Development of Pragmatic Competence in Request Speech Acts by Non-Native Students of Russian

Jeanette Owen, Bryn Mawr College

The proposed paper summarizes findings from a comparison of request speech acts by native and non-native speakers of Russian in role-play situations frequently used in the Oral Proficiency Interview (OPI), and relies on previous research in cross-cultural pragmatics and interlanguage pragmatics for the theoretical framework informing this analysis.

While several studies on pragmatics and speech acts posit universal norms underlying the realization of speech acts (Searle, Frazer), others propose that speech acts are in fact culture- and language-specific (Wierzbicka). Studies such as the Cross-cultural Speech Act Realization Project (CCSARP), seek to ascertain to whether or not, and to what extent, speech acts are universal in nature or culturally and language specific through an examination of how non-native speakers (NNS) select and realize speech acts compared against native speaker (NS) norms (Blum-Kulka, House, and Kasper). Researchers in interlanguage pragmatics, meanwhile, investigate the process by which pragmatic competence is acquired in a second language. The current study examines both differences in NS and NNS linguistic performances in request scenarios (cross-cultural pragmatics), as well as the development of pragmatic competence in conjunction with higher proficiency levels and immersion in the target culture (interlanguage pragmatics).

The data for this study consists of 84 transcripts of non-native speaker performances in OPI role-play situations conducted before and after a term of study in Russia (with OPI scores ranging from Novice Low to Superior), and 60 role-play scenarios administered to native speakers of Russian. The requests generated from the role-plays were analyzed according to a modified taxonomy for directness of request speech acts presented in the (CCSARP) coding manual, adapted to accommodate Russian language data.

The analysis of the data reveals a predominant use of speaker-oriented strategies by NNS pre-program participants, differing from both the NS group and the NNS post-program group; NS norms favored constructions omitting reference to either hearer or speaker. Differences in NS and NNS request performances also appeared in the frequency by which requests were modified through the use of the negative particle ne and/or the conditional particle by; as well as in the frequency of the use of pozhalujsta [please] among NS and NNS groups. The analysis of sub-groups within the data suggests that while in general high proficiency levels correspond to more native-like performances, program experience, even without high proficiency levels, also encourages more native-like performances in formulating requests.

The presenter will illustrate NNS performances on requests in terms of proficiency levels and study-abroad experience compared against the performances of native speakers in similar situations; and will make recommendations for teaching pragmatic competence in request scenarios.