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Bernard Mulo Farenkia (Cape Breton)

Expressing admiration in Québec French and Cameroon French: A study in variational pragmatics*

This paper is a contribution to variational pragmatics, the study of pragmatic variation across varieties of the same language. The focus here is a comparative analysis of strategies employed to express admiration for appearance (hairstyle and outfit) in Canadian (Quebec) French and in Cameroon French. Based on 185 responses obtained from 94 participants (39 in Montréal and 55 in Yaoundé), by means of a DCT (Discourse Completion Task) questionnaire, the study highlights some differences and similarities with regard to the use of single head acts (single explicit compliments) and multiple head acts (combinations of at least two explicit compliments), the combination of head acts and supportive moves (other types of speech acts) and the use of lexical (adjectives, adverbs, verbs, etc.) and stylistic devices in the two regional varieties of French under study. Given the nature of the data used and the size of the population studied, the findings presented here should not be over-generalized and comparisons with results based on different types of data, situations and population will lead to a better understanding of regional variation with regard to 'expressions of admiration' in French.

1 Introduction

The present paper examines strategies employed by speakers of Quebec French1 and Cameroon French to express admiration for hairstyle and outfit. Based on the conception of French as a pluricentric language, i.e. a language "with several interacting centers, each providing a national variety with at least some of its own (codified) norms" (Clyne 1992: 1), this research is situated in the field of variational pragmatics. According to Schneider (2010: 239), variational pragmatics is the "study of intra-lingual pragmatic variation, i.e. of pragmatic variation across varieties of the same language". Many studies on speech acts and other pragmatic phenomena mostly examne inter-lingual and/or cross-cultural variation, i.e. differences in at least two different languages and/or cultures.2

By contrast, intra-lingual pragmatic variation has received very little attention in pragmatics research, apart from some recent studies by scholars such as Schneider / Barron 2008, Barron 2005, etc. With regard to the types of speech acts examined, much research has been undertaken on requests, apologies, thanks, etc.3 As far as the speech act of complimenting is concerned, there are several studies on compliment strategies in different languages and cultures.4 However, very little has been done within the framework of variational pragmatics. Also, as far as French as a pluricentric language is concerned, there are very few accounts of regional pragmatic variation. The prime goal of the present study is to contribute to the growing body of research in variational pragmatics in general and to research on regional pragmatic variation in French in particular. The analysis carried out in this paper is based on the assumptions that

in any language each illocution can be performed in different ways. The different structural patterns and lexico-semantic devices conventionally available for performing a given illocution […] represent different strategic option for the speaker. […] The strategies and forms conventionally employed to realize a given speech act differ across varieties of the same language. (Schneider 2005: 101–102).

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After a definition of the speech act of complimenting (cf. section 2.1), a summary of principles of variational pragmatics (cf. section 2.2) and a brief review of existing studies on pragmatic differences between regional varieties of French (cf. section 2.3), we will present our methodology in section 3. The results of the study are then presented and discussed in section 4 of the article.5 In the conclusion (cf. section 50, we present a summary of the results and some considerations for further research.

2 Background

2.1 Compliments and politeness

A compliment can be defined as "a speech act which explicitly or implicitly attributes credit to someone other than the speaker, usually the person addressed, for some 'good' (possession, characteristic, skill etc.) which is positively valued by the speaker and the hearer" (Holmes 1986: 485). Most studies consider compliments as expressive speech acts with multiple functions. According to Kerbrat-Orecchioni (2005a) compliments are "verbal gifts" which are employed to negotiate or affirm solidarity between speaker and addressee,6 to encourage desired behaviour in specific situations. Compliments can serve as intensifiers of other speech acts or as indirect ways of apologizing, thanking, advising, asking for information, etc. and they may also be used as mitigating devices for face-threatening acts such as criticism, reprimanding, etc. Some speakers may also use compliments as conversation openers (Traverso 1996: 107).

In general, compliments function as positive politeness strategies, as they indicate the compliment giver's effort to notice or attend to the recipient's face desires. The linguistic realization forms and functions of compliments vary according to languages or cultures, where positive or negative perceptions may be determined by factors such as situation (topic or setting), gender, social /power distance, etc. Compliments may also threaten the face of people involved in the exchange. For example, if the addressee believes that the compliments are intrusive, insincere, exaggerated, or represent requests to share the complimented object with the speaker, the compliments may then provoke negative reactions. Compliments to an unknown addressee or to an addressee of the opposite sex in a public context and on sensitive topics like appearance, etc. could be considered as face-threatening, depending on the cultural practices / background of the speaker and the addressee. In intercultural encounters, compliments could lead to misunderstanding, since the speech acts produced are based on different cultural norms. Hence, a compliment could be considered as a "double edged sword".7 Based on the assumption that language use may vary according to the sociolinguistic and socio-cultural environment in many French-speaking regions, it would be worth comparing Quebec French and Cameroon French with focus on expressions of admiration in these two varieties of French.

