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C-E-P-S Journal | Vol.5 I N°4 I Year 2015 

The Use of Compliment Response Strategies among 
Iranian Learners of English: Researching Interlocutors' 
Relative Power and Gender 

Seyyed Hatam Tamimi Sa’d 1 

This article reports on a study that set out to investigate how Iranian 
EFL learners respond to compliments in English. The data were col¬ 
lected using a discourse completion task (DCT) consisting of a variety 
of situations that required the participants, 26 EFL learners (13 males 
and 13 females) to respond to compliments directed at them. The data 
were analysed both quantitatively and qualitatively. To this end, the par¬ 
ticipants’ responses were coded according to a coding scheme adopted 
from Yu (2004) which identified six compliment response strategies 
(CRSs). The findings indicated that, regardless of or concerning gender 
and power (-P and =P), the first three most frequent CR strategies in¬ 
cluded “Acceptance”, “Combination” and “Amendment”. These findings 
were then analyzed in light of previous similar studies that revealed that 
the participants had followed their first cultural norms not only in using 
the strategies mentioned above but also in employing very infrequently 
such strategies as “Face Relationship”, “No acknowledgment”, and “Non- 
acceptance”. As regards the role of gender, a Chi-square test was run 
which showed that males and females differed significantly in their use 
of CRSs. Furthermore, males used more CR strategies compared to fe¬ 
males. The qualitative analysis of the semantic formulas of the CR strate¬ 
gies also revealed that, by accepting a compliment, Iranian EFL learners 
sought agreement and consequently relied on positive politeness to fos¬ 
ter rapport and solidarity. 

Keywords: Compliment response strategies, EFL learners, politeness, 
pragmatic competence 

1 Urmia University, Urmia and Iran Language Institute (ILI), Iran; 


Uporaba strategij odzivanja na pohvale iranskih ucencev 
anglescine: raziskovanje sogovornikove relativne moci 
polozaja in spola 

Seyyed Hatam Tamimi Sa’d 

V prispevku je predstavljena raziskava o odzivanju iranskih ucencev an¬ 
glescine kot tujega jezika na pohvale v anglescini. Podatki so bili zbrani 
s pomocjo diskurza zakljucevanja nalog; naloge so vkljucevale razlicne 
situacije z neposrednimi pohvalami, na katere so se morali udelezenci - 
26 ucencev anglescine (13 moskih in 13 zensk) - odzvati. Podatki so bili 
obdelani kvantitativno in kvalitativno. Odzivi udelezencev so bili kodi- 
rani na podlagi kodirne sheme, povzete po Yuju, ki identificira sest stra¬ 
tegij odzivanja na pohvale. Izsledki kazejo, da ne glede na spol in moc 
polozaja (- P in = P) tri najpogosteje uporabljene strategije vkljucujejo 
»sprejemanje«, »kombinacije« in »spremembe«. Ugotovitve so bile na- 
dalje analizirane glede na predhodne podobne raziskave. Pokazalo se je, 
da so udelezenci sledili njihovi primarni kulturni normi, in to ne samo 
pri uporabi ze omenjenih strategij, ampak tudi pri zelo redki uporabi 
strategij, kot so: »neposredni odnos«, »brez potrditve« in »nesprejema- 
nje«. Vpliv spola je bil preverjen s hi-kvadrat preizkusom, ki je pokazal, 
da se med moskimi in zenskami pojavljajo statisticno pomembne razli- 
ke pri uporabi strategij odzivanja na pohvale. Poleg tega so moski tudi 
vec uporabljali strategije kot zenske. Kvalitativna analiza semanticnih 
formul strategij je prav tako pokazala, da so s sprejetjem pohvale iranski 
ucenci anglescine iskali strinjanje in se posledicno zanasali na to, da s 
pozitivno vljudnostjo spodbujajo trdnejsi odnos in solidarnost. 

