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Review of Context, Individual Differences and Pragmatic Competence
AUTHOR: Taguchi, Naoko TITLE: Context, Individual Differences and Pragmatic Competence SERIES TITLE: Second Language Acquisition PUBLISHER: Multilingual Matters YEAR: 2012
Wei Ren, Department of Foreign Languages, Graduate University of Chinese Academy of Sciences
Although one of the most promising means of examining pragmatic development is through research involving longitudinal studies, only a few studies (e.g. Barron 2003; Schauer 2009; Ren 2011) have traced the development of learners’ second language (L2) pragmatic competence employing longitudinal data. The limited number of longitudinal studies in interlanguage pragmatics (ILP) literature reveals an important area of research yet to be undertaken. In addition, despite the consensus in ILP literature that pragmatic competence involves both productive and receptive competence, few studies in ILP research have investigated the two aspects using the same participants. More studies focusing on the aforementioned aspects are warranted in order to better understand the acquisition of L2 pragmatic competence. Therefore, this newly released monograph, ‘Context, Individual Differences and Pragmatic Competence’, by Taguchi (2012), contributes to the sparse existing literature on interlanguage pragmatics. The book reports on a longitudinal investigation into the development of two aspects of pragmatic competence -- pragmatic comprehension (i.e. the ability to comprehend speakers’ implied meaning) and pragmatic production (i.e. the ability to produce speech acts appropriately) -- among 48 Japanese students of English in an English-medium university in Japan.
In Chapter 1, after briefly introducing the development and current situation of ILP research, Taguchi rationalizes the contributions of her book by showing that it gives us a greater understanding of the following three areas: (1) development of pragmatic competence; (2) theoretical L2 proficiency models; and (3) factors affecting pragmatic development. While aiming to reveal patterns and rates of learners’ pragmatic development, as well as individual and contextual factors that affect such development, the study intends to answer the following two research questions (p. 5): (1) What patterns and rates of pragmatic development can we observe across different pragmatic functions and attributes?; (2) What types of learning resources and experiences are available in various contexts and how do these factors shape developmental trajectories of individual learners?. The context of the study is also described in this chapter, including information about the emphasis on English in Japan and the research site itself, which encompasses the English for academic purposes (EAP) program employed at the target university and students’ opportunities to use English outside of class.
Chapter 2 reviews longitudinal studies available in the present literature of ILP. Studies investigating learners’ development of the comprehension of pragmatic meaning (e.g. Bouton 1992, 1994; Taguchi 2007, 2008) are first reviewed, followed by studies focusing on learners’ development of the recognition and perception of pragmatic features (e.g. Kinginger and Blattner 2008; Matsumura 2001, 2007; Schauer 2009) and studies on learners’ development of pragmatic productions (e.g. Bardovi-Harlig and Hartford 1993; Barron 2003; Hassall 2006; Warga and Scholmberger 2007). Based on a summary of the findings available in current ILP literature, Taguchi presents issues critical to the future investigation of pragmatic development such as study duration (in longitudinal designs), frequency of data points and data collection methods, the relation between grammar and pragmatics, and the need to expand the construct of pragmatic competence beyond speech acts. Following recent second language acquisition (SLA) theories focusing on the dynamicity and complexity of the L2 acquisition process in a social context (e.g. Dynamic System Theory (De Bot 2008), Chaos/Complexity Theory (Larsen-Freeman and Cameron 2008) and the Emergentism Approach (Ellis and Larsen-Freeman 2006)), Taguchi illustrates that this new perspective can also inform longitudinal investigations of L2 pragmatic competence.
Chapter 3 first presents the theoretical framework that guides the present study, based on a synthesis of existing models of communicative competence (Bachman and Palmer 1996; Bialystok 1990; Canale and Swain 1980; Hymes 1972), and then delves into the two research questions in more detail (p. 77). The chapter then describes the methodology of the study in four sections: (1) descriptions of the participants; (2) descriptions of the researcher; (3) descriptions of target pragmatic constructs (i.e. pragmatic comprehension and pragmatic production) and instrumentation (i.e. pragmatic listening and speaking tests and qualitative data sources); and (4) data collection procedures.
