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The Pragmatic-Discursive Structure of Chinese Compliments in Naturally Occurring Conversation

Le, Rong Rong

Studies across different languages over the past three decades have claimed that compliments are formulaic in nature, realized by only a few syntactic and semantic formulae. Much of the research employs elicitation or ethnographic field notes data, which biases the analysis to single utterance, explicit and formulaic compliments. However, my observations of Chinese compliments in naturally occurring conversation paint a different, much more sophisticated, picture.
The current study investigates the realization of spontaneous Chinese complimenting behavior in the speech communities of Shanghai and other cities in China. Over 200 speakers from different walks of life were audio-recorded in a vast array of natural settings. Three hundred compliment-response sequences were selected for analysis. Adopting a combination of the pragmatic speech act analytic approach and the discursive pragmatic analytic approach, the current study examines the pragmatic-discursive structure of Chinese complimenting in conversation sequences over multiple turns involving two or more parties.
Results of the study reveal that Chinese compliments and compliment responses are not isolated, single utterance acts, but rather multi-turn discursive events. Chinese compliments operate as pragmatic-discursive strategies working together over the discourse in a core and support relationship. Among the 3,835 compliment strategies identified, 525 are core strategies and 3,310 are support strategies. The core compliment strategy is normally the first general summative statement initiating a compliment topic. Seven major support compliment strategies—agreement, comment, example, repetition, intensification, quote, and comparison—fulfill three major pragmatic-discursive functions: to align with, to elaborate, or to emphasize the core or another support strategy. The seven major support compliment strategies are further realized by a wide variety of substrategies and linguistic forms with no formulaicity and predictability in lexical or syntactic distribution. The different pragmatic-discursive strategies interact such that the participants negotiate and “co-construct” the compliment event. The analysis indicates that context, both interaction-external and interaction-internal, is crucial in the construction and interpretation of a compliment action.

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More About This Work

Academic Units
Arts and Humanities
Thesis Advisors
Beebe, Leslie M.
Degree
Ed.D., Teachers College, Columbia University
Published Here
July 28, 2018