Kljucne besede: strategije odzivanja na pohvale, ucenci anglescine kot 
tujega jezika, vljudnost, pragmaticne kompetence 

C-E-P-S Journal | Vol.5 I N°4 I Year 2015 


Communicative competence has been long an inevitably necessary part 
of language teaching, with sociolinguistic competence occupying an over¬ 
whelmingly important position (Wolfson, 1981). In this regard, the way that 
different speech acts, such as requests, refusals, complimenting, and so on are 
encoded in various and, more importantly, the problems that confront lan¬ 
guage learners in their attempt to encode or decode those speech acts have 
attracted the attention of a myriad of researchers (Ahar & Eslami-Rasekh, 2011; 
Al-Khateeb, 2009; Cheng, 2011; Golato, 2002; Huth, 2006; Jucker, 2009; Nelson, 
Al-Batal, & Echols, 1996; Nelson, Ei Bakary, & A 1 Batal, 1996; Olshtain, 1993; 
Wolfson, 1981, to name only a few). Language learners’ production of differ¬ 
ent speech acts and the demands on the learners that may prevent them from 
approximating native-speaker norms of realizing those speech acts have long 
been extensively investigated (Olshtain, 1993). Paying compliments has been 
evidenced to be a problematic aspect of language learning for second language 
(L2) learners, which justifies a consideration of this speech act in detail. Holmes 
and Brown (1987), for instance, stated, “Knowing whether a compliment is ap¬ 
propriate at all, as well as which linguistic strategy to select to express it, is part 
of the communicative competence learners need to acquire” (p. 528). 

There is little doubt that studying speech act behaviour and, therefore, 
research on this aspect of interaction can be beneficial to our understanding of 
their nature. CR strategies have a special position in this regard. As Yu (2003) 
asserted, “Compliment responses are worthy of study because they are ubiqui¬ 
tous, yet frequently problematic speech acts. The fact that compliments are eas¬ 
ily heard in everyday conversations indicates that responding to compliments 
is a common feature of discoursal activities” (p. 1687). According to Morkus 
(2009), compliments preserve the speaker’s positive face, which is defined as “a 
person’s need to be treated as an equal or insider” (Verschueren, 2003, p. 45). 
Two decades earlier, Holmes (1988) had referred to the same fact; that is, com¬ 
pliments are positive politeness strategies. 

Reviewing the literature on compliments, Yu (2004) identified six mutu¬ 
ally exclusive ways of responding to compliments. Some of these six strategies 
consist of some sub-strategies in which the super-strategies are carried out. The 
compliment response (CR) strategies are as follows (adapted from Yu, 2004): 

Acceptance Strategies 

According to Yu (2004, p. 118), “utterances that recognize the status of 
a preceding remark as a compliment” are called Acceptance Strategies, and the 


following subcategories are subsumed under this main strategy: 

- Appreciation Token: Utterances showing gratitude and appreciation as in the 
following example: Thank you. 

- Agreement: Utterances showing the complimentee’s agreement to the 
complimenter’s utterance: Yeah, I know that. 

- Pleasure: Utterances indicating that the complimentee is pleased with the 
complimenter’s utterance: I’m so glad about that. 

- Association: Utterances that include more than one subcategory mentioned 
above. I’m so happy you liked it. Thank you. (Pleasure + Appreciation Token) 

Amendment Strategies 

In this kind of CR strategy, the speaker tries to amend the complimen¬ 
tary force of the compliment offered. This might be done in the following ways: 

- Return: Utterances that reciprocate the act of complimenting by offering 
or returning praise to the complimenter as the following examples show: 
You’re doing a great job as well. 

- Downgrade: Utterances that reduce or scale down the complimentary force 
of the praise. Consider the following examples: ...but it wasn’t that good, 
come on! 

- Upgrade: Utterances that increase the complimentary force of the praise. 
For example: It’s always like that. 

- Question: Utterances that query the genuineness, appropriateness, or since¬ 
rity of the compliment. Really ? 

- Comment: According to Yu (2004, p. 188), this is a feature of tho¬ 
se utterances that, “while accepting the force of a given compliment, 
do not accept credit for the accomplishment or attitude that is prai¬ 
sed. Rather, the speaker impersonalizes the force of that compliment”. 
I always ask good questions. 

- Transfer: Utterances that redirect or switch the force of the compliment to 
the complimenter. Actually, you helped me a lot. 

- Association: Utterances that include one or more of the Amendment subca¬ 
tegories mentioned above. Really? But I think it was not that good. (Question 
+ Downgrade) 

Non-acceptance Strategies 

Speakers might sometimes prefer to “deny, question, or joke about the 

content of the compliment or avoid responding directly to the praise” (Yu, 

2004, p. 119). Non-acceptance strategies include the following subcategories: 

- Disagreement: Responses that do not agree with the statement of the 

C-E-P-S Journal | Vol.5 I N°4 I Year 2015 

compliment or show that the compliment is excessive, uncalled-for, or 
unjustified. For instance: No, that’s not true. 

- Question: Utterances that call into question the quality of the compliment 
and do not agree with its full complimentary force. Consider the following 
example: You’re pulling my leg?! 

- Diverge: Utterances that pose other acts and call into question the quality of 
the compliment this way. Anyway, I did it haphazardly. 

- Association: Utterances that include one or more of the Amendment subca¬ 
tegories mentioned above. I don’t believe it. Are you pulling my leg? (Disa¬ 
greement + Question) 

Face Relationship-related Response Strategies 

These include strategies that do not appear to, as in the above main 
strategies, accept, amend, or reject the compliment. Rather, they deal with the 
compliment within the interaction, not with the prepositional content of the 
compliment. Yeah, that’s what one is supposed to do in such situations. 

Combination Strategies 

These constitute two or more of the compliment response strategies 
mentioned above. For example: Thank you. But I don’t think so. (Acceptance + 

No acknowledgment 

Finally, speakers might choose to not respond to the compliment offered 
to him or her. 

This study aimed to explore the complimenting behaviour of Iranian 
university EFL learners. More specifically, the present study set out to answer 
the following research questions: 

1. What are the most and least frequent compliment response strategies by 
Iranian university EFL learners? 

2. Do males and females differ in their use and choice of types of compli¬ 
ment response strategies? 

3. Is there any significant difference between males and females in their 
frequency of use of compliment response strategies? 

4. What compliment response strategies do individuals use in each power 
status; that is, in -P and =P? 


Theoretical Background 

Compliments are among the most frequently studied speech acts in 
pragmatic research (Yu, 2003). A large number of researchers have systemati¬ 
cally investigated this speech act from various aspects and in different con¬ 
texts (e.g., Ahar & Eslami-Rasekh, 2011; Al-Khateeb, 2009; Chen & Yang, 2010; 
Cheng, 2011; Golato, 2002; Holmes, 1988; Holmes & Brown, 1987; Huth, 2006; 
Johnson, 1992; Jucker, 2009; Mustapha, 2012; Nelson et al., 1996; Nelson et al., 
1996; Rees-Miller, 2011; Tang & Zhang, 2009; Wolfson, 1981; Yu, 2003, 2004). 

In this connection, in an early study, Wolfson (1981) examined the cross- 
cultural differences in realizing compliments, with a particular attention to 
American English as the starting point of comparison, concluding that, from 
a cross-cultural perspective, “Speech acts differ cross-culturally not only in the 
way they are realized but also in their distribution, their frequency of occur¬ 
rence, and in the functions they serve” (p. 123). In the same vein, realizations 
of compliments that are said to vary from one culture to another have been 
examined. Holmes and Brown (1987), for instance, provided examples of how 
different culture realized compliments differently and, at times, this led to mis¬ 
understandings in cross-cultural communication. 

Comparative studies of CR as utilized by speakers of different languages 
also abound. Nelson et al. (1996), for example, compared the realizations of com¬ 
pliment responses in English and Arabic and found that both the American and 
Syrian subjects of their study employed “Acceptance” strategies most frequently 
and “Rejection” strategies least frequently. The teaching of complimenting be¬ 
haviour, whether explicitly or implicitly, has also been an area of research. Huth 
(2006), for instance, investigated the effect of teaching culture-specific compli¬ 
ments to American learners of German. Huth found that L2 learners are aware 
of the structural organization of compliments and apply their cultural norms 
when complimenting. Huth (2006) concluded that this “the inherently social 
nature of L2 interaction in the context of foreign language teaching” (p. 2025). 
Rees-Miller’s (2011) study took gender as the departure point to compare men 
and women’s ways of complimenting and the different settings in which they 
paid compliments. Recently, Mustapha (2012) attempted, by means of studying 
1200 compliments in Nigerian English, to identify the defining characteristics 
that can be of help to those researching on compliments. Ahar and Eslami- 
Rasekh (2011) examined the effect on the gratitude of social status and the size 
of imposition among Iranian EFL learners and American native speakers. The 
results of their study indicated that the two variables mentioned above made 
Iranian EFL learners oversensitive, leading to pragmatic failure. 

