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Exercise 6: Responses to Compliments

Red Core Strategy
Blue Important Supporting Strategy
Black Aditional Strategies
Green General Strategies

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Responses to Compliments and Strategies Used

Responses to compliments
Strategies for responding to compliments


¨   いえいえ、まだ勉強中なんですよ。  Ieie, mada benkyouchuu nandesuyo.  ‘Oh, no, I’m still studying it.’

¨   もうアメリカに行って4年になりますから。Mou amerikani itte yonenni narimasu kara.  ‘I’ve been in the U.S. for four years.’

¨     Refusing (disagreeing) + Deflecting (downgrading)

¨     Deflecting (Offering background information)


¨   いやー、いや、そんなことないんですよ、全然。   Iyaa, iya, sonnakoto nain desuyo, zenzen.  ‘Oh, no, not at all.’

¨   いや、でも、しょっちゅう間違えるんですよ、ほんとにもう。  Iya, demo, shocchuu machigaerun desuyo, hontoni mou.  ‘Well, but I often make mistakes.’

¨     Refusing (disagreeing with a compliment)


いや、そんなことない。川島さんの方がうまいじゃないですか。  Iya, sonnakoto nai.  Kawashima-sanno houga umaijanai desuka.  ‘Oh, no.  Your English is better, Kawashima-san.’

¨     Refusing (disagreeing with a compliment) + Deflecting (Returning a compliment)


英語だけは、意外にまあまあなんだけど、他がねえ。  Eigodakewa, igaini maamaa nanda kedo, hokaganee.  ‘Unexpectedly my English alone is fairly good, but other (subjects) are (not).’

¨   Accepting + downgrading*


とんでもない。  Tondemo nai.  ‘Not at all.’

¨     Refusing (disagreeing with a compliment)


ほんと?ありがとう。そう言ってもらえると嬉しいな。  Honto?  Arigatou.  Sou itte moraeruto ureshiina.  ‘Really?  Thanks.  I’m glad to hear that.’

¨     Deflecting (Expressing surprise + questioning) + Accepting (providing positive comments)

With dake ‘only,’ igaini ‘unexpectedly,’ and the stress on the particle wa, it indicates that the speaker is only good at English, which is unexpected and that s/he is not as good in other subject areas. While accepting the compliment, the speaker provides negative information about him/herself to appear humble.

View Transcript for Dialogue 1

View Transcript for Dialogue 2

View Transcript for Dialogue 3

View Transcript for Dialogue 4

  • The speakers here sometimes do accept the compliments they receive.  However, note that except in instances of outright refusal to accept the compliment (as in Dialogues 2 and 5), the recipient has used some strategy or other for mitigating the force of the compliment.  The following exercise focuses on these strategies and provides more examples.

        Whereas in English, compliments normally help to build solidarity between the speaker and the recipient, in Japanese compliments may also be sometimes considered to create distance between the two.  This is because the speaker attempts to place the hearer higher in a more respectable position than him/herself by giving compliments (Daikuhara, 1986).  Therefore, the hearer may sometimes feel the need to downgrade or refuse the compliments so that both parties are back to equal.  The key strategy here is to know the cultural norms for complimenting exchanges and interpret compliments and responses to compliments accordingly.

        Using an appropriate level of politeness is a key strategy in responding to compliments, just as it is in performing other speech acts.

        Other possible responses to compliments:

  • 上手ってわけじゃないけど、すきなんです・言葉を覚えるのはたのしいですね。  Jouzutte wake ja nai kedo, suki nandesu/kotobawo oboerunowa tanoshii desune.  ‘It’s not that I am good, but I like it/I enjoy learning language.’ 

Wereas jouzu ‘good, well’ involves a positive value judgment, suki ‘like’ and tanoshii ‘enjoy’ does not.  Therefore, replacing jouzu with more descriptive words like suki or tanoshii helps avoid self-praise.

  • そんなことないけど、語学は得意な方なんです。(3)  Sonna koto naikedo, gogakuwa tokuina hou nandesu.  ‘I don’t think so, but I am sort of better at languages (than other subjects).’ 

Here, the speaker also replaces the word, jozu with tokui ‘good at.’  Although jozu implies an objective judgment that the speaker is better than other people, tokui suggests a comparison of subjects that the speaking is studying.  This also helps downgrade the compliment.

  • すばらしい先生に習ってたので。  Subarashii senseini naratteta node.  ‘A wonderful teacher taught me.’  学校が英語に力入れてたから。  Gakkouga eigoni chikara ireteta kara.  ‘My school focused on good English education.’ 

By means of responses such as these, the recipient of the compliment is implicitly accepting it, but shifting the credit to others, such as a good teacher or the school that provided good English education.

(Terao, 1996)

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