Sociolinguistic investigation of compliments and compliment responses among young Japanese
This dissertation is a sociolinguistic investigation into the system of the speech act of complimenting among young Japanese. Sociolinguistic studies on complimenting have been rather extensively carried out in Western academic discourse since the 1980s. The rapid development of this field went hand in hand with the existing growing body of work on speech acts, linguistic politeness and language and gender studies, all fields which came to flourish during the 1960s-80s. The speech act of complimenting has so far been overwhelmingly regarded as one of the most obvious positive politeness strategies (Brown & Levinson 1987; Holmes 1995) and also as a feminised sociolinguistic practice (Eckert & McConnell-Ginet 2003; Herbert 1990). However, the sociolinguistic examination of complimenting in non- Western speech communities remains less well investigated. This dissertation challenges some traditional premises about the nature of this speech act and explores how sociolinguists should go about analysing this variable in the context of a non-Western speech community. In so doing, I highlight that applying localized cultural knowledge plays a crucial role in unfolding the social and linguistic systems of complimenting in a Japanese speech community. The analysis presented here draws on a corpus consisting of more than 40 hours of recordings with 67 young Japanese university students, collected through ethnographic techniques. Fieldwork was conducted for over a year in order to obtain these data in southern Japan (namely, Kumamoto and Oita prefectures). A total of 369 compliment utterances within 143 compliment sequences were extracted and transcribed from this corpus. To achieve a satisfying sociolinguistic understanding of this speech act, the data are analysed with a combination of both the qualitative methods of discourse analysis and the quantitative methods of variationist sociolinguistics. This dissertation brings much needed discussions of this variable situated within non-Western contexts and hence makes significant contribution to the field, by adding new perspectives and findings about complimenting behaviour. On the one hand, my work found some regularity in compliments which parallel the findings of previous studies. This itself is a new insight in the field of compliments studies, namely, that there are crossculturally (if not universally) pervasive properties of complimenting. On the other hand, this study highlighted some originality in this speech act among the young Japanese. The construction and application of compliments in the case of Japanese substantially manifest its complex and intricate sociolinguistic system, which my dissertation is dedicated to describing through the naturally occurring data of spoken Japanese.