2.2 Variational pragmatics

Most cross-cultural pragmatic studies examine variation with regard to speech act realization in at least two different languages / cultures (Wierzbicka 2003). Such studies perceive languages "as homogenous wholes from a pragmatic point of view" (Barron, 2005: 520), thus ignoring that

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Speakers who share the same native language do not necessarily share the same culture. For instance, native speakers of English in Ireland and the United States use language in different ways […]. Neither do Americans in the US all use English in the same way […] On the other hand, cultures may be shared by speakers with different native languages. Thus, as language use in interaction is shaped by cultural values, pragmatic similarities may occur across languages, while pragmatic differences may occur across varieties of the same language. (Barron / Schneider 2009: 425).

The impact of region seems to be neglected or treated as peripheral phenomenon. Consequently, variation in regional varieties of the same language has also been overlooked. On the other hand, dialectology, a study of language variation, has long been concerned with how macro-social factors correlate with linguistic choices, but has focused on "the central levels of the language system, i.e. on pronunciation, vocabulary and grammar, whereas language use in terms of communicative functions, linguistic action and interactive behavior has been almost ignored" (Schneider / Barron 2008: 3).

Therefore, while cross-cultural pragmatics has ignored the pragmatic variations across varieties of the same language,8 dialectology has ignored pragmatic aspects in the study of language variation.9 In order to fill these two gaps in research, "variational pragmatics" was conceptualized as a discipline at the interface of pragmatics and sociolinguistics, aimed at "introducing the examination of regional and social variation in pragmatics research […] [and] adding the pragmatic level to the other language levels overwhelmingly analyzed in dialectology" (Schneider 2010: 238). As the "'dialectologisation' of pragmatics" and the "'pragmaticisation' of dialectology" (Ibid.), variational pragmatics studies intra-lingual pragmatic variation, i.e. pragmatic variation across varieties of the same language.

Studies within the framework of variational pragmatics may be undertaken at the following five levels: (a) The formal level, which takes a linguistic form as a starting point and aims to examine the various communicative functions of this form in discourse; (b) The actional level, which takes linguistic actions, .i.e. speech acts, and analyses the linguistic realizations of these illocutions; (c) The interactive level, which deals with patterns of local and global sequential organization of spoken discourse, i.e. dialogic units such as adjacency pairs, speech act sequences, conversational opening and closings, etc.; (d) The topic level which addresses issues of topic selection and topic management, i.e. the way in which topics are introduced, maintained, developed, changed and terminated; and e) The organizational level which deals with the mechanisms of turn-taking (and related issues like interruption and silence in discourse).10 Our study of compliments strategies is obviously on the actional level, i.e. the level of speech acts.

2.3 Studies of pragmatic differences between varieties of French

Clyne et. al (2003: 96)11 are right in their claim that "there has been relatively little research so far on pragmatic variation among national varieties of pluricentric languages". This assertion seems to apply to French. As a matter of fact, among the pluricentric languages examined within the framework of variational pragmatics,

English, with about a dozen national native speaker varieties around the world, and Spanish, with more than twenty national varieties spoken natively in Europe and the Americas, are the two pluricentric languages which have been examined extensively in variational pragmatics (Schneider 2010: 256).

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Although regional pragmatic variation in French has been examined by several scholars, the existing studies seem to focus on Quebec French and French used in France. The most recent work in this category is the monograph of Rohrbacher (2010), in which the author examines requests strategies. With regard to the realization of head act strategies, it was found that there are no major statistically significant differences, although the Quebec data shows more variation. At the level of internal modification of requests, no major cultural differences were identified. However, the Quebec respondents tend to use more lexical modification devices than their French counterparts. The analysis of external modification reveals a dominance of supportive moves appearing after the core requests in the French corpus. With regard to strategies employed to introduce request, namely address forms, apologies and other attention getters, the French participants appear to prefer apologies or negative politeness strategies while the respondents in Quebec make use of address forms intended to express deference and/or positive politeness such as in-group identity.

Drescher (2009) analyzed swearwords / expressions in Québec French and French in France. With regard to forms, the author found that contrary to the French swearwords, the swearwords Quebec French have a very rich repertoire of linguistic realization forms. Drescher also showed that the swearwords are employed in the two varieties of French for communicative purposes such as intensifying utterance with affective, evaluative or subjective connotations, reacting to sudden topic change in discourse, expressing backchannel, indicating a change in communication perspective. In a study on apologies, Schölmberger (2008) found many parallels in the overall realization strategies of apologies in French spoken in France and French in Quebec. However, the examination of the individual situations reveals some differences with regard to the following aspects: a) introducing an apology, i.e. the use of alerters and preparators; b) the strategies used in the head acts (implicit and explicit strategies), the use of expressions of regret, offers of apologies, requests for forgiveness, justification, etc.; c) Post-sequence to an apology (e.g. offers of repair).

