Field: The philological method

In the philological method, the researcher reads data, typically novels or other fictional material, and makes notes of all the compliments that can be found. In this method the researcher has time to go back over the material several times to make sure that he or she did not miss a single compliment. Given enough resources two or more researchers can scan the same data to make sure that compliments are collected consistently and reliably.

Findings for fictional language cannot be generalized to other forms of language. In addition, several levels have to be distinguished. At one level the author of a novel, for instance, communicates with the reader of this novel (see Sell 2000). At embedded levels it is normal to talk about the implied author and the implied reader, and in addition there are fictional characters that communicate with each other. Compliments are possible at all levels. The real author may communicate directly to a real and very specific reader, e.g. a wealthy patron, and compliment him or her as a form of thanks. The implied author may address an implied reader, and obviously the characters on the various narratorial levels may pay and receive compliments. If fictional data is considered to have some value for pragmaticists, the method will provide a large and varied number of compliments. Moreover, fictional data has the advantage of providing a narrator perspective. The narrator can comment on the attitudes of the characters even if they do not express their sentiments.

While the fictional nature of the data may make this kind of method unusable for many purposes, an additional problem is that the method is very time consuming and erratic. It depends on experienced readers who have reliable hunches about novels in which compliments are likely to occur. Such hunches may be misguided, and even with the investment of a lot of research resources the method can only cover a limited amount of material and therefore necessarily must remain very selective.

For a discussion of this method in connection with a particular set of research questions see: