Personal compliments

Janet Holmes (1988, 1995) provides the following definition of a compliment:

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. (Holmes 1988: 446; 1995: 117)
Several elements of this definition deserve some discussion. The core of the definition focuses on the attribution of credit to somebody for some “good”. Examples are given for this “good”. It can be a possession, a characteristic, a skill and so on. This list can be continued, and some of the compliment research deals exactly with the question which objects or “goods” are typically complimented on (Object). According to the definition it is not the speaker who is attributed credit, but typically the addressee. It is not mentioned in this quotation but there has to be a link from the “someone” who is attributed credit to the addressee of the compliment, otherwise the utterance is more likely to be understood as praise on some third party but not as compliment. In fact, it is an interesting question how much connection there has to be between the target of the compliment and the addressee of the compliment.

It is also important to notice that compliments can be explicit, implicit or indirect. While the definition given by Holmes clearly includes implicit compliments, compliment research usually focuses on explicit compliments only.