Sociolinguistics and Cross-cultural Pragmatics

    A recent review of studies on interlanguage pragmatics (Kasper & Schmidt, 1996) documented that pragmatic development in adult nonnative speakers is a highly underresearched topic. Acknowledging the centrality of research on pragmatic development to the pedagogy of foreign languages, this NFLRC project focused on developmental aspects of pragmatic competence. During this research, it was found necessary to continue the exploration of some issues addressed in the previous grant period, viz. problems of research methodology and pragmatic norms.

    Pragmatic development

    The project examined three developmental issues which have been prominent in second language studies at large: the relationship between L2 proficiency and L1 transfer, the impact of socio-affective variables on interlanguage pragmatic development, and the teachability of pragmatic information (studies on further developmental issues are reported in Kasper (1996a)).

    Pragmatic transfer and proficiency

    In Maeshiba, Yoshinaga, Kasper, and Ross (1996), we examined the hypothesis advanced in the interlanguage pragmatics literature that (unlike in the acquisition of formal linguistic knowledge) more advanced learners transfer more of their L1 pragmatic knowledge because they have the formal means to do so. The test case for the study was the apology strategies chosen by Japanese ESL learners at different levels of proficiency. Since the choice of speech act realization strategies is constrained by context factors, we also probed into the relationship between sociopragmatic assessments of context and strategy transfer. The hypothesis of a positive correlation between (negative) pragmatic transfer and proficiency was not supported: in pragmatics just like in other areas of interlanguage knowledge, negative L1 transfer decreases as L2 proficiency improves. Sociopragmatic assessments by native speakers were highly predictive of positive transfer, whereas negative transfer of apology strategies occurred largely independent of context assessment. This suggests that negative pragmatic transfer may be due to other factors than sociopragmatic assessment, one possible candidate being learners’ pragmalinguistic knowledge of conventions of means and form.

    Learners’ pragmalinguistic assessment of form conventions was the focus of S. Takahashi’s (1996) study on the transferability of conventionally indirect request strategies. While transferability has been a central question in research on lexical and syntactic transfer, this study is the first to systematically examine the transferability of pragmatic knowledge and to develop a methodology for such research. Learners’ transferability judgments were influenced by the degree of imposition and form of the request, whereas there was little effect of L2 proficiency on transferability ratings. The different outcomes of Maeshiba et al.’ s and Takahashi’s study suggest that the learning environment may play a central role in pragmatic development: participants in Maeshiba et al. were students in an ESL context, whereas Takahashi’s participants were Japanese EFL students in Japan. The richer opportunities for input and productive language use in the ESL situation is likely to account for the development observable in the ESL group but lacking in the EFL participants. For students to develop L2 pragmatic abilities in a foreign language context, it is crucial that FL instruction provides them with relevant input, raises their awareness about L2 pragmatics, and offers them opportunities for practice through different activities.

    Socio-affective variables

    Even though L2 learning is generally believed to be influenced by socio-affective variables, there have been less than a handful of studies to examine the impact of such variables on pragmatic development. In order to obtain students’ perspectives on L2 pragmatic learning, an exploratory interview s