In her book Conversations francophones, Berrier (2004) examined and compared conversational styles of female participants from three French-speaking regions: Haiti, France and Quebec. This is the first attempt to compare language use in French spoken in three different regions. In her Master thesis, Dubois (2000) proposed a comparative description of exclamation and / or exclamatory structures in Quebec French and French spoken in France from a morphological, syntactical and semantic perspective. The major chapters of this work (chapters 3 and 4) are devoted to the analysis of a) typical exclamatory structures using exclamation markers such as "que", "quell", "si", "tant", "comment", "comme", "combine", "ce que", etc. and b) interrogative structures ('questclamatives') employed to realize expressive speech acts. She found some similarities between the two varieties of French with regard to the use of interrogative structures of typical exclamatory sentences.

In an investigation of interactions between mothers and their daughters in French spoken in France and Quebec, Bernicot / Comeau (1994), found significant differences between the Quebec and French mothers: the mothers in Quebec speak more than the French mothers and the Quebec mothers produce a greater number of assertive and expressive speech acts than did the French mothers. Differences were also found with regard to the types of speech used in both varieties and according to the mother's child caring style.

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As can be seen from this review, no comparative study has yet been undertaken with regard to the speech act of complimenting. Moreover, there is no comparative study on Canadian / Quebec French and Cameroon French from the pragmatic perspective. The present investigation is therefore an attempt to fill two research gaps, by contributing to research in variational pragmatics in general and by extending the scope of studies on regional pragmatic variation in French.

3 Methodology

3.1 Instrument and procedure

The data for this study were collected by means of a DCT (Discourse Completion Task) questionnaire consisting of sixteen situations (eight to elicit compliments and eight to generate compliment responses). The situations were briefly described, setting "the general circumstances […] and the relevant situational parameters concerning social dominance, social distance and degree of imposition" (Barron 2008: 43) and the participants were asked to write what they would say in the given contexts. The questionnaire presented a variety of day-to-day life situations, such as compliments on appearance (haircut, clothes, shoes), skills, talents, performance (sports, cooking, presentation in class), and possessions (mobile phone, car). The current study focuses on two of the eight situations, namely compliments on appearance (hairstyle and outfit), as in the following descriptions:

1) Situation hairstyle
Your boyfriend or girlfriend has just got a new hairstyle which suits them well. You like the hairstyle and you would like him or her to know.
Your boyfriend or girlfriend: "Oh! Thanks for the compliment!

2) Situation outfit
Your teacher, about 30 years of age, is particularly nice to you. You often have the opportunity to chat with her/him after class. One day you meet her/him around the school or university campus and you notice that s/he is wearing a lovely shirt or dress.
Your teacher: "Oh. That's nice of you to say."

With regard to social and power distance it should be noted that the hairstyle situation deals with compliments in an intimate relationship (the person complimented is a boy- or girlfriend), while the outfit situation was created to generate compliments directed to a superior. In other words, the hairstyle situation is a case where speaker and addressee know each other very well [-D] and they have equal power positions [= P]. The outfit situation is a case where the addressee has higher power position [+ P], and the interlocutors know each other within the institutional context (school) [= D].

3.2 Participants

Two groups of informants participated in the study: 39 speakers of Quebec French (10 females and 29 males, aged from 14 to 17) and 55 speakers of Cameroon French (39 females and 16 males). The Quebec respondents were students at a secondary school within the Montréal School Board (Quebec) and the Cameroonian participants were students at three different high schools in Yaoundé. The majority of the Cameroonian informants (50 out of 55 (90.90%)) were aged from 15 to 19. Three (5.45%) of the respondents were aged 20 and two (3.64%) were aged 22. The Quebec population was predominantly male (74.36%), while the Cameroonian group was predominantly female (70.91%). With regard to age, the Cameroonians were slightly older than the Quebeckers.

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Also, the Cameroonian respondents were speakers of French in a multilingual context where two official languages (French and English) are permanently in contact with more than 250 native languages.12. Although the present study is based on a small population of respondents in Quebec and in Cameroon, we are conscious of the fact that examples from different groups and from other cities such as Quebec City and Sherbrooke in Quebec or Douala and Bafoussam in Cameroon may reveal instances of sub-regional variation in the expression of admiration.

