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Compliments on a Home Birth Helpline

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Publication details

JournalResearch on Language and Social Interaction
DatePublished - Jul 2012
Issue number3
Number of pages32
Pages (from-to)213-244
Original languageEnglish


This article examines the ways in which speakers positively assess recipients - a generic practice of ‘complimenting’ in talk-in-interaction - in the particular institutional context of a helpline for women seeking a home birth. It analyses the positive assessments (n = 112) produced by a single call-taker across 80 helpline calls. It considers their design, how they are responded to, and the actions (other than or additional to complimenting) they are used to do. Key findings are: (a) these positive assessments show a greater syntactic range and semantic variety than previously reported for compliments generally; (b) many are not responded to, without a response being relevantly missing; (c) of those that are responded to, more than half are accepted; (d) when responses neither agree with/accept nor disagree with/reject the positive assessment, we find these responses oriented not to avoiding self-praise (as has been claimed for compliments generally) but to engaging with actions other than, or additional to, complimenting that the turn is implementing; (e) positive assessments can be used as compliments in the service of what call-takers understand as 'empowering’ the recipient. These findings support the literature suggesting that complimenting is an important professional skill and show both how it is done and its value for the helpline. They also extend our knowledge about complimenting as a social action more generally, and about actions other than complimenting that positive assessments can be used to do.

    Research areas

  • assessments, compliments, conversation analysis, empowerment, helplines, homebirth

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