Chapter 4 presents findings related to the first research question regarding the patterns and rates of learners’ pragmatic development. In this chapter, Taguchi first presents descriptive statistics of accuracy scores and response times collected from the pragmatic listening test over three time points and analyzes the two aspects statistically to demonstrate patterns and rates of development of pragmatic comprehension. She then presents descriptive statistics of the following four data sets, collected via a pragmatic speaking test administered throughout the present study: (1) appropriateness scores; (2) grammaticality scores; (3) planning time; and (4) speech rate. She analyzes the results statistically in order to demonstrate which aspects of pragmatic production show significant gains over time and which aspects do not. In addition, qualitative data from interviews, class observations, and students’ journals are discussed in detail to interpret the findings related to the patterns and rates of pragmatic development found in the present study.
Chapter 5 presents findings tied to the second research question, regarding learners’ individual variation in pragmatic development, by analyzing qualitative data collected from a subset of the participants. The chapter starts with an introduction of background information on eight informants, including their TOEFL scores and reported amount of language contact. The eight informants’ performances on pragmatic measures are then displayed. Variations in the eight participants’ pragmatic developmental trajectories are discussed in case histories of each individual participant through analyses of qualitative data collected from five sources: student interviews, teacher interviews, class observations, student journals, and field notes. The eight informants demonstrate great variation in their pragmatic development, which is explained based on different types of learning opportunities and the availability of resources.
Chapter 6 summarizes findings of the present study and presents interpretations of learners’ pragmatic development. The chapter then provides implications of the present study for two main areas: the construct of pragmatic competence and development, and the SLA process. The author concludes the book with notes on the limitations of the study and directions for future research.
This book has many strong points. Firstly, the study extends the usual measures of accuracy and appropriateness of pragmatic competence by analyzing learners’ processing speed and fluency in pragmatic performance. Pragmatic competence is constructed in the present study to have two complementary aspects: accurate demonstration of pragmatic knowledge and efficient processing of pragmatic knowledge. Analysis of developmental patterns and rates of the two pragmatic aspects reveals a relationship between them. The innovative approach to pragmatic competence therefore contributes to our greater understanding of the development of pragmatic competence, as well as theoretical SLA models in general. Secondly, as previously stated, few studies in ILP research have investigated both productive pragmatic competence and receptive pragmatic competence within the same group of participants. The present study thus contributes to existing ILP research by investigating longitudinally the development of learners’ pragmatic comprehension and production. Thirdly, the study combines qualitative and quantitative data when analyzing learners’ patterns and rates of pragmatic development. It not only analyzes learners’ pragmatic development at the group-level but also presents individual-level analyses of pragmatic development. The rich analysis of student interviews and journal entries, as well as teacher interview data, reveals students’ limited gains in different situations to be partly the result of limited exposure to target pragmatic behavior and a lack of explicit feedback. Finally, the study tries to explain pragmatic development by examining various factors that may be related to learners’ pragmatic development. Guided by recent SLA theories on the dynamicity and complexity of the L2 acquisition process in a social context, the book provides a comprehensive view of the acquisition of pragmatic competence by perceiving learners’ pragmatic development as a dynamic process in which factors like social distance and degree of imposition are not treated as static factors but rather as part of a larger set of variables.
However, there are also some weaknesses in the present study. Firstly, the retrospective verbal interviews were only conducted after the last data collection session. Not eliciting data in the two earlier sessions brings challenges to the nature and extent of the data collected, particularly with regard to the tasks in the two earlier phases. The time lag between the performance of the pragmatic speaking test in Phase 1 and Phase 2 and the elicitation of the retrospective verbal interviews was very long, and thus is a threat to the veridicality of the verbal interviews. Secondly, there is no explicit illustration of the order of case histories displayed in Chapter 5. It would help the reader follow the author better if she had explained why she chose to present the eight case histories in the order presented in the book. In addition, citations about informants that were not discussed are at times confusing.
To sum up, despite the few weaknesses indicated above, the book makes important contributions to the field of ILP. It adds to the rather limited body of longitudinal studies in ILP, especially those investigating both productive and receptive aspects of pragmatic competence. It proposes an original theoretical framework, which constructs pragmatic competence as both an accurate demonstration of pragmatic knowledge and the efficient processing of pragmatic knowledge. In addition, the study employs a variety of research instruments, both quantitative and qualitative, in order to describe learners’ pragmatic development at both the group and individual levels, which makes the study unique in the field of ILP. In a nutshell, this book is highly recommended for researchers and students at the graduate level who are interested in both ILP and SLA.
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ABOUT THE REVIEWER
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
Wei Ren completed his PhD in Applied Linguistics at the University of
Bristol in 2012. He is currently a lecturer at the Graduate University of
the Chinese Academy of Sciences. His research interests include L2
pragmatics and cross-cultural pragmatics.