second language education.

The language and the style of the author and the interesting and
insightful examples make the book a very enjoyable read. The
connectedness between the chapters and the well-rounded analysis
of the material make the volume an excellent resource for all those
interested in discourse and pragmatics. Hence, I recommend it in the
highest possible terms.


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Brown, Penelope & Levinson, Stephen C. (1987). Politeness: Some
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Fox, Barbara A. (Ed.) (1996). Studies in Anaphora.
Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins.

Fukushima, Saeko. (2000). Requests and Culture: Politeness in
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Golato, Andrea. (2003). Studying compliment responses: A
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Kasper, Gabriele & Dahl, Merete. (1991). Research methods in
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Lorenzo-Dus, Nuria. (2001). Compliment responses among British
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Ruhi, Şükriye. (2001). Complimenting women in Turkish: Shaping
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Dr Çiler Hatipoglu is a lecturer at Middle East Technical University,
Ankara, Turkey, where she teaches various linguistics and ELT
courses. Her main areas of interest are speech acts, language and
gender, politeness, cross-cultural communication and interlanguage