C-E-P-S Journal | Vol.5 I N°4 I Year 2015 

Studying compliments, especially if this is done in academic settings, can 
be of considerable significance as these are among the most common speech 
acts used on a daily basis. Furthermore, it has been found troublesome for L2 
learners to appropriately pay compliments in an L2 (e.g., Holmes & Brown, 
1987). As will be seen below, the focus of the current study was the interactants’ 
relative power (P), and it was attempted that a full picture of how this factor can 
influence the utilization of CRs to be depicted. The participants’ gender was 
also taken into account to examine how both genders respond to compliments. 



Participants of the current study included 26 Iranian BA language learners 
(13 males and 13 females) studying English as a Foreign Language (EFL) at Urmia 
University, Urmia, Iran. Their age range was 19 to 22 years. For a better compari¬ 
son of the results, the number of male and female participants was equal. 


Research into the pragmatic areas of language has witnessed an exten¬ 
sive use of Discourse Completion Tasks (DCT) as the main data collection tool 
(Kasper & Dahl, 1991), although this method not been without critics (see e.g. 
Chaudron, 2005). Therefore, the data for this study were obtained by use of 
a DCT that consisted of 8 situations in which the complimentees were either 
inferior or equal to the complimenter and that dealt mainly with everyday aca¬ 
demic life. To realize the interlocutors’ relative power, the complimentees were 
supposed to be inferior to the complimentee in four of the situations (1,3, 5 and 
7) and equal to the complimentee in the four other situations (2, 4, 6, and 8). 
Following Jalilifar, Hashemian, and Tabatabaee (2011), relative power (P) was 
shown using -P for asymmetrical power relationships, for example a university 
professor and a student (where most often a professor is often deemed to be 
more powerful than a student), and =P for equal interlocutors, for example two 
university students (who are considered equal in terms of social power). Table 1 
summarizes the information about the DCT. The DCT appears in Appendix A. 


Table 1. Description of Compliment Response Situations 





Student’s essay returned by professor 


Speaker < Hearer 


Class presentation 


Speaker = Hearer 


Student asking for exam postponement 


Speaker < Hearer 


Students attending an academic seminar 


Speaker = Hearer 


Classroom project accomplished successfully 


Speaker < Hearer 


School conference coordinated well 


Speaker = Hearer 


Professor asking for a PowerPoint presentation 


Speaker < Hearer 


Proposal outline presented in class 


Speaker = Hearer 

Procedure and data analysis 

To collect the data, the researchers distributed the purpose-built DCTs 
among 26 EFL learners and required them to imagine themselves in the DCT’s 
scenarios and to respond to the compliments as realistically, appropriately, hon¬ 
estly, and immediately as possible. The data were analysed both qualitatively and 
quantitatively. First, to identify the compliment response strategies employed by 
the participants in this study, the coding scheme was based on those CR strate¬ 
gies as identified by Yu (2004). These include six mutually exclusive strategies 
that can be used to respond to compliments in a socio-culturally appropriate way 
in various situations. This coding scheme along with examples of each strategy 
taken from the participants’ responses appears in the Introduction above. The 
quantitative phase consisted of descriptive statistics elaborated on further below. 


The current study set out to investigate the complimenting behaviour of 
Iranian university EFT learners with the participants’ gender and interlocutors’ 
power status in focus. The findings are presented in this part. 

