Compliments in Online Social Networks: A Sociolinguistic Analysis

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A follow up on "Complimenting: A Positive Politeness Strategy" using social media to mine compliments.

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<p>1</p> <p>Joseph Petrich Sociolinguistics Homework 1 28 September 2011 Compliments in Online Social NetworksIntroduction</p> <p>Following up on Janet Holmes article Complementing: A Positive Politeness Strategy, I collected data on the online interactions concerning one male and one female on Facebook. Both individuals are college students in the United States, aged 19. They share roughly 50% of their online social networks though they do not attend the same university. As in Holmes article, I recorded the gender (as self-identified on Facebook) and syntax of each compliment in order to find trends in how men and women compliment each other. Methodology For this study, I looked at three years of comment threads attached to photographs in which one of the two individuals was tagged. This resulted in collecting 39 compliments to men, and 44 to women. 23 of the compliments to men were from men, and only one compliment to a woman was from a man. As in Holmes study, I looked at the role gender played in the syntax and quantity of compliments to and from men and women. I categorized complements into these categories: Pronoun+To be verb+Adj (PRO+TO+BE) This is beautiful Personal Pronoun+To be verb+Adj (PPRO+TO+BE) You guys were great Idiom (IDIOM) I nearly fell off my chair laughing! One word adjective (ADJ) Gorgeous</p> <p>2</p> <p> Insult (INSULT) Not that impressive haha Opinion (I LIKE) I love your outfit Adjective+Noun (ADJ+N) Cute bikini Sarcasm (SARC) Please NAME, look a little cuter Personal Pronoun+look+Adjective (PPRO+LOOK+ADJ) You look gorgeous That these categories differ from Holmes is to be expected. If complements are a sort of social glue, as she suggests, then it is natural that they should change rapidly, and be on the forefront of language change. American college students are unlikely to say, What a lovely scarf. Even if they may say it in person, the online nature of this study means that speech acts are going to be more brief. Similarly, since this study is online, interactions are going to be between peers, so a discussion of praise and flattery is less necessary.</p> <p>As shown in the above pie charts, the type of compliments given to men and women vary greatly in syntactical structure. The most common type of compliment for men is a single adjective, whereas women more often receive a full sentence complimenting themselves or their appearance. In</p> <p>3</p> <p>fact, more than 50% of compliments given to women were in the form You look or You are in varying tenses of the verbs look and are. This confirms the statement of a female college student from the University of Pittsburgh, Im more likely to compliment a woman, because women, in general, are more likely to be self-conscious about their appearance. Men just dont care [about their appearance] If this statement is true among the broader college population, then it is clear that complimenting still acts as a social glue, as women strive to build up each others self-confidence. In this study, men were less likely to receive compliments on their clothing or possessions (I LIKE, ADJ+N) than women, and less than one quarter of the compliments received by men were in the form of a whole sentence. Contrasting this with over 70% rate at which full-sentence compliments are given to women demonstrates the subtlety with which men are complimented. This subtlety is likely due to discomfort men feel at complimenting. Further data supporting this conclusion is shown in this bar graph, contrasting how men are complimented by men and women:</p> <p>4</p> <p>On the left, we see the sentence types, and on the right we have a measure of whether the compliment was performance or possession based, or whether the compliment was or used slang. Women indeed gave longer (full-sentence PRO+BE+X and IDIOM) compliments, while men preferred complimenting with a single adjective. Men also were more likely to use slang; in fact, 65% of all men to men compliments used slang. The use of slang directs attention away from the substance of the compliment, especially when single-word adjective compliments are slang. While women did change their complimenting strategies slightly when giving them to men, they did not match the mens strategies perfectly. Their attempt to match the mens preferences is shown by this bar graph, demonstrating the types of compliments given from women to men and women.</p> <p>Women changed their complimenting strategy to match the mens by using more single-word adjective compliments and slang. They shifted from using personal pronoun constructions (You are X), to using other pronoun constructions (That is X). This, combined with the drastic increase in single-adjective</p> <p>5</p> <p>constructions shows that women acknowledge the discomfort men feel when receiving compliments. Conclusion Women are much more likely to give compliments than men, and their compliments are lengthier and more direct, especially when to each other. Men are more likely to give and receive short, indirect compliments, and women try to accommodate this preference by changing their complimenting strategy when interacting with men. Whether men try to accommodate womens preferences when complimenting them is unknown, as there was only one instance of a man complimenting a woman. Various social factors could have caused this, and it would take a study of many more individuals to ascertain whether men compliment each other more often than they compliment women.</p>