Compliments are all around you.  Compared to many other cultures, Americans use them rather frequently.  People from other countries often notice this and decide that Americans use them in a way that is meaningless and insincere.  Is this really true?  Your job is to find out.  Study of the use of compliments is important because they reveal information about American culture and speech behavior.  Luckily, for students, the forms of compliments are rather simple and predictable.  One well known investigation of how Americans use compliments (Manes and Wolfson, 1981), which studied over 1200 examples, gives us the following examples.  They give us both the grammatical forms and percentages which show us approximately how often each is used.

    1.  (Noun) is/looks (really) (ADJ).  (50%)
            "Your dog is really cute."

    2.  I really like/love (Noun).  (16.1%)
            "I really like your car."

    3.  That's a (really) (ADJ) (Noun).  (14.9%)
            "That's an interesting picture."

As you can see, only three simple forms make up over 85% of the compliments given in English.  Three more simple forms account for most of what's remaining.

    4.  You (Verb) a really (ADJ) (Noun).  (3.3%)
            "You did a really good job."

    5.  You really (Verb) (Noun Phrase) (ADV).  (2.7%)
            "You really handled that situation well."

    6.  (ADJ) (Noun).  (1.6%)
            "Nice game."

Investigation Procedure
As you can guess form the above examples, the form of compliments won't be as important as  the questions to whom?, when?, and about what? they are used  will be in your investigation.  Uncovering this important cultural information should be your focus.

1.  Predict:  For this investigation, you already know your focus.  How many different ways can you think of to look at these questions?  For example, you could look at gender differences, what kinds of things (possessions, abilities) are the objects of compliments, or differences between how friends or simple acquaintances use compliments.  What ideas do you already have about the answers to some of these questions?

2.  Plan:  In addition to observations, for this investigation it is especially important to look at native speakers feelings toward giving compliments and their interpretations of what the use of compliments means in different social situations?  What ideas do you have about uncovering this information?

3.  Collect Data:  When you collect data for this investigation, I suggest you focus on only one of the questions above.  Be sure to interview native speakers.  You may want to ask them about their own complimenting behaviors or give them some examples and get them to discuss their interpretation of what they mean.  Also, native speakers reactions to compliments are important to consider.

4.  Analyze:  What do you think your data shows?  Can you put your observations or reactions from native speakers into groups?  What do these groups show?

5.  Reformulate:  Because complimenting behavior has importance consequences in yours and other student ability to build relationships with native speakers, it is important for you to consider how to use this information in your own interactions?  How appropriate is your behavior?  How do you think most students complimenting behaviors would be interpreted by native speakers?  What is most important for students to know?

Because complimenting is subject to culturally based interpretation, I suggest you try it out and find out your teacher's or other native speakers' reactions.  During this unit, start each day by having the students in your class give a compliment and a response.  To do this, they will have to 1) choose a person to give it to 2) what to compliment them about 3) how to say it and 4) the person receiving the compliment will have to give a reaction.  Doing this in class will show the guesses you and the other students have about complimenting and allow the teacher or other native speaker to give you their impressions as a native speaker of  English.  You may be surprised at what they say.

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