Complimenting in the history of American English

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Speech acts are functional entities and can, therefore, not be searched for directly in large computerised corpora. They can only be located on the basis of specific patterns that are known to be typical for a particular speech act, e.g. with IFIDs like &#8220;(I&#8217;m) sorry&#8221;. In this contribution we propose an alternative way called metacommunicative expression analysis. In this approach we do not search for a particular speech act but via expressions referring to this speech act we search for passages in which a speaker talks about it. As a case study we look at compliments in four samples of the <i>Corpus of Historical American English</i> (COHA) comprising texts from 1810 to 2010 and in an additional sample in the <i>Corpus of Contemporary American English</i> (COCA). 1741 passages containing the word &#8220;compliment&#8221; were retrieved across the two centuries and analysed manually on the basis of the information given in the context. The results suggest that a distinction must be made between ceremonious compliments and personal compliments and that &#8211; contrary to claims in the relevant literature &#8211; men are more often described as paying and receiving compliments than women.


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