L2 Pragmatic Development in Study Abroad Contexts

by Wei Ren (Author)
©2015 Thesis X, 256 Pages
Series: Linguistic Insights, Volume 186


Pragmatic competence plays a key role in intercultural communication, particularly for students studying in a target community. This book investigates the effect of study abroad on second language learners’ productive and receptive pragmatic competences, as well as their cognitive processes during speech act production. It employs a variety of research instruments, both quantitative and qualitative, to explore learners’ pragmatic development over one year. The inclusion of a control group is a methodological strength of the longitudinal study, many such studies often not including a control group. In addition, the study longitudinally examines learners’ cognitive processes during study abroad with innovative and insightful analyses. The book makes an important contribution to second language pragmatics with regard to developmental changes in both speech act production and perception during such processes.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Acknowledgements
  • List of abbreviations and acronyms
  • 1 Introduction
  • 1.1 Current situation in L2 pragmatics
  • 1.2 This study
  • 2 Theoretical framework
  • 2.1 Pragmatics
  • 2.2 Speech acts
  • 2.3 Communicative competence and pragmatic competence
  • 2.4 Second Language Pragmatics
  • 2.5 Acquisitional theories in L2 pragmatics
  • 2.6 The native-speaker norm
  • 2.7 Concluding remarks
  • 3 Empirical studies of L2 pragmatic development
  • 3.1 Development of L2 productive pragmatic competence
  • 3.2 Development of L2 receptive pragmatic competence
  • 3.3 Learners’ cognitive process in L2 pragmatics research
  • 3.4 Concluding remarks
  • 4 Methodology of the study
  • 4.1 Participants
  • 4.2 Data collection methods and construction of the instrument
  • 4.3 Data collection procedure
  • 4.4 Ethical issues
  • 4.5 Data analysis
  • 4.6 Concluding remarks
  • 5 Development of pragmatic production
  • 5.1 Frequency of opt-out
  • 5.2 Range of pragmatic strategy types
  • 5.3 Frequency of pragmatic strategies
  • 5.4 Employment of individual pragmatic strategy
  • 5.5 Concluding remarks
  • 6 Development of pragmatic perception
  • 6.1 Participants’ overall rating
  • 6.2 Participants’ ratings across each scenario
  • 6.3 SA students’ noticing of overall pragmatic infelicity
  • 6.4 SA students’ noticing across each scenario
  • 6.5 Concluding remarks
  • 7 Cognitive processes during study abroad
  • 7.1 Situation features noticed or focused on by participants
  • 7.2 Factors affecting refusal productions
  • 7.3 Preference for directness or indirectness
  • 7.4 Language of thought
  • 7.5 Concluding remarks
  • 8 Conclusion
  • 8.1 Summary of findings
  • 8.2 Implications of the present study
  • 8.3 Limitations of the study
  • 8.4 Suggestions for future research
  • References
  • Appendix A. Scenarios of the MET
  • Appendix B. Scenarios of the AJT
  • Author index
  • Subject index
  • Series index


A long-term project like this would not have been possible to complete without help and support from a large number of people to whom I would like to express my most sincere gratitude. An earlier version of this manuscript was submitted as a Ph.D. thesis at the University of Bristol. I am very grateful to my Ph.D. supervisor, Helen Woodfield, for her support, encouragement, guidance and advice. I would like to thank Jianda Liu, my cooperative supervisor of postdoc research at the National Key Research Centre for Linguistics and Applied Linguistics, Guangdong University of Foreign Studies, and Gong Peng, dean of the Department of Foreign Languages at the University of Chinese Academy of Sciences, for allowing me time to focus on writing this book. I would also like to extend my gratitude to Jean-Marc Dewaele, Frances Gimpapa, Jo-Anne Baird, Naoko Taguchi, Chih-Ying Lin, Shan Liang, Polly Mercer, and Shawanda Stockfelt for their valuable advice and help. I also appreciate comments from the audiences in EUROSLA 20, AAAL 2011, and AILA 16 where I presented some findings of the project at various stages, including but not restricted to Kathleen Bardovi-Harlig, Andrew Cohen, César Félix-Brasdefer, Yuan-shan Chen, and Zohreh Eslami. I am also very grateful to all the students who agreed to participate in the data collection for this study. Last but not least, my deepest gratitude goes to my family for their understanding and support.

