Compliments have attracted a considerable amount of research. They have been analysed in specific language communities and they have been compared across different communities. It seems obvious that they are culture specific and sociologically conditioned. Compliments that are appropriate in a particular situation for one language community may be inappropriate in a comparable situation for another language community. And there are considerable differences in the way communicators respond to compliments. In general terms, compliments provide a double bind for the recipient of the compliment. If he or she accepts the compliment, it might create an impression of immodesty. If he or she rejects the compliment, it might create the impression of disagreeing with the complimenter. Different language communities evaluate the dangers in different ways and as a consequence speakers of different language communities respond in different ways to compliments.

Most of the research on compliments to date has been carried out on the basis of compliments elicited with the help of discourse completion tests or on the basis of compliments collected through the diary or notebook method but generally researchers do not discuss their research methods very much. If they do, they usually argue for the superiority of their own chosen method and dismiss the others (see e.g. Manes and Wolfson 1981, who dismiss all other approaches apart from what they call the “ethnographic approach”, which, according to them, “is the only reliable method for collecting data about the way compliments, or indeed, any other speech act functions”). Yuan (2000) provides a systematic comparison of four different data collection methods. She also notes a connection between the research questions and the chosen research method. Golato (2003: chapter 2) critiques several methods and dismisses them in favour of her conversation analytical approach (Patterns – Field – CA; Response – Field – CA).

In this paper I plan to discuss the speech act research method in a more systematic and more comprehensive matter. In principle, what I have to say is applicable to a broad range of speech acts, perhaps to all of them, but I will illustrate my points with the speech act of compliment and compliment response.