3.3 Data analysis

The 94 informants provided 185 responses (instead of 188) for the two questionnaire situations (hairstyle and outfit): 107 answers by the Cameroonians and 78 examples by the Quebec participants. Three Cameroonians did not provide a compliment on hairstyle. In the examples obtained, expressions of admiration occur either as core compliments (head acts), or as combinations of core compliments and other types of speech acts (head acts + supportive moves). A core compliment is the minimal unit used to directly express admiration. In the corpus, the head act appear either as a single head act, i.e. a core compliment realized by using a single utterance as in (1) and (2), or as multiple head act, i.e. a combination of at least combination two single head acts, as in (3) and (4).

(1) Tu es très belle avec cette coiffure. [Hairstyle, Cameroon]
'You are beautiful with that hairstyle'

(2) Ta nouvel coup de cheveux est chil. [Hairstyle, Quebec]
'Your new hairstyle is nice.'

(3) Ta nouvelle coupe de cheveux est très belle, cela te va merveilleusement bien. [Hairstyle, Quebec]
'Your new hairstyle is very beautiful, it fits you very well.'

(4) Tu es beau aujourd'hui ; ta coiffure te vas bien. Quelle belle apparence ! [Hairstyle, Cameroon]
'You are beautiful today, your hairstyle fits you well. What a beautiful appearance!'

Another strategy employed to express admiration is the use of external modification, i.e. the combination of core compliments (head acts) and different kinds of speech acts or supportive moves (Blum-Kulka / House 1989), which occur either before or after single or multiple head acts. These external modification devices serve pragmatic functions such as mitigating or intensifying the head acts. Supportive moves are diverse with regard to their forms and functions and they range from interjections as in (5), forms of address as in (6) to speech acts such as greetings as in (7) or questions as in (8), etc.

(5) Wow! C'est beau ce que vous portez. [Outfit, Quebec]
'Wow! What you have on is beautiful.'

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(6) Mon amour, j'aime ta nouvelle coiffure, elle te va très bien. [Hairstyle, Quebec]
'My love, I love your new hairstyle, it fits you very well.'

(7) Bonjour monsieur. Vous êtes élégant dans votre nouvelle chemise et de plus elle va avec votre pantalon. [Outfit, Cameroon]
'Good morning sir. You look sharp in your new shirt and it matches your trousers.'

(8) J'aime vraiment ta coiffure tu l'as fait où. [Hairstyle, Cameroon]
'I really love your hairstyle, where did you have it done?'

4 Findings and discussion

In addition to the two strategies mentioned above (cf. Section 3.2), we will also examine the use of lexical devices (e.g. intensive adverbs as (8)) and/or stylistic devices as in (9) in the head acts. In the following examples the lexical and stylistic features are bolded.

(9) Vous êtes très joli Madame. [Outfit, Québec]
'You are very beautiful Ma'am!

(10) Je ne peux m'empêcher de vous faire part de mon admiration envers votre belle coiffure! [Hairstyle, Cameroon]
'I can't help expressing my admiration for your beautiful hairstyle!'

4.1 Frequency of the main compliment strategies

Table 1 presents the frequency of the main compliment strategies, namely 'head act(s)' (HA), and 'head act(s) + external modification' (HEM) in the two corpora.

Table 1: Frequency of the main compliment strategies in Quebec French and Cameroon French

As reported in Table 1, the Quebeckers employed more 'head act' strategies (42 of 78; (53.85%)) than the 'head act(s) + external modification' strategies (36 of 78; (46.15%)), while the Cameroonians showed more preference for 'head act(s) + external modification' combinations (64 of 107; (59.81%). Although the main compliment strategies were distributed equally in the hairstyle situation in the two data sets, there were differences in the outfit situation. In the Quebec data, the 'head act' strategies occurred much more frequently than the 'head act(s) + external modification' strategies. By contrast, the number of 'head act(s) + external modification' occurrences was more than twice that of 'head act(s)' strategies in the Cameroonian data.

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4.2 'Head act' strategies

As earlier mentioned, head acts occurred as single heads or as multiple heads. The distribution of the single heads (SHA) and the multiple heads (MHA) is presented in Table 2.

Table 2: Distribution of single heads and multiple heads in Quebec French and Cameroon French

As can be seen in Table 2, the Quebec informants used more single head acts (57.14%) than multiple heads (42.86%), while 69.77% (30) of all Cameroonian head acts were multiple heads. The participants of both groups made more use of multiple heads in the hairstyle situation. With regard to the number of single heads involved in the combinations, it was found that the respondents made use of double heads (DHA) and triple heads (THA), as shown in Table 3.

Table 3: Distribution multiple head acts in Quebec French and Cameroon French

The double heads were by far more frequent in both varieties of French and these strategies occurred more in the hairstyle situation. Examples of double heads and triple heads are listed below:

(11) Ta nouvelle coupe de cheveux est très belle, cela te va merveilleusement bien. [Hairstyle, Quebec]
'Your new hairstyle is very beautiful, it fits you very well.'