This research was supported in part by the President Fund of UCAS (Y2510FY00). Parts of this book have been published and I would like to thank the following publishing houses for allowing me to reprint material that has been revised and modified for the present book:

Thank you to Oxford University Press for: Wei Ren. 2014. A Longitudinal investigation into L2 learners’ cognitive processes during study abroad. Applied Linguistics. 35(5), 575–594. Thank you to International Pragmatics Association for: Wei Ren. 2013. The effect of the study abroad on the pragmatic development in internal modification ← vii | viii → of refusals. Pragmatics. 23(4), 715–741. Thank you to John Benjamins for: Wei Ren. 2012. Pragmatic Development in Chinese Speakers’ L2 English Refusals. In: Roberts, Leah, Lindqvist, Christina, Bardel, Camilla, Abrahamsson, Niklas (Eds.), EUROSLA Yearbook (vol. 12). Amsterdam: John Benjamins, pp. 63–87. ← viii | ix →

List of abbreviations and acronyms

AH At home
ANOVA Analysis of variance
CCSARP Cross-Cultural Speech Acts Research Project
CVR Concurrent verbal report
DCT Discourse Completion Task
EFL English as a foreign language
ESL English as a second language
IELTS International English language testing system
IL Interlanguage
ILP Interlanguage pragmatics
L1 First language
L2 Second language
LOR  Length of residence
MCQ Multiple-choice questionnaire
MET Multimedia Elicitation Task
P Power
+P Unequal power
-P  Equal power
RVR Retrospective verbal report
SA Study abroad
SD Standard Deviation
SLA Second language acquisition
TEM8 Test for English majors, Band 8
TL Target language
TOEFL Test of English as a foreign language ← ix | x →

← x | 1 →

1 Introduction

Pragmatics, defined by Crystal as “the study of language from the point of view of users, especially of the choices they make, the constraints they encounter in using language in social interaction and the effects their use of language has on other participants in the act of communication” (Crystal, 1997: 301), has become an important field in linguistics since the publication of two seminal works: Leech’s (1983) Principle of Pragmatics and Levinson’s (1983) Pragmatics. It is the study of “speaker and hearer meaning created in their joint actions” (LoCastro, 2003: 15), which mainly deals with areas such as deixis, conversational implicature, presupposition, speech acts, and conversational structure (Bardovi-Harlig, 2005; Levinson, 1983).

In second language acquisition (SLA), pragmatics is on a par with phonology, morphology and syntax in that inquiry focuses on learners’ knowledge, use and acquisition of second language (L2) pragmatics (Kasper & Rose, 1999). Analogous to other areas of SLA, the study of L2 pragmatics, also referred to as interlanguage pragmatics (hereafter ILP), is another subfield of SLA, focusing mainly on the investigation of speech acts (Kasper & Dahl, 1991), which are minimal units of discourse representing how things are done through words (Austin, 1962; Searle, 1969, 1979), and to a lesser extent, conversational structure and conversational implicature (Alcón Soler & Martinez Flor, 2008; Bardovi-Harlig, 2005).

Pragmatic competence, defined as “the ability to use language effectively in order to achieve a specific purpose and to understand language in context” (J. Thomas, 1983: 92), is a critical component of the process of acquiring an L2. It consists of both productive and receptive competences, such as “knowledge of the linguistic resources available in a given language for realizing particular illocutions, knowledge of the sequential aspects of speech acts and finally, knowledge of the appropriate contextual use of the particular language’s linguistic resources” (Barron, 2003: 10). In addition to linguistic aspects of a ← 1 | 2 → language (i.e. phonology, vocabulary and syntax), learners must also develop their pragmatic competence if they are to communicate effectively. Therefore, studies on L2 pragmatics are integral in pragmatics and SLA research.

Study abroad, in which learners study the L2 in the target culture, is widely perceived as an ideal context in which to develop language competence because living in the L2 culture appears to provide the most direct access possible to large amounts of input and interaction with native speakers. There are multiple manners in which learners can complete a study abroad experience that include a variety of goals. Some learners may participate in short-term stays, whereas many others engage in ‘year-abroad’ programs or even choose to further their studies in another country. The present study focuses on study abroad learners who choose to pursue their master’s degrees in an institution of higher learning in the target community.

