Sociopragmatics of compliment response in Mandarin Chinese: Exploration of the effects of social power, social distance, and gender identity

Author: Chi-Hsia Tang (Kaohsiung University of Science and Technology)
Speaker: Chi-Hsia Tang
Topic: General sociolinguistics
The (SCOPUS / ISI) SOAS GLOCAL CALA 2019 General Session


The study reports that certain contextual variables, including gender identity of a complimenter and a complimentee, as well as the relative social power and social distance of the complimenter, may exert significant influence on the complimentee’s response to positive commentaries. Yet, the relationships between these contextual variables and people’s compliment response use remain unclear in the current Mandarin Chinese literature.

This study refutes findings of prior investigations in Mandarin Chinese. However, due to limitations of the earlier investigations, this study sets out to examine if and, if so, ways in which Mandarin Chinese speaker compliment-responding behaviors are associative to their gender identity and the gender identity, relative social power, and social distance, of their interlocutors.
The data of the current study were collected via a discourse completion test (DCT). The questionnaires to 100 male and 100 female respondents, ranging from 25 to 65 years old, were collected for analysis. The analytical framework of the current study referred to the coding scheme developed by Holmes (1988), Herbert (1989, 1990), and Yu (2004) with modifications. After the pragmatic functions of the collected compliment-responding acts were analyzed and coded, the distributions of the strategies were quantitatively compared. Independent sample T-tests were run to examine the extent to which statistically significant correlation between the controlled social variables and people’s rhetorical management of compliment-responding speeches. Qualitative analyses were also performed to scrutinize any differences in people’s selection of micro strategies while having a similar tendency to adopt the same macro category to react to the given compliments.

Results showed that the four controlled social variables significantly correlate to people’s selections of compliment-responding strategies. The sociopragmatic variations of people’s compliment response use are reflections of the social beliefs, conventional etiquette, and politeness principles in the Chinese cultural context.


Herbert, R. K. (1989). The ethnography of English complement and compliment response: A contrastive sketch. In W. Oleksy (Ed.), Contrastive Pragmatics (pp. 3-36). Amsterdam; Philadelphia: John Benjamins Publishing Company.

Herbert, R. K. (1990). Sex-based differences in compliment behavior. Language in Society, 19, 201-224.

Holmes, J. (1988). Paying compliments: A sex-preferential politeness strategy. Journal of Pragmatics, 12, 445-465.

Yu, M.-C. (2004). Interlinguistic variation and similarity in second language speech act behavior The Modern Language Journal, 88(1), 102-119.

Keywords: Compliments, Mandarin Chinese, Communication, Sociopragmatic variations