"We Have a Great Show Tonight!" A Contrastive Study on Compliment Use Among US-American and British Television Hosts of Late-Night Talk Shows

Term Paper, 2014

19 Pages, Grade: 2,3


Table of Contents

1 Introduction

2 Literature Review

3 Method

4 Talk Shows and Their Structure
4.1 The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon
4.2 The Jonathan Ross Show

5 Results
5.1 Position in Discourse and Frequency
5.2 Context
5.3 Compliment Topics

6 Discussion

7 Conclusion



Appendix 1 Compliments from The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon

Appendix 2 Compliments from The Jonathan Ross Show

Appendix 3 Compliment Frequency of The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon

Appendix 4 Length of the Sections of The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon

Appendix 5 Compliment Frequency of The Jonathan Ross Show

Appendix 6 Length of the Sections of The Jonathan Ross Show

1 Introduction

How do US-American and British TV show hosts of talk shows differ in terms of compliment use? In what part of the show, how often, on what topic and in which context do they use compliments? This paper aims at answering this questions with a focus on late-night talk shows, exemplarily shown with one episode in each case. The US-American late-night talk show that was chosen to take data from is The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, the British counterpart that was picked for this compliment research is The Jonathan Ross Show, concentrating on the compliments of the hosts, namely Jimmy Fallon and Jonathan Ross.

In terms of linguistic features, previous studies on talk shows rather deal with argumentative or narrative structures than compliments. There is so to say a research gap regarding this. However, especially in the case of talk shows that have the purpose to entertain there a lot of compliments being uttered during announcements and interviews. Furthermore studies on compliments mainly focus on either completely scripted talk or naturally-occurring talk. Since talk shows feature both types of talk and are simultaneously predetermined and spontaneous concerning the conversations they presumably are ideal to be analyzed for linguistic purpose.

Since talk shows as a television format have spread from the United States all over the world, several other nations developed their own talk shows. Even though the concept orientates itself towards the US-American prototype there are some changes regarding the topics, length, frequency of broadcast, guests and other features. Still, the talk itself is central and offers a huge potential of linguistic research. Especially due to the three main functions of the host as someone announcing and receiving guests and conducting interviews, compliments are easily found.

Comparing two varieties of the English language, the British and the US-American variety in this case, in the context of compliments in talk shows, which are, as already mentioned, of US-American origin, provides information on how two different cultures that share a language have converged or diverged during globalization, even if these information is limited when analyzing only two episodes.

First there will be an overview of previous research on compliments on the one hand and talk shows on the other, coming to the method that has been chosen to gather the data, the structure of talk shows in general and in the case of the late-night talk shows this paper deals with, ending with presenting the results of this research on compliments.

2 Literature Review

As already mentioned, previous studies on talk shows deal with argumentative structures rather than compliments (van Rees, 2007; Thornborrow, 2007). Other researchers compared talk show conversations to naturally occurring conversations (Ilie, 2001), analyzed talk shows as social events (Abt and Seesholtz, 2004; Burger, 2006) and as dramatic performances (Krause and Goering, 2004), or analyzed them in terms of audience participation (Simon-Vandenbergen, 2004) or impoliteness (Garcés-Conejos Blitvitch et al., 2010). Some studies elaborated on the intercultural comparison of two different language varieties in the context of talk shows (Krause and Goering, 2004).

Researchers who concentrated on the study of compliments analyzed rather naturallyoccurring talk (Holmes, 1986; Maíz-Arévalo, 2012; Manes and Wolfson, 1981) or fully scripted talk like it occurs in films and television series. Studies on compliments in the genre of talk shows are either very rare or unpublished.

Holmes defines compliments in her study on compliments and compliment responses in New Zealand as follows:

A compliment is 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. (1986:485)

For this paper there are some features that need to be removed from or added to this definition. First of all the compliment receiver does not need to be present or identical with the hearer, the compliment can be targeted at one or more persons at the same time and the “good” that is the focus of the compliment does not need to be positively valued by the hearer but primarily by the speaker, because he cannot certainly know whether it is positively valued by the hearer as well.

Holmes also provides a set of compliment topics that occur the most: “appearance, ability or a good performance, possessions, and some aspect of personality or friendliness” (1986:496). Nelson et al. describe the importance of compliment topics as follows: “compliments act as a window through which we can view what is valued by a particular culture” (1993:295).

3 Method

This paper compares the US-American late-night talk show The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon concerning the compliment use of the TV show hosts to the British late-night chat show The Jonathan Ross Show. Both exhibit a very similar structure, air in the late evening, have the similar type of guests, and encompass comedic elements, and might therefore be ideal to compare.

