Object – Field – Diary

Holmes (1988, 1995) used the diary method to collect 434 compliments in New Zealand English. Among other aspects, she also investigated the topics that are subject of the compliments. She finds that 61 per cent of all compliments between women relate to appearance while only 36 per cent of the compliments between males relate to appearance. Table 1 summarizes the results.

Topic F-F M-F F-M M-M
Appearance 151 (61)   53 (47) 32 (40) 16 (36)
Ability/performance   50 (20)   49 (44) 28 (35) 14 (32)
Possessions   30 (12)     2   (2)   9 (11) 11 (25)
Personality/friendship   10   (4)     5   (4) 81 (10)   2   (5)
Other     7   (3)     3   (3)   3   (4)   1   (2)
Total 248 112 80 44

Table 1: Interaction between compliment topic and sex of participants, percentages given in brackets (Holmes 1988: 455; 1995:132)

Cordella, Large and Pardo (1995) also used the diary method to compare compliments in Australian English and in Spanish. They collected 148 Australian English compliments and 40 Spanish ones. They followed the pattern set by Manes and Wolfson (1981) but in their case only three female researchers collected the compliments. While the group of Australian English complimenters and compliment recipients was relatively homogeneous, the group of Spanish participants consisted of speakers of Spanish of different nationalities. They came from Uruguay, Chile and Argentina, and the majority of them had lived in Australia for more than fifteen years.

Their main research question deals with the identity of the complimenter and the compliment receiver (Who/where/when – Field – Diary). But they also investigate the object of the compliment. They distinguish between three types of objects; appearance, possession and skill. The following extracts give relevant examples (Cordella, Large and Pardo 1995: 245-6):

(1) (Neighbour (62) to her friend’s daughter (17))
A: You look very nice. Is that a new dress you’re wearing? Are you going somewhere?
B: No, we’re just having a little get together at home.
(2) (Female friend to a male friend)
A: When did you get it? (indicating a car)
B: Last week.
A: I like it!
(3) (Male friend to female friend of similar age)
Hello X, how are your studies going? I suppose you won’t stop until you become a Professor …

On the basis of their collection of compliments, they reach the following conclusion:

The general trend shown by these data is for recipients younger than 30 years to receive compliments concerning appearance while recipients older than 30 are more likely to receive compliments related to skills. (Cordella, Large and Pardo 1995: 245)
To some extent the method seems to be suited to the research question. It allows statistics on the different types of objects that people compliment on. But the method still has the problem that the identity of the compliment collector (who often turned out to be the compliment recipient) influences the results of this research. The compliments were largely collected by the three authors of this paper.