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Compliments and Compliment Responses of Singapore Chinese University Students


Lee Cher Leng
Published Online: 2015-04-14 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/glochi-2015-1007


This paper examines the compliments and compliment responses of Singapore Chinese university students from naturally occurring data. Both Mainland China and Taiwan have received more attention in compliments research. Unlike China and Taiwan, Singapore is in the outer circle (Kachru 1992) of the Mandarin speaking community. Although the population of Singapore comprised of three-quarters of ethnic Chinese, Mandarin is taught in school as a second language with the medium of instruction of all other subjects being English (see Lee 2012). The different language environment and cultural bearings from the Mainland Chinese and Taiwan Chinese are reflected in this study. This study shows that unlike Taiwan college students (Wang and Tsai 2003) whose preferred compliment topic is Appearance, Singapore Chinese students prefer to compliment on Ability/Performance. Contrary to all other studies on Chinese compliment responses which show that Chinese are more modest and therefore tend to Reject compliments, this study shows that there are overall more Accept compliment responses especially between close friends. This is due to the predominant English-speaking environment in Singapore. In addition, Appreciation Token which is known to be a western response to compliments is also used more frequently by Singapore Chinese students. The linguistic features of code-switching to English and the presence of local discourse particles (from southern Chinese dialects and Malay language) are unique features of the diasporic colloquial Mandarin spoken in Singapore.


本文研究新加坡本地大学生的恭维语和对恭维语的回应, 对象是用华语交谈的本地大学生,语料来自他们的自然生活中的对话。中国大陆以及台湾都有不少的恭维语研究, 在华语圈外围 (Kachru 1992) 的新加坡则比较少这方面的研究,此文正弥补这个空缺。虽然新加坡有四分三的华人,华语(普通话)在学校里算是第二语文, 除了华文以外,几乎所有的科目都是以英文为教学媒体 (见 Lee 2012)。因此, 新加坡的语言环境与中国大陆和台湾全然不同。台湾的恭维研究显示大学生最常恭维的话题是外貌 (Wang 与 Tsai 2003); 本文发现新加坡讲华语的大学生最常恭维的的却是一个人的能力或本领。再者,多数研究华人恭维的文章都认为华人总是以谦逊为准则,因此回应恭维时, 总是不接受; 本文发现应该分别对话人双方关系的亲疏才能得到更准确的答案。本文的研究显示关系比较熟悉的朋友之间确实有比较多接受恭维的回应,也许这是因为新加坡的大环境是英语, 所以受西方的影响比较大的缘故。同时, 回应恭维的时候,有不少同学会用 “谢谢” 或 “Thank you”, 这种回应方式也比较符合西方的用法。本地大学生恭维语和回应中明显的语言特征是语码转换, 以及用了很多本地的语气词, 这都是新加坡华语口语的特征。

Keywords: Singapore Mandarin; compliment; compliment responses; natural data; gender; social distance

关键词: 新加坡华语; 恭维语; 恭维语的回应; 自然语料; 性别; 社交距离


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About the article

Lee Cher Leng

Lee Cher Leng, Associate Professor of Chinese Linguistics at the National University of Singapore. Her research areas are pragmatics, sociolinguistics, and Chinese language education. Her publications include: “Silence and Face-work in Two Chinese TV Talk Shows” Discourse, Context, and Media (2013),“Politeness in Singapore” in Politeness in East Asia (Cambridge University Press, 2012), “Self-presentation, face and first-person pronouns in the Analects” Journal of Politeness Research (2012). “Ethnography of Singapore Names: Race, Religion, and Representation” Lodz Papers in Pragmatics (2011), and “Compliments and responses during Chinese new year celebrations in Singapore” Pragmatics (2009).

李子玲, 新加坡国立大学汉语语言学副教授。她的研究领域为语用学, 社会语言学与汉语教育。她的著作包括: “两个汉语电视谈话节目中的沉默与面子问题”, 发表于《话语、语境和媒体》(2013);“新加坡的礼貌”, 发表于《东亚的礼貌》(剑桥大学出版社, 2012); “《论语》中的自我呈现、面子与第一人称代词”, 发表于《礼貌研究》(2012); “新加坡姓名志: 种族, 宗教与表现”, 发表于《罗兹语用学论文》(2011);《新加坡农历新年庆祝中的恭维与应答》, 发表于《语用学》(2009)。

Published Online: 2015-04-14

Published in Print: 2015-04-01

Citation Information: Global Chinese, Volume 1, Issue 1, Pages 169–201, ISSN (Online) 2199-4382, ISSN (Print) 2199-4374, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/glochi-2015-1007.

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