Quantitative Results 

Compliment Response Strategy Use 

The first research question addressed the CR strategies employed most 
and least frequently by the participants. Figure 1 provides the answer to this 

C-E-P-S Journal | Vol.5 I N°4 I Year 2015 

1 20 JJ44S4^3«- 

Figure 1. Compliment response strategy use 

Figure 1 shows that the total number of CR strategies is 208 and that the 
first three most frequent CR strategies are “Acceptance” (114), “Combination” 
(56), and “Amendment” (22). Overall, these three strategies accounted for 92.2 
per cent of the total number of strategies employed. This figure also shows that 
the least frequent CR strategies are “Amendment” and “Non-acceptance”, both 
employed with the same frequency (3). 

Compliment Response Strategy Use: Gender in Focus 

The role of gender, the subject of the second research question, was also 
considered in this study, and males and females were compared with regard to 
how they responded to compliments. The distribution of CRs across gender is 
presented in Figure 2. 





i < 




1 L 1 J_ oj. 2 M 



Figure 2. Compliment response strategy use across gender 


As shown in Figure 2, both males and females used “Acceptance”, “Com¬ 
bination”, and “Amendment” CR strategies most frequently of all strategies. 
Furthermore, it can be seen that males outnumber females in all these three 
strategies. Males, as seen from Figure 2, used more strategies than females did 
(114 versus 94) and females used more “No Acknowledgment” strategies than 
males did (8 versus 2). Females also employed the “Face Relationship” strategy 
that males did not use at all. 

As regards the role of gender in the use of CR strategies, addressed in the 
third research question, a Chi-square analysis was run which showed that there 
is a significant relationship between gender and the CRs employed, \ 2 (3.208) = 
12.33, p = .03. The results are presented in Table 2. 

Table 2. Chi-square analysis of the role of gender in compliment response 
strategy use 








p < .05 Critical Value: 7.81 

Qualitative Results 

Compliment Response Strategy Use: Power and Gender in Focus 
The CR strategies were also examined in light of the individuals’ status; 
that is, the relative power status they have. This was dealt with in the fourth 
research question. In this connection, it was attempted to determine which CR 
strategies are used with what status and how frequently. Since the DCT used in 
the present study realized two power statuses of individuals (i.e., -P and =P), 
then the CR strategies employed in these two statuses were identified and re¬ 
ported in Tables 3 and 4. 

Table 3. Participants’ CRS Use across Gender and for Unequal Status (S<H; -P; 
Sit #1, 3,5 & 7) 

\ CRS 
























M F 













0 1 








Note. CRS: Compliment response strategy; H=Hearer; M= Male; F= Female. S=Speaker; Sit= Situation. 

C-E-P-S Journal | Vol.5 I N°4 I Year 2015 99 

Table 4 summarizes the results of CR strategy use across the power sta¬ 
tus of =P. In this status, both the speaker (complimenter or giver of the compli¬ 
ment) and the hearer (complimentee or receiver of the compliment) are equals. 

Table 4. Participants’ CRS Use across Gender and for Equal Status (S=H; =P; Sit 
# 2, 4, 6 & 8) 

\ CRS Acceptance Amendment Non-acceptance Face Combination No 

Strategies Strategies Strategies Relationship Strategies Acknowledgment 



(S=H) 33 25 6 3 1 0 0 1 9 16 2 7 

Total 58 9 1 1 25 9 

Note. CRS: Compliment response strategy; H=Hearer; M= Male; F= Female. S=Speaker; Sit= Situation. 

As can be seen from Tables 3 and 4, the first three most frequently used 
CR strategies are “Acceptance”, “Combination” and “Amendment” in both pow¬ 
er statuses of -P and =P. The CR strategy of ‘No Acknowledgment’ was used 
mainly when the complimenter and complimentee are equals (=P). This find¬ 
ing may be justified on the grounds that the participants did not wish to leave 
unanswered the compliment received from a higher status person, a university 
professor, for example, as this might have been deemed to sound impolite. In 
the same vein, the participants might not have found it impolite not to return a 
compliment, which explains, if not justifies, why compliments between equals 
were not acknowledged on some occasions. 