(12) C'est vraiment beau c'que vous porter, j'aime vraiment ça. [Outfit, Quebec]
'What you are wearing is really beautiful, I really love it.'

(13) J'aime ta nouvelle coupe, ça te va vraiment bien, tu as l'air encore plus belle! [Hairstyle, Quebec]
'I love your new hairstyle, it fits you really well, you look much more beautiful.'

(14) Tu es beau aujourd'hui ; ta coiffure te vas bien. Quelle belle apparence! [Hairstyle, Cameroon]
'You are beautiful today, your hairstyle fits you well. What a nice appearance!'

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4.3 Lexical and stylistic features of head acts

This section examines strategies used at the lexico-semantic (adjectives, adverbs, verbs and nouns) and stylistic levels by the speakers of both groups to intensify or mitigate the illocutionary force of their compliments. Table 4 presents the frequency of the devices contained in the compliments and their situational distribution in both corpora.

Table 4: Frequency of lexical and stylistic devices in Quebec French and in Cameroon French

As can be seen in Table 4, the Quebeckers used 185 devices (55 adjectives, 73 adverbs, 51 verbs, three nouns and three syntactic devices), while the Cameroonians employed 203 devices (99 adjectives, 124 adverbs, 60 verbs, four nouns and eight syntactic devices). The Cameroonians used more devices than their Canadian counterparts.

Adverbs were the most frequently used devices in the two varieties of French. The most common adverbs in the Cameroonian data were très 'very'; bien 'very/well' and à merveille 'very well', while Quebeckers mostly used très, bien and vraiment 'really/very'. A striking difference was observed in the use of à merveille, which was largely more preferred by the Cameroonians than the participants from Quebec.

Adjectives were the second most preferred devices by the Cameroonians. They made use of 12 different kinds of adjectives, beau / belle was by far the most preferred adjective. The Quebeckers employed eight different kinds of adjectives and showed much preference for beau / belle as well. A major difference, however, was noticed with regard to the kinds of adjectives employed. While the Cameroonians produced a much larger repertoire of adjectives than the Quebeckers, some adjectives in the Quebec corpus were borrowed from English (e.g. chil, nice).

As far as verbs are concerned, the Cameroonian informants used 58 tokens of verbs of which aller à 'to suit/fit' was by far the most frequent (42 examples out of 60 of all verbs attested). The other verbs showed low percentages and some of them appeared in complex or idiomatic structures (e.g. faire le bon choix 'to make the right choice'; se mettre sur son trente (et) un 'to get all dressed up / to be wearing your best'). By contrast, verbs were the second most frequent devices in the Quebec corpus. Of the 51 examples found, there were 29 instances of six different kinds of verbs in the hairstyle situation, where aimer 'to like/love' and aller à, were the most commonly used (eleven times respectively or 37.93% of all verbs). In the outfit situation, aller à and aimer were equally distributed. Three complex verbs were also used in compliments on outfit (e.g. faire bien 'to make someone look good' (e.g. Oh! Vous avez une belle robe, elle vous fait très bien 'Oh ! You have a beautiful dress. It makes you look good.') The four nouns identified in the Cameroonian data, namely élégance 'elegance' (3 examples) and fraicheur 'freshness' (1 occurrence) occurred only in compliments on outfit. The three nouns attested in the Quebec data, namely beauté 'beauty' (1), splendeur 'spendor' (1), and ange 'angel' (1) were used to reinforce compliments on hairstyle.

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The Cameroonians employed 16 instances of stylistic modification devices. These modifiers were equally employed in the two questionnaire situations. Of the eight devices used in the hairstyle situation, two served to mitigate the illocutionary force of the compliment: on dirait/croirait 'one would say / think', and je trouve (que) 'I find (that)'. These devices express the subjective nature of the compliments. There was one consultative device tu sais "you know', and the device je constate que 'I notice that' was used as preparatory act to announce the compliment. The other devices were employed to intensify the compliments, by indicating a strong desire to compliment je ne peux m'empêcher de vous dire que 'I can't help telling you that' or by establishing comparisons (e.g. Tu ressembles à une star Américaine 'You look like an American star').

The Cameroonians also used eight stylistic devices in compliments on outfit. These elements consisted of mitigating devices such as on croirait /on dirait and on aurait dit 'one would have said', cost minimisers in the structure je vous trouve juste 'I think you are just…'(1), and permettez-moi de vous dire combien 'let me tell you how'(1) used to seek for permission to offer a compliment. Apart from these elements, we also found an appealer vous savez (1)'you know' and structures used to reinforce compliments on outfit, namely comparative structures such comparé aux autres jours 'compared to other days' or a device announcing the eagerness to compliment Je tiens à vous dire que 'I really want to tell you that' (1). The Quebeckers made use of stylistic devices in a very low percentage. The three features (or 1.65%) attested were found in the hairstyle situation. These devices consisted of the subjectivity marker je te trouve 'I find it' the appealer tu sais que 'you know that' and a comparative structure including the verb ressembler à used to intensify the compliment.

