He, Yun (2013) Chinese compliment responses in spontaneous interaction: Strategies, identity construction and face. In: 1st Postgraduate Conference on Linguistic Politeness, 8th March 2013, Huddersfield, UK. (Unpublished)

This study explores the complex relationship between compliment response (henceforth CR) behaviour, identity construction and face. To this end, this study collected 386 Chinese CRs by recording spontaneous multi-party conversations in China’s mainland. Using a theory of self and identity adapted from Brewer and Gardner (1996), Brewer (2001), and Hong et al (2010), the analysis, triangulated by follow-up interview data, shows that Chinese CR behaviour has the function of signalling individual identity, relational identity, group identity and cultural identity. Evidence suggests that there is a fairly patterned relationship between CR strategies and identity types, viz. Acceptance, Rejection, Vagueness and Opt out can all index individual identity, relational identity and group identity; Rejection, Vagueness and Opt out conform well to Chinese cultural heritages, hence mark the compliment recipient’s cultural identity.
Adopting Spencer-Oatey’s (2007) theory on identity and face, I argue that as an important resource of discourse, all the aforementioned types of identities constructed through CR behaviour are motivated by the recipient’s face concerns. Drawing on Chen’s (2001) notion of self-politeness or self-face, I argue that while mutual-face concerns appear to be the driving force of these identities in most cases, individual identity is very likely to be motivated by the recipients’ self-face want. Most notably, my data shows that individuals’ personal attributes cannot be simply labelled as “socially approved” or “socially sanctioned” as suggested by Goffman (1967). Rather, they are subject to the compliment recipients’ evaluations due to their face sensitivity in identity construction.

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