He, Yun (2012) Different generations, different face? A discursive approach to naturally occurring compliment responses in Chinese. Journal of Politeness Research: Language Behaviour Culture, 8 (1). pp. 29-51. ISSN 1612-5681

Adopting a discursive approach to politeness (see, for example, Mills 2011), this paper explores spontaneous naturally occurring compliment responses (CRs) in Chinese from a cross-generational perspective. It aims to extend our understanding of the dynamic nature of face and/or politeness in contemporary Chinese. 16 multiparty conversations among two generations of the Chinese in China’s mainland were audio recorded. Based on evidence provided by the participants in the follow-up interviews, my data analysis yielded two major results: (a) compliments, CRs and CR strategies are not as easily identifiable as previous studies claim; (b) considerable generational variation emerges in the use of CR strategies, viz. the older generation participants were more than twice as likely as the younger to reject a compliment while those in the younger group tended to use Acceptance much more readily. In the discussion, I show how, by using a methodology which emphasizes the interactants’ perceptions obtained through interviews, my study brings to light evidence that intention is not self-evident in performing compliments and CRs. Finding (a) indicates that my emic approach to data analysis provides a useful perspective on the complexity of the notion of intention in studies on speech acts (and perhaps beyond). Finding (b) appears to indicate that the two generations of the Chinese have diverged in their conceptualization of face and/or politeness perhaps due to differences in their early socialization before and after the launch of China’s reform. I also demonstrate how my methodology enables me to seek this generational variation.

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