In sum, the analysis reveals that although there were similarities with regard to the use of the most frequent adjectives and adverbs by respondents of both groups, there were striking differences concerning the number and kinds of lexical and stylistic modification devices.

4.3 External modification

Overall, the Cameroonians employed ten and the Quebeckers four different types of external modification devices. These strategies occurred either before (pre-compliments) or after (post-compliments) the head acts. Apart from interjections, address forms, greetings and apologies that were exclusively used to realize pre-compliments (mostly in the Cameroonian data), some respondents made use of comments and questions as pre-sequences. Table 5 presents the types and frequency of external modification devices found in both varieties of French.

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Table 5: Distribution of external modifiers in Quebec French and in Cameroon French

As shown in Table 5, there is a significant statistical difference in the use of supportive moves in the two data sets. The Cameroonians employed 98 external modifiers (36 in the hairstyle situation and 62 in the outfit situation) whereas the Quebeckers employed 49 external modifiers (25 in the hairstyle situation and 24 in the outfit situation). On a global level, Table 5 indicates that pre-compliments were by far the most commonly used strategies in the two data sets. Address forms were by far the most commonly used external modifiers in both data sets (Cameroon: n = 52 (53.06%) vs. Quebec: n = 21 (42.85%)). The second most frequent devices were greetings in the Cameroonian data (n = 14 (14.29%)) and interjections in the Quebec examples (n = 16 (32.65%)). Four types of external modification, namely greetings, request, wish, apology, appeared in the Cameroonian corpus and did not occur in the Quebec data set. Some differences and similarities also emerged with regard to the realization forms and situational distribution of the different external modification devices.

Realization forms of pre-compliments

Address forms

The address forms were mostly employed as attention getters prior to the compliments proper. Overall, the Cameroonians made use of terms of endearment such as ma bien aimée / ma chérie / mon chéri 'my darling' bébé 'baby', mon amour 'my love' and terms of respects such as monsieur 'sir' / madame 'madam'. In some examples, the address forms were combined with other external modification devices (e.g. greetings, interjections, apologies, etc.)

(15) Bonjour monsieur ! excusez-moi je vous trouve juste trop élégant avec votre belle chemise. [Outfit, Cameroon]
'Good morning sir, excuse me, I think you are just smart in your new shirt.'

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The Quebeckers made use of terms of endearment such as mon amour 'my love', chérie 'darling' and terms of respect such as monsieur "sir' and madame 'madam'.


The Cameroonian respondents used interjections such as wow, oh, eh, waouh, mais, ça alors, to express positive surprise prior to compliments. Some of the interjections were combined with address forms (e.g. Waouh! que tu est resplendissant. [Hairstyle, Cameroon] 'Wow! How splendid you look!') Some interjections were combined with terms of respect (e.g. Oh madame ! quelle belle robe vous avez là et ca vous va bien vous savez ! [Outfit, Cameroon] 'Oh ma'am what a beautiful dress you have and it fits you well, you know') The Quebec participants employed interjections such as wow, oh, oh waow, hm, were used to express positive surprise (e.g. Oh ! Vous avez une belle robe, elle vous fait très bien. [Outfit, Quebec] 'Oh! You have a beautiful dress. It fits you very well.')


The function of greetings was to establish contact with the recipient before the compliments were offered. In the asymmetrical outfit situation, greetings served as face-saving devices. The Cameroonian respondents made use of the following linguistic forms to greet their communicative partners: bonjour 'good morning', salut 'hi', ça va ? 'how are you?' The greetings formulas were mostly combined with terms of respects, apologies or other greeting forms (e.g. bonjour monsieur! 'good morning, sir' ; excusez-moi 'excuse-me'; salut monsieur 'hi, sir'; bonjour, ça va? 'good morning, how are you ?')

Preliminary questions and comments

Two questions were used as preparatory acts in the Cameroonian data to seek for information about the person who did the hairstyle. In one of the examples, the question qui est le coiffeur qui a su modifier radicalement ton physique? 'who is the hairdresser who knew how to radically change your appearance?' was combined with two other supportive moves, namely ça alors mon chéri 'wow darling'. In the other example, the preparatory act attempted to unveil the motivation for the hairstyle. The comments found in the two data sets served as preparatory acts, i.e. as strategies by which the speaker prepared the hearer for the content of the compliment as in () and (). As the examples show, comments were combined with address forms.

(16) Monsieur, vous avez changé de look, votre chemise vous va à merveille ! [Outfit, Cameroon]
'Sir, you changed your look, your shirt fits you very well.'

