Response – Laboratory – Role-play

Billmyer (1990) conducted a study comparing the production of compliments and compliment responses by two different groups of ESL learners in interactions with native speakers of English. One group received formal tuition of how compliments work in American English while the other did not. In this case the research question actually pertained to language acquisition. Billmyer wanted to find out whether formal tuition improved the learners’ production of compliments and compliment responses. The participants were female speakers of Japanese who were learning English. In monthly meetings the learners were asked to perform compliment-inducing tasks. These tasks included showing photos of their homes and family members, teaching a proverb in their native language, or showing a piece of clothing they had bought recently (Billmyer 1990: 35). Thus the participants were not asked to perform compliments as such. They were asked to perform other tasks, in which the researcher had good reasons to believe that compliments would occur. Several aspects of the compliments were then compared across the two groups of learners, including the type of response given to the compliments. She obtained the results given in table 1.



Accept (Thanks, agree) 27 (43.6%) 18 (25.7%)
Deflect (Comment, shift credit, return, downgrade, question) 10 (16.1%) 47 (67.2%)
Reject (Deny, ignore, disagree) 25 (40.3%)   5   (7.1%)

Table 1: Reply types by untutored and tutored learners of English (Billmyer 1990: 42)

It has to be remembered that the groups of learners were female speakers of Japanese. It is obvious that the formal tuition of the nature of American English compliments had a significant impact on the performance (a chi square test shows that the difference between the two groups is significant at the 5 per cent level). The untutored group relied mostly on simple acceptance or rejection of the compliment (thank you, yes or no, that’s not true) while the tutored group made use of a variety of deflecting strategies.