Briefly put, the results indicated that the first most frequently used CR 
strategies are “Acceptance”, “Combination”, and “Amendment”. In addition, it 
can be seen from Figure 2 that in all these three CR strategies, males outnum¬ 
ber females. Males used more “Acceptance”, “Combination”, and “Amendment” 
strategies than females did. However, what both genders had in common in the 
use of these CR strategies is that these are the most frequent for both. In the 
same fashion, the least frequent CR strategies for both genders are the same: 
“Non-acceptance” and “No acknowledgment”. Males, however, did not use 
“Face Relationship” while females did although very infrequently. 

A comparative glance at the results obtained in the present study in¬ 
dicates that they are in line with some previous studies. For instance, the re¬ 
sults of CR strategy use support Nelson, Al-Batal, and Echols (1996) in that the 



Americans in this study employed “Acceptance” strategies, most frequently of 
other strategies. The results are also consonant with Yu (2004) whose compara¬ 
tive study of Chinese learners of English and American native speakers of Eng¬ 
lish demonstrated the tendency of both groups to use “Acceptance” strategies 
most of all. In another study of CR behaviour, Chen and Yang (2010) found that 
the overwhelmingly common way of responding to compliment in Chinese, 
which is accepting a compliment, might stem from the influx of the Western 
cultural norms into Chinese society. 

In the same vein and with the increasingly wide spread of the Western 
ethos, it might not be irrelevant to construe the way Iranian EFL learners have 
responded to compliments in this study as having roots in the native educa¬ 
tional materials, that is, textbooks, videos and so on, to which most, if not all, 
learners of English are exposed throughout the process of learning English. The 
findings also stand in contrast to Tang and Zhang (2009) who found that Man¬ 
darin Chinese speakers used few “Accept” strategies and more “Reject” ones; 
Iranian EFL learners in the current study are, however, more similar to the 
Australian speakers in Tang and Zhang’s (2009) study in that both groups, i.e. 
Iranians and Australians, employed more Combination Strategies. 

In addition to congruities, there are inconsistencies between the find¬ 
ings of this study and other studies concerning the way males and females re¬ 
sponded to compliments. For example, Al-Qahtani (2009) cited evidence based 
on which males were said to favour disagreement, and females favour questions 
in response to compliments. In contrast, the present study demonstrated that 
both genders tended more to accept a compliment than to disagree to or ques¬ 
tion it. 

Examples ofCRs Used by the Participants 

In this part, examples of each CR strategy and sub-strategy as used by 
the participants are provided to cast more light on the way that the CR strate¬ 
gies mentioned earlier (Yu, 2004) have been employed. 

C-E-P-S Journal | Vol.5 I N°4 I Year 2015 101 

Table 5. Examples ofCRSs Used by the Participants 




Semantic formula 

1 . 


1 . a) Appreciation Token 

Thank you, sir. (S. #1) 

1 . b) Agreement 

Yeah, 1 know that. (S. #4) 

1 . c) Pleasure 

I'm so glad about that. (S. #2) 

1 . d) Association 

I'm so happy you liked it. Thank you. 
(Pleasure + Appreciation Token) (S. #5) 



2. a) Return 

a) You’re doing a great job as well. (S. 


b) You're doing pretty well too. (S. #6) 

2. b) Downgrade 

...but it wasn't that good, come on! (S. 


2. c) Upgrade 

It’s always like that. (S. #6) 

2. d) Question 

a) Really? (S. #4) 

b) Did you? (S. #4) 

2. e) Comment 

/ always ask good questions. (S. #4) 

2. f) Transfer 

Actually, you helped me a lot. (S. #6) 

2. g) Association 




3. a) Disagreement 

a) No, that’s not true. (S. #6) 

b) / don't believe it. (S. #5) 

3. b) Question 

You're pulling my leg?! (S. #6) 

3. c) Diverge 


3. d) Association 



Face Relationship Related Response 

a) / had too much stress. (S. #4) 

b) Could you learn anything? (S. #2) 

c) / like to ask questions. (S. #4) 



a) Thank you. But was it that good? 