(17) Chérie, tu as été chez le coiffeur à ce que je vois ! C'est vraiment très beau, j'aimerais que tu gardes cette coiffure. [Hairstyle, Quebec]
'Darling, I can see you went to the hair-dresser! It is really beautiful. I would like you to keep up that hairstyle.'


With this speech act, the compliment giver intended to mitigate any face threat caused by the compliment. As can be seen from the example, the apology was intensified by a preceding greeting formula.

(18) Bonjour monsieur ! excusez-moi je vous trouve juste trop élégant avec votre belle chemise. [Outfit, Cameroon]
'Good morning sir, excuse-me, I think you look very smart in your beautiful shirt.'

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Realization forms of post-compliments

Suggestion / advice

This supportive move served as a compliment booster as it was used to encourage the recipient to keep up the hairstyle or the outfit. The Cameroonians mostly employed

- modal utterances such as (Il) faudra que tu la fasse souvent '(you) should do it often'; vous devriez la porter le plus souvent 'you should wear it very often'; dorénavant c'est elle qu'il faudra faire 'henceforth, that's what you should do';

- perfomative utterances such as je te conseille de la faire pour nos sorties'I advice you to do it when we go out' ;,

- expressions of desires with regard to an action concerning the complimented object such as j'aimerai que tu la refaire plus souvent 'I would like you to do it again very often'; j'aimerai que tu continu à te coiffer ainsi 'I would like you to continue to have your hair done that way' ;

(19) Quelle belle coiffure tu as là ! Tu sais quoi faudra que tu la fasse souvent (…). [Hairtyle, Cameroon]
'What a beautiful hairstyle you have. Do you what you should have it done often (…)'

The Quebeckers used modal expressions like tu devrais les garder comme sa 'You should keep it like that' and an expression of desire as in ().

(20) Chérie, tu as été chez le coiffeur à ce que je vois ! C'est vraiment très beau, j'aimerais que tu gardes cette coiffure. [Hairstyle, Quebec]
'Darling, I can see you went to the hair-dresser! It is really beautiful. I would like you to keep up that hairstyle.'


The questions attested in both data sets were used to seek for information about the origin of the hairstyle, i.e. who did it and/or where the compliment recipient had it done, or the purpose of the outfit. The respondents made use of interrogative structures such as Qui t'a coiffé ? 'Who did your hair ?' ; C'est qui ton coiffeur ? 'Who is your hair-dresser ?', Où vous l'avez achetez? 'Where did you have it done?'


In general, the comments occurring after the head acts in the two data sets were employed to reinforce the illocutionary force of the complimentary utterance as in (21) and (22).

(21) (…) Ta coiffure te vas très bien ! Dorénavant je t'appellerai l'ange de l'amour. [Hairtyle, Cameroon]
'Your hairstyle fits you very well! Henceforth, I'll call you 'angel of love'.

(22) J'aime bien ta nouvelle coiffure, elle fait ressortir tes yeux. [Hairstyle, Quebec]
'I really like your new hairstyle. It brings out your eyes.'

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Request, wish and joke

These were the least preferred strategies by the participants. The only example of request found in the data was attested in the hairstyle situation of the Cameroonian corpus. As the example shows, the request functioned as a repetition of the question on the identity of the hairdresser. Thus, both the request and the question were used to reinforce the forthcoming compliment, introduced by the conjunction parce que.

(23) Ça alors, mon chéri, qui est le coiffeur qui a su modifier radicalement ton physique! Fais-le moi aussi savoir STP, parce-que tu es très beau avec ta nouvelle coiffure. [Hairstyle, Cameroon]
'Wow darling, who is the hair-dresser that totally modified your appearance? Please, let me know, because you look very cute with your new hairstyle.'

The expression of wish was used once in the Cameroonian data set. By using this speech act, the compliment giver indicated his/her wish to see the recipient have the same hairstyle on a regular basis, thus stressing the sincerity of the compliment giver.

(24) Je te trouve très séduisant avec ta nouvelle coiffure et j'aimerai que tu la refaire plus souvent. [Hairstyle, Cameroon]
'I find you very charming with your new hairstyle and I would like you to have it done very often.'

In the example below the compliment giver used the external modification (a joke in this case) to tease the recipient. The use of humour in this context was due to close relationship between speaker and hearer.

(25) Elle te va bien ; mais c'est pas toi, détrompes toi. [Hairstyle, Cameroon]
'It fits you well, but, it's not you, don't deceive yourself.'

As Table 6 shows, the analysis of the frequency and situational distribution of the external modification devices also reveals some interesting patterns.