The study is situated in the field of L2 pragmatics. I will therefore briefly introduce the current situation in L2 pragmatics research before I describe the rationale and research questions in the present study.

1.1 Current situation in L2 pragmatics

Second language (L2) pragmatics research to date has focused more on learners’ pragmatic use, rather than learners’ pragmatic development, although recent studies (e.g., Barron, 2003; Félix-Brasdefer, 2007; Ren, 2013; Schauer, 2009; Taguchi, 2012; Woodfield, 2012a) are beginning to restore the balance, following Kasper and Schmidt’s (1996) seminal paper. That is, although a body of research has established how learners use an L2 (e.g., Bergman & Kasper, 1993; Economidou-Kogetsidis, 2010; Gass & Houck, 1999; Woodfield, 2008; to name a few), less is known about how learners’ L2 pragmatic competence is acquired. This leads to a rather peripheral position of L2 pragmatics research in the field of SLA. To understand the acquisition of L2 pragmatics, more studies on how learners acquire L2 pragmatics and how their L2 pragmatic competence develops are needed (Bardovi-Harlig, 1999, 2013). ← 2 | 3 →

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; Ren, 2013; Schauer, 2009; Taguchi, 2012; Woodfield, 2012a) have traced the development of learners’ L2 pragmatic competence employing longitudinal data. Most acquisitional L2 pragmatics studies have investigated the development of learners’ L2 pragmatic competence cross-sectionally, focusing on either the effect of L2 proficiency (e.g., Chang, 2009, 2010; Félix-Brasdefer, 2007; Göy, Zeyrek, & Otcu, 2012; Hill, 1997; Kobayashi & Rinnert, 2003; Otcu & Zeyrek, 2008; Rose, 2000, 2009; Trosborg, 1987, 1995) or the length of residence (LOR) in the L2 community (e.g., Blum-Kulka & Olshtain, 1986; Cheng, 2005; Félix-Brasdefer, 2004; Han, 2005; T. Takahashi & Beebe, 1987). The limited number of longitudinal studies in L2 pragmatics literature reveals an important area of research yet to be undertaken, not only in quantity but particularly as regards investigating a wider range of speech acts. In particular, with the exception of Bardovi-Harlig and Hartford (1993, 1996), Barron (2003) and Ren (2012, 2013), no longitudinal research in L2 pragmatics focusing on refusals has to my knowledge been carried out.

Despite the consensus in L2 pragmatics literature that pragmatic competence involves both productive and receptive competence, few studies in L2 pragmatics research have investigated the two aspects of the same participants (see Bardovi-Harlig, 2009; Bardovi-Harlig & Bastos, 2011; Schauer, 2009; Taguchi, 2012; for exceptions). Because most previous studies have operationalized pragmatic competence as one or the other, studies that have incorporated both constructs in instruments are still scarce. Most L2 pragmatics research focuses on learners’ productive pragmatic competence (e.g., Alcón Soler & Martinez Flor, 2008; Bardovi-Harlig & Hartford, 2005b; Blum-Kulka, House, & Kasper, 1989; Boxer & Cohen, 2004; Gass & Neu, 1996; Putz & Aertselaer, 2008; Rose & Kasper, 2001), while only some studies investigate learners’ receptive pragmatic competence (e.g., Bardovi-Harlig & Dörnyei, 1998; Bouton, 1994; Garcia, 2004; Koike, 1996; Taguchi, 2008a, 2011). More studies focusing on both aspects of pragmatic competence are warranted to better understand the acquisition of L2 pragmatic competence (Taguchi, 2010). ← 3 | 4 →


X, 256
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2015 (May)
L2 Pragmatics Second Language Pragmatics Speech acts
Bern, Frankfurt am Main, Berlin, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Wien, 2015. VIII, 256 pp., 8 ill., 45 tables

Biographical notes

Wei Ren (Author)

Wei Ren is Professor of Applied Linguistics and a Yunshan Young Scholar at the National Key Research Center for Linguistics and Applied Linguistics at Guangdong University of Foreign Studies, China. His research interests include Cross-Cultural and Interlanguage Pragmatics,Pragmatic variation, and English as a Lingua Franca Communication.


Title: L2 Pragmatic Development in Study Abroad Contexts