(S. #8) 


No acknowledgment 

a) [1 just smile. 1 might say nothing to 
her.] (S. #6) 

b) [1 just nod my head without saying 
anything.] (S. #4) 

Note. S = Situation 

Use of Politeness Markers in Compliments 

Brown and Levinson (1987) construe compliments as “positive” polite¬ 
ness strategies. The CR strategies employed here, particularly the “Acceptance” 
strategies, were of a very frequent formulaic nature, revolving mainly around 
such expressions as “Thank you”. This finding further corroborates Johnson’s 
(1992) statement that “compliments are highly formulaic, both in their syntac¬ 
tic form and in the lexical items that carry the positive evaluation” (p. 52). One 
of the frequent politeness markers employed in the compliments here was the 



use of the honorific “Sir” as a negative politeness strategy (Brown & Levinson, 
1987) directed at a higher status complimentee to give him/her deference as the 
following examples indicate: 

• I’m happy you liked it. Sir. (Sit #1; S<H) 

• Thank you, Sir. (Sit #3; S<H) 

Another politeness marker was the booster: the linguistic device that 
serves the purpose of intensifying an aforementioned statement (Watts, 2003). 
According to Watts, who discusses boosters under the label of “the structure 
of linguistic politeness” and who exemplifies them by citing “of course” and 
“clearly” (p. 169), boosters aim at “enhancing the force of the illocution in some 
way”. In the following examples of compliment responses, words such as “so” 
and “very” function as intensifiers or boosters: 

• Thank you so much. (Sit #2; S=H) 

• I’m so glad about that. (Sit #8; S<H) 

Intensification can be deemed to have been accomplished in another 
way: by use of “Combination” strategies. Necessarily, this increases the length 
of the response to a compliment, which consequently results in longer strings 
of interaction. In elaborating on this feature in English, Willis (2003) expli¬ 
cated that lengthier strings are more polite in English: “In English there is a 
broad generalisation that longer is politer” (p. 19). It is noteworthy, however, 
that although Willis discusses the speech act of request in this way, this “length” 
principle might be generalizable to compliments as well. The following example 
illustrates an appropriate CR strategy: 

• Thank you very much. Sir. I’ll do my best. (Sit #3; S<H) 

The above response is appropriate and polite because first, the “Accept¬ 
ance” strategy is intensified using “very” and second, it entails a promise (“do¬ 
ing one’s best”) that, according to Ogiermann (2009), appeals to the addressee’s 
positive face. The following response, however, might not be considered polite 
in the same situation, as the response is short and lacks any intensification: 

• That’s kind of you. (Sit #3; S<H) 


The current study sought to examine the complimenting response be¬ 
haviour of Iranian university EFL learners. The study revealed that EFL learn¬ 
ers, regardless of gender and relative power, used certain CR strategies. The 

C-E-P-S Journal | Vol.5 I N°4 I Year 2015 

results also confirmed that the participants relied on certain lexical and syntac¬ 
tic structures to realize compliment responses in English. Iranian EFL learners’ 
tendency to rely on positive politeness was evident through their extensive use 
of “Acceptance” strategy as a way of avoiding disagreement and seeking agree¬ 
ment with the complimentee, thereby establishing rapport and solidarity. In 
unequal statuses, however, some negative politeness markers were also used. 
The findings clearly showed the interplay of gender and power as two signifi¬ 
cant factors in speech act performance (here, responding to compliments). 

Implications of Study 

In line with other studies (Holmes & Brown, 1987), the findings of this 
study also indicated the highly formulaic nature of compliment responses. In 
practical terms, this might imply that language learners’ lexical and syntactic 
repertoire be enhanced and their formulaic expressions that can come in handy 
in various situations be increased. This last issue has been documented by some 
scholars to be of significance in language teaching (Ellis, 2012). Holmes and 
Brown (1987) also emphasized the pivotal role of exposing learners to formulaic 
expressions in an L2 as exercises in complimenting and responding to compli¬ 
ments. Therefore, as Yu (2004) aptly pointed out, it is suggested that the cur¬ 
rent findings be taken into account by textbook writers, materials developers, 
language teachers and language learners. What is more, the findings might be 
of interest to both native English speakers and speakers of other different lin¬ 
guistic and cultural backgrounds who might be keen on finding out about the 
way Iranian speakers of English respond to compliments in English. A deep 
understating of pragmatic cross-cultural norms, differences and similarities is 
certainly a prerequisite for successful communication for both native speaker- 
non-native speaker interactions, for instance in cases involving native English 
speakers and Iranians, and non-native speaker-non-native speaker interac¬ 
tions, for example, Chinese speakers interacting with Persian native speakers. 
Such an understanding will certainly reduce the potential pragmatic failure 
witnessed in a plethora of cases (see, e.g. Yu, 2004). 