The 64th episode of the first season of The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon aired on Thursday, the 22nd May 2014, and was chosen because Jimmy Fallon just started hosting The Tonight Show in February, so that earlier episodes might be too close to his debut. The tenth episode of the sixth season of The Jonathan Ross Show aired on Saturday, the 8th March 2014. Because The Jonathan Ross Show is broadcasted in seasons, with two seasons each year, the tenth episode is the last episode of this year’s spring season, so this one was chosen so that it is still a rather recent one. Furthermore The Jonathan Ross Show airs once a week on Saturdays while The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon airs daily except on weekends. Since the structure of the episodes is far more important for the research purpose than the date it aired on, it was merely taken heed of choosing episodes that are most representative of the talk shows, and of recent date to have them display current tendencies of compliment use in this particular television format. Still, these two talk show episodes cannot be seen as completely representative for the genre of talk shows neither for the use of compliments in TV formats. These only serve as comparable examples of both language varieties and both talk shows.

In accordance with Ilie, “a talk show can be regarded as a particular kind of face-to-face conversation” (2001:214), thus it is the field method, the discourse analytical method in particular (cf. Jucker, 2009:1616), that was used to gather the data for this paper. Since some passages are written beforehand and therefore this type of television talk is partly predefined and partly spontaneous, as Ilie describes talk shows as “semi-institutional” (2001:209), it is rather a combination of both the philological and the conversation analytical method that was used. Ilie describes talk shows as of “non-homogeneous nature” (2001:216) and suggests “the term semi- institutional discourse as appropriate to refer to the talk show as a socio-cultural practice” (2001:218).

Due to the fact that the guests of both talk shows are international and therefore non- representative for the US-American or British origin, and that their responses do not give any further relevant information on compliment usage regarding the position in discourse, the topics, the frequency nor the context, I excluded these from the data I analyzed. As a consequence the data corpus is limited to the compliments uttered by the two hosts, 39-year-old New York-born Jimmy Fallon and 53-year-old London-born Jonathan Ross. Both rarely left their place of birth and have been educated nearby.

As a whole 53 compliments were collected, 25 from The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, and 28 from The Jonathan Ross Show. A compliment in the data corpus is counted as a single one, even if it is comprised of more than one complete sentence and is uttered during several conversational turns, as long as it is not interrupted by another topic. One-sentence compliments that follow one another are counted as two if they refer to different persons or different appreciated “goods”.

4 Talk Shows and Their Structure

Ilie states that “the talk show can be regarded as a modem Anglo-Saxon version [...] of conversation occurring in semi-institutionalized socio-cultural practices” (2001:215). She furthermore observes that “the international domination of English-speaking media“ leads to “obvious similarities between British and American talk shows”, even though there would be “a number of obvious distinctions” such as “the referring terms” that differ: “the equivalent of the American talk show is the British ‘chat show’” (ibid.). Apparently, British and US-American TV shows conform in several ways.

To elaborate the structure of talk shows as partly scripted and partly naturally-occurring talk, Burke’s five key terms of dramatism are fundamental: “what was done (act), when or where it was done (scene), who did it (agent), how he did it (agency), and why (purpose)” (1945:15). In this case, the agents that are of importance are steadily Jimmy Fallon and Jonathan Ross. The term “scene” can be divided further in the case of the talk shows, namely into the “introductory part” (Ilie, 2001:211) that usually follows the theme song at the beginning, the news section, the interview section, which is divided into several different interviews which have been numbered in the data that has been gathered, and the music performance, ending with the “closing part” (ibid.). The last three sections of talk shows are often interrupted by commercials. Structural difference between The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon and The Jonathan Ross Show will be examined later on.

As Krause and Goering note, “for all of the videotaped talk shows, three categories were examined: the host, the guests and the audience” (2004:192). These three categories can also be found within The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon as well as The Jonathan Ross Show. The categories of compliment receivers follow the above categories, even though self-praise is excluded and so is the host, and there needs to be added one more category, the compliment receivers, who are addressed in any of the host’s compliments during the talk show but are absent while the compliment is given.

With Ilie’s definition of talk shows as “host-controlled, participant-shaped and audienceevaluated speech events” (2001:209), she simultaneously determines the functions of these three categories of involved individuals.


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"We Have a Great Show Tonight!" A Contrastive Study on Compliment Use Among US-American and British Television Hosts of Late-Night Talk Shows
University of Bonn
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talk shows, television, pragmatics, linguistics, american
Quote paper
Lioba Frings (Author), 2014, "We Have a Great Show Tonight!" A Contrastive Study on Compliment Use Among US-American and British Television Hosts of Late-Night Talk Shows, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/368134


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