'You've worked with Elizabeth Taylor!': Phatic functions and implicit compliments

Ronald Boyle

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

45 Citations (Scopus)


A pioneering study of compliments by Manes and Wolfson (1981) revealed that three syntactic patterns accounted for nearly two-thirds of the 686 compliments collected, and it led the researchers to conclude that compliments in middleclass American society are formulaic. That study has been replicated on many occasions in subsequent years, and the results have served to reinforce the basic findings of Manes and Wolfson (1981). Existing research, however, has focused almost exclusively on the collection of explicit compliments by means of the ethnographic method (Holmes 1988b: 507), and it appears to have adopted a restricted view of the phatic function of compliments. In contrast, this paper argues that a more balanced picture of complimenting is required and that the neglect of the study of implicit compliments should not continue. To this end, it uses an ethnomethodological approach to the understanding of data and it follows Laver (1975, 1981) and Coupland et al. (1992) in focusing on the exploratory function of phatic communion. It analyses data extracts in order to show how implicit compliments are constituted and how the exploratory function of phaticity can allow speakers to negotiate greater affiliation with others.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)26-46
Number of pages21
JournalApplied Linguistics
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2000
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Communication
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language


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