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Sex-based differences in compliment behavior1

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  18 December 2008

Robert K. Herbert
Department of Linguistics, State University of New York, Binghamton and University of the Witwatersrand


Sex-based differences in the form of English compliments and in the frequencies of various compliment response types are discussed. Based on a corpus of 1,062 compliment events, several differences in the form of compliments used by women and men are noted. Further, it is found that compliments from men are generally accepted, especially by female recipients, whereas compliments from women are met with a response type other than acceptance. These findings are set within a broader discussion of male–female differences in speech and the sociology of compliment work. Parallels are drawn between these sex-based differences and differences in norms for national varieties of English relating to the function and frequency of compliments as speech acts and to different response types elicited by diverse functional exploitations of compliment formulas in discourse. (Sex-based differences in language use, socioprag-matics, compliments/compliment responses, ethnography of speaking)

Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1990

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