Table 6: Situational distribution of external modification devices in Cameron French and in Quebec French

The Cameroonians used more external modification devices in the outfit situation and the Quebec participants more external modifiers in the hairstyle situation. However, while the number of external modifiers in the outfit situation by Cameroonians was almost twice that of the external modifiers in the hairstyle situation, the supportive moves were equally distributed across the two situations in the Quebec data. With regard to the type of external modification device, Table 6 shows for instance that, greetings were exclusively employed by the Cameroonian participants and were mostly combined with compliments on outfit situation in 13 (92.85%) of the 14 examples attested. Also, 41 (78.84%) of the 52 instances of address forms used by the Cameroonians did appear in the outfit situation, where they were generally combined with greetings.

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This result could be explained by the fact the Cameroonians seemed to perceive compliments on superior's outfit as potentially face-threatening. The combination of greetings and address forms was thus intended to mitigate the face-threat. The Quebec informants also used more address forms in the outfit situation. However, the difference here was not as clear as in the Cameroonian corpus. With regards to interjections, Table 6 indicates that the Quebeckers employed more interjections with compliments on outfit than their Cameroonian counterparts. Suggestions and advice, two directive speech acts, were clearly favoured in the less formal hairstyle situation by the participants of both groups (Cameroonians: 7 out of 8 cases or 87.5%; Quebeckers: 2 out 3 examples or 66.66%).

5 Conclusion

The goal of this paper was to examine strategies employed by speakers of Cameroon French and speakers of Quebec French to offer compliments on appearance (hairstyle and outfit). The findings show some similarities and differences with regard to the strategies, their realization forms and distribution across the two situations. Two main strategies emerged from the data: 'head act' strategies and 'head act(s) + external modification'.

As far as 'head act' strategies are concerned, it was found that the respondents of both groups used single heads and multiple heads. The Quebec participants appeared to employ more single head acts, while the speakers of Cameroon French used more multiple head acts. Also, the informants of both groups generated double and triple head acts whereby the double compliments were by far more frequent than combinations of three single heads in both sub-corpora.

The analysis of 'head act(s) + external modification' strategies reveals that the Cameroonian participants provided much more examples than the Quebeckers. Overall, the Cameroonians employed ten different kinds of supportive moves, mostly used in pre-sequences. The Quebec participants used five different types of supportive moves in their compliments and most commonly made use of pre-compliments as well. In contrast to the Quebec data set, in which the supportive moves occurred more equally in both situations, the Cameroonians mostly employed external modifiers in the outfit situation.

With regard to the use of lexical and stylistic devices in the core compliments, the results show that, although the speakers of both varieties of French made more use of lexical tokens, the Cameroonians employed more lexical and stylistic devices than the Quebeckers. Overall, adverbs were the most frequent lexical devices in both data sets.

Obviously, the findings of this study should not be over-generalized, since the nature of the data material used here was primarily written and conclusions could not be drawn about oral performance of the speakers of the two varieties of French. Moreover, the study was based on only two situations pertaining to one aspect, the physical appearance. In order to better understand similarities and differences found in the present study, it is necessary to

a) compare the present findings with those emerging from different types of data (e.g. face-to-face conversations, field notes)

b) extend the scope of the present study to compliments on possessions, talents, performances, etc.

c) include other informant groups and other regional varieties of French.

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* I would like to extend my sincere appreciation to the Office of Research and Graduate Studies at Cape Breton University for funding this research. Many thanks to the students in Yaoundé and Montréal who participated in this study, my friends and colleagues in Cameroon and Canada who helped me with data collection and my research assistants, Brennan MacNeil, Amelia Barnes and Meghan Donovan, for their help in processing and organizing the data.

1 Quebec French is one of several varieties of French spoken in Canada. Some other varieties include Acadian French (cf. Balcom et. al 2008), Ontario French (cf. Mougeon / Beniak 1989; Martineau et. al. 2009). Newfound Land French (cf. King / Butler 2005), etc. For French spoken in Western Canada, see Hallion Bres (2006).

2 See for instance Wierzbicka (2003).

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3 See the edited volume by Schneider / Barron (2008), comprising studies on speech acts (requests, expression of gratitude, apologies, invitations, etc.) and other pragmatic phenomena (the use of address forms, response tokens, small talk, etc.) in the following pluricentric languages: Dutch, English, French, German, and Spanish.

4 For details see Golato (2005)

5 The examples included in our text are written as found in the data, i.e. grammatical and spelling errors remained uncorrected.

6 See also Herbert 1989 and Holmes 1988.

7 See Kerbrat-Orecchioni (2005b: 227), who considers compliments as "poisonous and embarrassing gifts".

8 What Barron calls "Pragmatics without macro-social variation" (2005: 521).

9 "Macro-social variation without pragmatics" in Barron's terms"(2005: 522).

10 For details see Schneider / Barron (2008: 19&8211;21) and Schneider (2010: 244&8211;246).

11 Cited by Warga (2008: 246).

12 All the respondents indicated that they spoke a native Cameroonian language (e.g. ewondo, douala, medumba, yemba, etc.)