Compliment Response Behaviors of ESL and Bilingual Speakers in an Urban College

| June 6, 2013

July 2013
Volume 7 Issue 1

| July 2013 home | PDF version |

Compliment response behaviors of ESL and bilingual speakers in an urban college

Cynthia S. Wiseman & Patti Juza
Baruch College, CUNY

Bioprofiles: Cynthia S. Wiseman, Ed.D., is Assistant Professor at Borough of Manhattan Community College, City University of New York. She earned her doctorate in Applied Linguistics from Teachers College, Columbia University. Aside from research in second language writing assessment, Wiseman’s current area of interest focuses on compliment response behaviors. She developed a core communication course in sociolinguistics at School for Professional Studies, CUNY, which includes a unit on compliment/compliment responses related to gender and culture and she continues to examine the sociopragmatic implications of differences in communication patterns for the non-native speaker.

Patricia Juza is Director of Languages and Test Preparation at Baruch College, Continuing and Professional Studies (CAPS), CUNY. She attended Cornell University and Teachers College of Columbia University. Juza is a language and communication expert with a focus on corporate and academic consulting, training and development. Her areas of specialization include business communication, ESL, curriculum development,
and teacher training.


In an increasingly culturally diverse environment at urban universities, native and non-native speakers of English are continually negotiating politeness behaviors. Still in the 21st century, it is not only culture but also gender that determines norms of politeness. The linguistic challenge of breaking these codes of politeness can be particularly daunting to English language learners and to language educators whose task is to devise pedagogical methods that will foster the development of sociolinguistic and pragmatic competencies in the non-native speaker. This study examined compliment and compliment response behaviors of 27 ESL and bilingual students at a large urban university. For some non-native speakers, the lack of L2 proficiency may have inhibited compliment responses, suggesting the need for explicit instruction and practice in the L2. Aside from the sociopragmatic failure attributed to lack of L2 proficiency, this small sample of compliment response behaviors produced what appeared to be gender-related patterning.

While males and females both equally questioned compliments, a pattern of comment acceptance and no acknowledgement was found to be employed by males twice as often as by females although this may be attributed to the possibility that men may have spoken more because there were a greater number of male than female participants. Although females accepted compliments in the female-male dyads, no female-female dyads yielded compliment sequences, suggesting that females do not always follow the expected compliment response behavior. The results of this very limited study of compliment response behavior suggested the need for instruction in these socio-pragmatic functions that are instrumental in personal and professional success in non-native and bilingual speakers of English.

Category: Volume 7 Issue 1 June 2013