Response – Field – Diary

Herbert (1989) and his students used the diary method to collect compliments in American English and in South African English. The American collection consists of 1062 compliment sequences and the South African collection of 493 sequences (Herbert 1989: 9). The analysis is based on Pomerantz’ (1978) taxonomy of compliment responses (Response – Field – CA). In contrast to Pomerantz, Herbert can provide statistics on the frequency of the different types of responses.

American South African
            Appreciation tokens 29 33
            Comment acceptance   7 43
            Comment history 19   5
            Reassignment   3   5
            Return   7   2
            Total 65 88
            Scale down   5   6
            Disagreement 10   0
            Qualification   7   2
            Question   5   2
            No acknowledgement   5   0
            Total 32 10
Request interpretation   3   1

Table 1: Frequency of response type (in per cent) (Hebert 1989: 19, 21; slightly simplified)

Table 1 shows that South African speakers of English are more likely to agree to a compliment than American English speakers. In particular the category “comment acceptance” is more frequent. In the collection of South African English compliments 43 per cent of all the responses fell into this category. Extracts (1) and (2) illustrate the most important agreement categories, “appreciation tokens” and “comment acceptance”, and extract (3) illustrates the nonagreement category “scale down”.

(1) Thank you. (Herbert 1989: 11)
(2) F1: I like your hair long.
F2: Me too. I’m never getting it cut short again. (Herbert 1989: 12)
(3) F1: Your hair looks good today.
F2: Oh, it’s just the same old thing. (Herbert 1989: 15)

Herbert (1989: 21) mentions that some of the differences in the figures may be due to differences in recording accuracy. Indeed this method depends on researchers or research teams working on the different language varieties who apply exactly the same criteria when collecting and analysing the data.

Holmes (1988, 1995) also used diary data to set up her taxonomy of compliment responses. She provides the following taxonomy (Holmes 1988: 460, 1995: 141):