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Review of  Acquisition in Interlanguage Pragmatics


Reviewer: Susan Meredith Burt
Book Title: Acquisition in Interlanguage Pragmatics
Book Author: Anne Barron
Publisher: John Benjamins
Linguistic Field(s): Pragmatics
Language Acquisition
Book Announcement: 14.1999

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Review:


Date: Mon, 21 Jul 2003 11:59:30 -0500
From: Susan Burt <smburt@ilstu.edu>
Subject: Acquisition in Interlanguage Pragmatics

Anne Barron. 2003. Acquisition in Interlanguage Pragmatics.
John Benjamins. Pragmatics and Beyond New Series 108.

Reviewer: Susan Meredith Burt, Illinois State University.

BRIEF OVERVIEW

This is an extremely thorough project in speech act
realization, the analysis of Irish college students'
acquisition of German, specifically of the pragmatics of
requests, offers and refusals, during their study abroad
year. In each chapter, the author grounds her research and
analytic decisions in an exhaustive discussion of the
existing literature. The results show that a year abroad
can indeed result in an increase in pragmatic competence in
the L2 by learners. The final chapter includes pedagogical
and research implications of the study.


CHAPTER BY CHAPTER SUMMARY

In the Introduction, Barron reflects on instances of mis-
understanding that she experienced in her time abroad as a
learner of German. Arguing that explicit instruction in
foreign language pragmatics is rare because there is not
enough research to support it, Barron sets out the
motivation for her research in the form of research
questions:

"1. Is there evidence of changes in learners' L2 pragmatic
competence towards or away from the L2 norm over time spent
in the target speech community?
2. Does pragmatic transfer increase or decrease with time
in the target culture?
3. What implications do any changes or lack of changes in
learners' L2 pragmatic competence have for our
understanding of the development of L2 pragmatic competence?
4. Can one speak of stages of L2 pragmatic competence?"
(p.4)

The second chapter, "A pragmatic approach," situates her
research in the existing literature and provides working
definitions of central terms. Barron sees pragmatic
competence as a subcategory of communicative competence.
She outlines the foundations of speech act theory, and
summarizes the various theoretical approaches to verbal
politeness, and to discourse analysis. Finally, she
contrasts three approaches to "pragmatics across cultures,"
distinguishing between (1) "contrastive pragmatics," which
focuses on "the pragmalinguistic realization of
communicative functions" (p.23) in different languages and
cultures, (2) cross-cultural pragmatics, exemplified by the
Cross-Cultural Speech Act Realization Project (CCSARP)
(Blum-Kulka, House and Kasper 1989), which seeks to link
linguistic differences to cultural differences, and (3)
interlanguage pragmatics, which focuses on learners'
pragmatic capabilities and contrasts them with the pragmatic
performance of native speakers. The chapter includes a
tabular summary of 51 studies that Barron locates in this
particular area of pragmatics, specifically, those that
focus on the pragmatic development of second language
learners.

Chapter 3, "Acquisitional issues in learner pragmatics"
situates Barron's specific questions with respect to broader
questions in second language acquisition research. First,
learners' construction of interlanguage (a continuum of
rule-governed language systems) is discussed with respect to
the role played by first-language influence,
overgeneralization, and "teaching-induced errors," focusing
specifically on pragmatic aspects of interlanguage. While
there have been different approaches to attempting to
understand how learners develop pragmatic competence, there
seems to be no fixed order of development: increased
grammatical proficiency may or may not cause a corresponding
increase in pragmatic capabilities. For example, increased
grammatical proficiency in the second language may give the
learner the opportunity to implement a speech act strategy
favored in the first language, but not appropriate in the
second. Increased proficiency may allow the learner to
construct--and to overuse--supportive moves, and this
overuse is pragmatically less effective. Input to learners
is often strikingly different from speech between native
speakers, and thus, may be misleading as a pragmatic model:
native speakers may, for example, make requests to non-
native speakers that are far more explicit than native
speakers would find acceptable.

Nevertheless, the study abroad context is likely to offer
learners a more complete range of input than the foreign
language classroom. The study abroad context is
characterized as unique, incorporating, as it does, both
instruction and "natural" contexts. And, despite lack of
completely adequate measurements, time in a study abroad
experience does seem to result in increases in both
linguistic and pragmatic competence. This seems to be the
case even though a study abroad experience cannot guarantee
exposure to entirely appropriate input: learners might be
"ghettoized" from native speakers, by choice (because of
culture shock) or otherwise, or they might be exposed to
verbal practices in one context that are inappropriate in
others: low-prestige variants might serve in informal
contexts, but not serve well if the learner overgeneralizes
their use beyond those contexts. Barron brings up the
question of whether it even makes sense to assume that
learners aspire to attain a native-speaker norm in pragmatic
behavior, and discusses several reasons why they may not.

Chapter 4, "Experimental design," is extremely thorough in
its discussion of the research instruments, the
participants, the selection of speech act types to
investigate, and the method of analysis. Barron chose or
developed a number of instruments with which to collect
data. She considers the burgeoning literature on discourse
completion tasks (DCTs), and chooses to use a DCT at least
partially compatible and comparable to that used in the
CCSARP. In addition, she develops the "free DCT," in which
participants write dialogue for both speakers, not just one.
Barron also developed "retrospective interviews," in which
participants do a role-play, which is videotaped, which they
then observe and discuss with an interviewer. Further
instruments include pre-and post-year abroad questionnaires,
and assessment questionnaires, designed to see whether Irish
and German readers assess the power and social distance in
certain situations similarly or not.

