spaceCenter for Advanced Research on Language Acquisition (CARLA)

Annotated Bibliography on Compliments in Japanese

D. C. & Araki, S. (1985). Intercultural encounters: The management of compliments by Japanese and Americans. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 16 (1), 9-26.

An interview with 56 participants (20 Americans in the US, 18 Japanese in the US, and 18 Japanese in Japan) revealed that the Americans gave compliments much more frequently than the Japanese – Americans reported to have given a compliment in the previous 1.6 days whereas Japanese had only done so in the previous 13 days.  Some of the findings: most frequently praised features were appearance and personal traits among Americans and acts, work/study, and appearance among Japanese.  American used a wider range of adjectives than Japanese who used fewer adjectives and adjectives with less of a range in meaning.  In responding to compliments, Americans tended to accept compliments or justify or extend them; Japanese questioned their accuracy, denied them, explained the reason why they were not deserved, or responded by smiling or saying nothing at all. The closer the relationship was, the more frequently Americans gave compliments, while Japanese were less likely to offer praise.  Female speakers in both cultures were more likely to give and receive compliments.  The authors also report their findings from a questionnaire given to 260 Japanese and 260 American participants.  Although preferred strategies of expressing admiration were similarly indirect among both the American and Japanese participants, Japanese preferred noting one’s own limitations twice as much as Americans and relied on non-verbal communication much more frequently.  Americans preferred giving praise to a third party twice as much as Japanese.  Some other findings are in relation to gender, topic focus, and communicative partners.

Daikuhara, M. (1986). A study of compliments from a cross-cultural perspective: Japanese vs. American English. Working Papers in Educational Linguistics, 2 (2), 103-134.

115 compliment exchanges were collected in natural conversations by 50 native speakers of Japanese and analyzed in terms of age, gender, relationships, situations, and non-verbal cues. The most frequently used adjectives in the compliments were: ii ‘nice/good,’ sugoi ‘great,’ kirei ‘beautiful/clean,’ kawaii ‘pretty/ cute,’ oishii ‘good/delicious,’ and erai ‘great/deligent.”  The “I like/love NP” pattern never appeared in the data.  Although there was a great similarity between compliments in Japanese and English (as was found by Wolfson, 1981) with regard to the praised attributes, in Japanese, compliments about one’s ability or performance (73%) or character (rather than one’s appearance) were common.  While Americans praised their family members in public, the Japanese seldom complimented their spouses, parents, or children as this would be viewed as self-praise.  Ninety-five percent of all responses to compliments fell into the “self-praise avoidance” category, which included rejection of the compliment (35%), smile or no response (27%), and questioning (13%).  The author argues that compliments in Japanese seem to show the speaker’s deference to the addressee and this perhaps creates distance between the interlocutors.  The addressee fills in this gap by rejecting or deflecting the compliment in order to sustain harmony between the interlocutors. 

Furukawa, Y. (2000). “Home”no joukenni kansuru ichikousatsu [An observation on conditions for compliments]. Nihongo nihon bunka kenkyuu [Research on the Japanese Language and Culture], 10, 117-130.

The author illustrates through examples that compliments reflect not only sociocultural values but also personal values and standards, and defines the compliment in consideration of the recipient of the compliment and closeness and status of the interlocutors.  The paper also includes analyses of written compliments, compliments directed at a third party, and other functions of compliments using data from newspapers and books.

Furukawa, Y. (2001). Gengo kinou dounyuueno ichi shian: “home” wo chuushinni [Introducing linguistic functions: Compliments among other functions]. Nihongo nihon bunka kenkyuu, 11, 57-72.

Compliments directed at someone who is of higher status are considered a face-threatening act in Japanese, yet native speakers use a number of strategies to retain respect and politeness while realizing the act.  The author argues that no textbook or research has completely analyzed such potentially face-threatening use of speech acts and begins by listing the situations that require particular strategies and commenting on common errors made by learners.  The situations in interaction with those of higher status include: when one does a favor or receives one, when one has more knowledge or experience, when one is at advantage, when one gives a compliment, when one invades the hearer’s private territory, when one refers to the hearer’s misfortune, when the hearer makes some sort of an error.  The article also includes some sample dialogues in which a person of lower status compliments another of higher status. 

Koike, H. (2000). “Home”eno hentouni kansuru fukuji bunkateki hikaku: Taijin kankei betsu, seibetsu, sedaikan [A comparative study of responses to compliments in terms of subcultures: Interpersonal relations, sex, and generations]. Shinshuu Daigaku Kyouiku Gakubu Kiyou [Journal of the Faculty of Education], 100, 47-55.