Limitations and Suggestions for Further Research 

The data were elicited by the means of a DCT, which (despite its spe¬ 
cific advantages) is a data collection tool the use of which has been criticized 
mainly because it “may also elicit a narrower range of pragmatic performance 
than learners are capable of” (Chaudron, 2005, p. 781). It is, therefore, recom¬ 
mended that future research be carried out using other data gathering tools 


such as role-plays especially because these can provide more reliable data since 
what students write on paper (here, DCT) might be substantially different from 
what they say in a speech. Future research can focus on comparing the results 
obtained here with those obtained in other languages and cultures. Therefore, 
comparative studies are highly recommended. European context can, for in¬ 
stance, be a rich source of data in this connection. Finally, a more technical 
suggestion concerns the role of the interactants’ power (P) which was the focus 
of this study. The attention of future research can be shifted to the other two 
important factors in research on pragmatics: namely, the rank of imposition (R) 
and social distance (D). 

Note. This paper was presented at the First National Conference in Teaching 
English, Literature and Translation (NCTLT) under the title “Iranian EFL 
learners’ pragmatic competence: Compliment response strategies and relative 
power in focus”, held on August 14, 2013 at Kharazmi - Safashahr International 
Institute for Research & Education, Shiraz University, Shiraz, Iran. 


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Appendix A: Discourse Completion Test (DCT) 

Please read all the situations below carefully and write down the possible 
form of response you would use for each compliment in such natural settings. 

Situation 1: A male professor returns your essay to you and he says, “Great job”. 
You would say:. 

Situation 2: You have given a presentation in the class. After class, one of your 
friends says, “Your presentation was great”. 

You would say:. 

Situation 3: You are not ready for the exam. You ask your professor to 
postpone the exam and she says, “I’ll postpone it just because you are a good 

You would say:. 

Situation 4: You and a friend of yours attend an academic seminar. After that, 
he says to you, “I liked the questions you asked in the seminar”. 

You would say:. 

Situation 5: You accomplish a classroom project successfully. Later, the 
professor says, “Your project was the best one in the university”. 

You would say:. 

Situation 6: You are coordinating a school conference with a classmate. She 
says to you, “Wow, you are really handling things very well”. 

You would say:. 

Situation 7: A professor asks you to a PowerPoint presentation for him. Later, 
he says, “Thank you. It was great”. 

You would say:. 

Situation 8: After you present your proposal outline in class, a classmate 
says to you, “I think you will really do a great job. I really enjoyed your 

You would say:. 

C-E-P-S Journal | Vol.5 I N°4 I Year 2015 107 

Biographical note 

Seyyed Hatam Tamimi Sa’d, MA in Teaching English as a Foreign 
Language (TEFL) from Urmia University, Iran, is currently an English teacher 
in Iran Language Institute (ILI), Iran. A prolific researcher with many pub¬ 
lications, he serves as a reviewer for numerous international journals within 
applied linguistics including Journal of Research in Reading, Journal of Socio¬ 
linguistics, British Journal of Educational Technology (BJET), TESL-EJ, Journal 
of Language and Linguistic Studies (JLLS), Current Issues in Education (CIE), 
Canadian Journal of Applied Linguistics (CJAL), The Canadian Journal of Edu¬ 
cation (CJE), Studies in Second Language Learning and Teaching (SSLLT), Inter¬ 
national Journal of Research Studies in Language Learning (IJRSLL), ELTWO, in 
Canada, USA, UK, Poland and Turkey. He has published with many journals 
and has presented at different conferences. His interest lies in second language 
acquisition, acquisitional pragmatics, critical pedagogy and technology and