Participants included Irish learners of German, and German
native speakers and native speakers of Irish English as
well. Barron chooses to focus on the speech act types of
requests, offers, and refusals, in part because these last
two types will allow her to look, not only at the
performance of the speech act in questions, but also at
differences in discourse structure involving these acts:
cultural differences may interfere with learning;
specifically, in Irish English, a "ritual refusal" may
follow a hospitable offer, with a second offer (or
"pressing") then accepted, but this discourse sequence is
not characteristic of German. Barron is also interested in
pragmatic "routines," including both fixed and formulaic
patterns in speech act performance. Mitigation in its
various forms is also of interest, as the politeness/request
marker "bitte" has been shown (House 1989) to be
pragmatically complex, and pragmatic particles such as
"doch, eben, mal, schon, einfach" and so on, are rarely
taught explicitly; these items are likely to be difficult
for learners.

Chapter 5, "A pragmatic analysis," shows that the results of
Barron's work are intriguing, illuminating both the quirky
path of pragmatic development, and interesting pragmatic
differences between English and German. For example, when
it comes to ritual refusals of offers (typically followed by
re-offers and acceptances), these Irish learners do attempt
to implement the Irish English pattern in German, but these
transfer attempts decrease over time spent in Germany. The
learners' metapragmatic comments show this, as do the
stories some learners tell of using the German discourse
pattern in their English after they return home (and
suffering a bit of pragmatic failure in the L1!). Part of
this development is connected with learners' realization
that there is no formula for re-offers in German, and German
interlocutors' puzzlement at "Bist Du/Sind Sie sicher?"
which learners initially use as a re-offer, provoking
pragmatic failure. The experience of pragmatic failure,
however, seems to help lead to eventual understanding of the
discourse differences.

Part of what must be learned includes "differences in
illocutionary potential" (p. 182) for similar routines in
the two languages. "Danke," for example, cam be used to
refuse an offer, while "Thank you" can be used to accept
one. "No problem" serves as a minimizing response to
thanks, but attempting to use "Kein Problem" in this way
leads to pragmatic failure, despite the fact that these
similar formulae do share several pragmatic uses on both
sides of the language boundary. "Das ist (aber) nett von
Dir/Ihnen" as a supportive move in refusals of offers is a
formula which learners eventually acquire, despite the fact
that the translation equivalent sounds "gushing" to speakers
of Irish English.

The acquisition of syntactic downgrading as a form of
conventional indirectness is complex, with learners using
too much directness (compared to native speaker norms) in
standard situations (those where the requester has an
authoritative role), and too much indirectness (compared to
native speaker norms) in other situations. The picture is
slightly different for lexical downgraders: prior to the
year abroad, learners tended to overuse the politeness
marker "bitte" in requests, and to place it at the beginning
or end of the sentence, while native speakers prefer
placement in the middle. Over time, learners come closer to
native patterns of placement and use of this item, as they
acquire other downtoners (like "schon") that they can use
instead.

Barron summarizes the answers to her research questions in
the Conclusion, making clear which ones are answerable with
her data, and which are not: there is clear movement towards
the German native speaker norm, though not attainment of it,
by these learners. Pragmatic transfer decreases over time
in some instances, and increases in others. Pragmatic
development takes a non-linear path, but pragmalinguistic
development seems to outpace sociopragmatic development, an
intriguing observation. Also useful are the pedagogical and
programmatic implications Barron sees for her work: she
suggests more explicit teaching and learning of pragmatic
issues, and proposes ethnographic projects for learners
during their year abroad, and combining pre-year abroad
seminars with post-return seminars for the mutual benefit of
new year abroad students and returners.


CRITICAL EVALUATION

Given the complexity of the data, one outstanding virtue of
this volume is its painstaking clarity, both in arrangement
and expression. One lapse from this was the unhappy choice
of labels L(1), L(2) and L(3) to stand for the first, second
and third periods of data collection from the Learners, when
L1 and L2 are used to indicate first and second language,
respectively. Similarly, in the discussions of the use of
"bitte," in both chapters 4 and 5, Barron relies heavily on
the notion of "standard situation," as House (1989) dubbed
those situations in which the requester has the authority to
make the request (such as a police officer asking a motorist
to move her parked car); as this phrase is not particularly
transparent, Barron perhaps should have repeated her
explanation of it in these later chapters. But I quibble.
For the most part, Barron does not allow the complexity of
the material to prevent clear exposition.

The clarity and depth of the presentation gives Barron's
recommendations for pedagogical attention to pragmatic
issues added force. Foreign language teachers, particularly
teachers of German, of course, will find this volume
valuable, as will students and researchers in speech act
realization.


WORKS CITED

Blum-Kulka, Shoshana, Juliane House, and Gabiele Kasper
(eds.). 1989. Cross-Cultural Pragmatics: Requests and
Apologies. Norwood NJ: Ablex.

House, Juliane. 1989. Politeness in English and German: The
Functions of Please and Bitte. pp. 96-119 in Blum-Kulka,
House and Kasper 1989.

A


 
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
ABOUT THE REVIEWER Susan Meredith Burt is Associate Professor in the English Department at Illinois State University. Her publications on intercultural pragmatics include articles on the pragmatics of code choice, and a recent article on American English solicitudes. She is currently working on a project on speech act realization in English and in Hmong.