Acquisition of Second Language Pragmatic Competence during Study Abroad

Victor Frank, Bryn Mawr College/NFLC

The proposed paper, incorporating data collected by the presenter in Moscow during the 1997-1998 academic year, focuses on the pragmatic aspects of second language learning processes during study abroad. The theoretical framework of this paper rests on three interrelated areas of linguistic research: Second Language Acquisition (SLA), Interlanguage Pragmatics (ILP), and the ethnocultural basis of linguistic consciousness. The key concept of SLA that guides the proposed project as a study of language learning is that of interlanguage, the learner's dynamic system of target language knowledge. The interlanguage system is continuously evolving, although not necessarily in the direction of the target language. The bulk of SLA interlanguage studies have focused on domains of learner production at or below sentence-level speech. Yet examining learner production above the sentence-level opens up possibilities for examining the interrelationships in interlanguage between sentence-level phenomena and larger units of speech: textual cohesion and coherence, speech acts, and other areas of discourse analysis. The proposed paper describes the processes of language learning above sentence-level speech from the perspective of interlanguage pragmatics.

Interlanguage pragmatics (ILP) brings together the disciplines of SLA and linguistic pragmatics. This area of linguistic inquiry examines the relationships between form, function, and intention in learner production and comprehension of target language at different levels of linguistic proficiency. In this context, the learner's pragmatic knowledge of the target language and target culture manifests itself in all domains of interlanguage. The data discussed in the paper examines learner interlanguage in the speech act of request.

Most ILP studies have used a contrastive approach to focus on language learner and native speaker differences in speech act production and comprehension. The study discussed in the paper broadens the perspectives of ILP studies by exploring the longitudinal processes of language learning in its pragmatic aspects; by exploring the ethnocultural origins of speech act realization; and finally, by exploring why pragmatic differences are significant in the context of intercultural communication (communication between representatives of different ethnocultural communities). The work of Russian linguists on intercultural communication from the viewpoint of the ethnocultural bases of linguistic consciousness offers wide possibilities for placing the results of ILP studies in context. Karaulov defines linguistic consciousness as those images of consciousness that are externalized by linguistic signs. In this view any text created by a speaker is an external manifestation, although an imperfect and distorted one, of the linguistic consciousness of that speaker. Thus the ultimate cause of pragmatic failure in intercultural communication is differences in the ethnoculturally-based linguistic consciousnesses of the speaker and hearer. The speech act formulae themselves are only reflections of those linguistic consciousnesses.

The proposed paper presents the analysis of data collected through open-ended role-plays conducted with language learners and native speakers; retrospective interviews; and introspective language learning journals. The paper also discusses SLA models that incorporate linguistic consciousness, as well as implications for foreign language pedagogy.