Analyses of responses to compliments were based on the data from natural conversation in which research assistants complimented their friends and family members in authentic situations.  The response strategies in the data obtained from 326 native speaking subjects were examined separately for interpersonal variables, generations, and gender.  The author also came up with her own categorization based on past studies (acceptance, rejection, and neutral responses, and sub-strategies in each).  Subjects in their 30’s tended to either express thanks(25%), or reject the compliment and offer humble comments (44%), while those in their 60’s mostly responded favorably, often accepting the compliment.  Among family members, rejection and humble comments were found much less frequently than in other interpersonal situations, but speakers tended to sound proud or offer positive comments.  In responding to work-related people, such a positive tendency drastically decreased and rejection, humble responses, and thanks occurred five times as frequently as in family relationships.  Responses to friends were found somewhere in between.  Women used rejection, humble comments, and thanks more often than men, while men responded proudly or expressed shyness more than women.

Nakamura, H. (1989). Eigono homekotoba [Compliments in English]. Fukuoka Daigaku Sougou Kenkyuujo Ho [Reports by the University of Fukuoka Research Institute], 117, (2), 39-52.

The author provides his impressions of compliments in English in comparison with those in Japanese.

Nomura, M. (1998). “Home” eno hentouto “reigi tadashisa”no futatsuno kijun [Replies to compliments and two standards of “politeness”]. International journal of pragmatics, 10, 19-32.

The author uses 40 complimenting conversational excerpts in Japanese taken from television broadcasts and popular magazines and argues that there were two forms of politeness: one related to the relationship between the parties involved in the conversation (“local politeness”) and the other related to the surrounding environment (“global politeness”).

Takasaki, F. (1988). Nichibei gengo seikatsuno hikaku: Homekotobano bunkateki haikeiwo megutte [Linguistic comparison between English and Japanese: On cultural background of compliments]. Gakuen, 11, 88-96.

The author provides his impressions and historical analysis of use of compliments in Japanese in comparison with that in English, using such concepts as: fugenno bitoku, gengo fushin, and uchi/soto.

Terao, R. (1996). Home kotobaeno hentou sutairu [Response styles to compliments]. Nihongogaku [Japanese Linguistics], 5, (5), 81-88.

Using 901 responses to compliments from TV talks shows and authentic conversations, the author focuses on characteristics of compliment responses in Japanese in this article.  Compared to Holmes (1986) (although the taxonomy is slightly different) where acceptance types occurred 60% of the times, acceptance was found less than a third (30%).  Rejection was used much more frequently in Japanese (25%) than in English (10%).  By drawing examples and analyzing some lexical items (e.g., dakewa, nomi, igaito, kekkou, warito ichou, chotto, sukoshi(wa)), the author points out that even in acceptance types in Japanese, there were humble comments that speakers offered.  Speakers also used various other semantic strategies to avoid self-praise and admiration for their family members (e.g., offering negative comments and perspectives).

Torikai, K. (1985). Homekotoba, oiwaino kimari monku [Idiomatic expressions of complimenting and congratulating]. Eigokyouiku [English Teachers’ Magazine], 1, 12-14.

This is a short article that introduces some typical expressions of complimenting and congratulating in English.

Yokota, J. (1986). Homerareta tokino hentouni okeru bokokugo karano shakai gengogakuteki teni.  [Sociolinguistic transfer from the native language in the responses to compliments].  Nihongokyouiku [Journal of Japanese Language Teaching], 58, 203-223.

This research was conducted to test a hypothesis that American learners of Japanese tend to transfer their L2 pragmatic norms in accepting compliments directed to their family members rather than deflecting or refusing them as Japanese speakers would normally do. Nineteen learners of Japanese took the DCT that included 5 items in which the speakers were complimented and another 5 where their family member was complimented both by a same-gender friend of their age.  Their responses were compared with those by 20 native speakers of Japanese and those by 21 native speakers of American English (responded in English).  The responses were categorized into acceptance, deflection, and rejection, each in combination with upgrading, offering comments, shifting topics, downgrading, returning a compliment, and joking.  In her taxonomy, native speakers deflected the compliments more than half of the time.  Although they accepted and rejected a compliment about 25% of the time respectively, they tended to make the acceptance and rejection ambiguous by adding negative comments (avoidance of self-praise).  Learners seemed to believe that rejection was most polite (overgeneralization) and rejected compliments about 40% of the time.  Although most natives deflected or rejected compliments directed at their family members, learners tended to accept them (70%).


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