Chinese ESL Learners' Pragmatic Competence in the Usage of Genuine Compliments, Ironic Compliments, and Ironic Insults

Thumbnail Image
Sparr, Jessica
Major Professor
Committee Member
Journal Title
Journal ISSN
Volume Title
Research Projects
Organizational Units
Organizational Unit

The Department of English seeks to provide all university students with the skills of effective communication and critical thinking, as well as imparting knowledge of literature, creative writing, linguistics, speech and technical communication to students within and outside of the department.

The Department of English and Speech was formed in 1939 from the merger of the Department of English and the Department of Public Speaking. In 1971 its name changed to the Department of English.

Dates of Existence

Historical Names

  • Department of English and Speech (1939-1971)

Related Units

Journal Issue
Is Version Of
Symposium on Undergraduate Research and Creative Expression
Iowa State University Conferences and Symposia

The Symposium provides undergraduates from all academic disciplines with an opportunity to share their research with the university community and other guests through conference-style oral presentations. The Symposium represents part of a larger effort of Iowa State University to enhance, support, and celebrate undergraduate research activity.

Though coordinated by the University Honors Program, all undergraduate students are eligible and encouraged to participate in the Symposium. Undergraduates conducting research but not yet ready to present their work are encouraged to attend the Symposium to learn about the presentation process and students not currently involved in research are encouraged to attend the Symposium to learn about the broad range of undergraduate research activities that are taking place at ISU.

The first Symposium was held in April 2007. The 39 students who presented research and their mentors collectively represented all of ISU's Colleges: Agriculture and Life Sciences, Business, Design, Engineering, Human Sciences, Liberal Arts and Sciences, Veterinary Medicine, and the Graduate College. The event has grown to regularly include more than 100 students presenting on topics that span the broad range of disciplines studied at ISU.


This study examined the pragmatic competency of Chinese ESL learners’ with genuine compliments, ironic compliments, and ironic insults. A genuine compliment is praise framed positively (e.g., "Good job!") while an ironic compliment is one framed negatively (e.g., "Lousy job!"). An ironic insult is an insult framed positively so that it resembles a compliment [e.g., saying "Good job" when it was lousy]). Subjects rated nine scenarios with these three types of speech acts according to (1) how insulted the complimentee is likely to be, (2) what impact the compliment/insult might have on the complimentercomplimentee relationship, (3) what kind of emotional response the complimentee is likely to have, and (4) how the complimentee might respond. The results indicated that a positive impression is often associated with genuine compliments, whereas a negative impression is associated with ironic compliments and ironic insults. This suggests that there is a miscommunication when irony is added to compliments. This study could be the basis for future studies that aim to understand how miscommunications are created, how they can be resolved, and how second language teachers can teach these solutions while taking into account the second language learner’s culture and background.