LINGUIST List 19.2773|
Thu Sep 11 2008
Review: Language Acquisition: Pütz & Neff-van Aertselaer (2008)
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Developing Contrastive Pragmatics
Message 1: Developing Contrastive Pragmatics
From: Laura Callahan <Lcallahanccny.cuny.edu>
Subject: Developing Contrastive Pragmatics
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EDITORS: Pütz, Martin; Neff-van Aertselaer, JoAnne
TITLE: Developing Contrastive Pragmatics
SUBTITLE: Interlanguage and Cross-Cultural Perspectives
SERIES: Studies on Language Acquisition 31
PUBLISHER: Mouton de Gruyter
Laura Callahan, The City College of the City University of New York
This volume contains fifteen papers divided into three sections, with an
introduction and index. The contributions were selected from papers given at the
31st International LAUD Symposium: Intercultural Pragmatics: Linguistic, Social,
and Cognitive Approaches, held in March of 2006 at the University of
Koblenz-Landau, in Landau, Germany. (The acronym LAUD stands for Linguistic
Agency University of Duisburg, from one of the earlier iterations of the
conference, held in Duisberg, Germany). As the book's title suggests, its focus
is on the acquisition of and instruction in pragmatic competence in a second
Martin Pütz and JoAnne Neff-van Aertselaer. Introduction: Developing contrastive
pragmatics. Pütz and Neff-van Aertselaer define pragmatics, and highlight the
importance of studies of contrastive pragmatics, which represent a move away
from ''monolingual and monocultural research paradigms'' (p. ix). The editors
provide a brief summary of each paper. The Introduction concludes with
suggestions for areas of additional research, such as, for example, conceptual
differences between a language learner's first and second language (Danesi
1995), cultural identity of language learners (Pavlenko 1999), and relativity in
speech community norms (Kramsch 2004).
Section 1: Intercultural Pragmatics and Discourse Markers
Anna Wierzbicka. A conceptual basis for intercultural pragmatics and world-wide
understanding. Using examples from a wide range of text types, Wierzbicka
demonstrates both the institutionalization of certain Anglocentric cultural
concepts and the inaccuracy of assumptions that such concepts are universal. As
evidence of such assumptions, she cites Brown and Levinson (1987) and the
Gricean maxims. However, she does not believe that there can be no universals
within a particular culture, and she defends herself against charges of
essentialism with multiple examples supporting the existence of shared cultural
understandings. Wierzbicka proposes the use of a ''Natural Semantic Metalanguage''
(NSM), ''a formal language based on empirically established semantic primes'' (p.
13), which can be translated into any natural language. The NSM consists of 63
elements, which can be used to explain in a neutral fashion the meaning of a
culturally specific term such as, for example, privacy. The resulting cultural
scripts could be used to enhance the understanding of all parties in an
intercultural interaction. Although this paper focuses on Anglocentric cultural
concepts, the ''NSM'' could be used to elucidate concepts specific to any culture
not only for outsiders but also for members of that culture.
Sabine De Knop. Sociocultural conceptualizations: Schemas and metaphorical
transfer as metalinguistic learning strategies for French learners of German. De
Knop presents the differences in how various categories are encoded in French
and German verbs: manner and path of motion, manner of location and change of
location, and location and physical motion marked as dative or accusative. In
all instances French is more general in its expression of these concepts, which
is reflected in the production of French L1 learners of German, who tend to use
non-idiomatic if not ungrammatical constructions. De Knop advocates calling
learners' attention to the differences using comparisons between the two
languages, as well as visualized schemas to teach dative versus accusative
marking for location and actual and abstract motion.
Svetlana Kurtes. An investigation into the pragmatics of grammar: Cultural
scripts in contrast. Kurtes begins with an overview of reflexivity and
middleness in Serbo-Croat and English. She applies cultural script theory to the
prominence of an impersonal grammatical structure in Serbian public discourse,
assigning it the pragmatic function of offering the speaker self-protection and
self-promotion. She advocates the use of cultural scripts in the foreign
language classroom, giving concrete suggestions as to how this might be done, in
particular with advanced level students.
JoAnne Neff-van Aertselaer and Emma Dafouz-Milne. Argumentation patterns in
different languages: An analysis of metadiscourse markers in English and Spanish
texts. Neff-van Aertselaer and Dafouz-Milne present the results of a comparison
of various types of textual and interpersonal discourse markers in four corpora:
novice native speaker writers of English, novice Spanish L1 writers of English
as a Foreign Language, expert native speaker writers of English, and expert
native speaker writers of Spanish. They find differences between both types of
novice writers and expert native speaker writers of English, and between English
and Spanish rhetorical preferences. The authors conclude that ''explicit exposure
and teaching of metadiscourse categories'' are required for learners to acquire
''reader-based discourse (Flower 1984) where socio-pragmatic decisions such as
the possible reactions of the expected audience or the amount of background
knowledge needed are taken into account'' (p. 99).
Augustin Simo Bobda. The management of global cultural diversity in ELT
materials. Simo Bobda examines the representation of cultural diversity in
English language textbooks, finding that Western topics and cultural references
dominate, after which Asian cultures are the next most well-represented. African
themes and cultural features predominate only in ''textbooks designed for use
specifically in Africa'' (p.121). The fact that such textbooks exist is
encouraging, but fully localized materials can present another problem: learners
are not exposed to different cultural contexts, and hence are unaware of the
significance that words with which they are familiar may have elsewhere. As the
author illustrates with several examples, this can give rise to negative
consequences when the learner has occasion to interact with members of another
culture. Simo Bobda advocates that language materials be paired with cultural
guidelines, which should include reference to non-verbal forms of communication.
Section 2: Interlanguage Pragmatics: Strategies and Identity in the Foreign
Doris Dippold. Reframing one's experience: Face, identity and roles in L2
argumentative discourse. Using the concepts of face, frames, and identity,
Dippold shows that ''the goals learners pursue may be quite different from those
a researcher might want them to pursue'' (p. 147). Dippold had lower
intermediate, upper intermediate, and advanced students of German engage in
role-plays with partners of the same level to elicit facework strategies. She
conducted post-task interviews with the learners, from which it emerged that the
discussion frames ceded to a language task frame, in which ''learners act mainly
in their role as language learners and try to hold up a positive self-image
which could be defined as good L2 speaker'' (p. 147). This is seen, for example,
in learners' avoidance of developing an argument when they lack the linguistic
devices to do so, opting instead to begin a new topic, a strategy that permits
them to maintain lexical accuracy and fluency.
Constance Ellwood. Indirect complaint in the language classroom: Cross-cultural
contrasts between French and Japanese students of English. Ellwood used
interviews, observations, and audiotapes of peer interactions to analyze the
indirect complaints of students from France and Japan in an English language
classroom in Australia. She notes a continuum of directness, manifested in
grammatical forms (e.g. first vs. third person pronoun, could vs. should), and
in the use of the complainer's L1 (which the teacher does not understand) vs.
English. Neither group verbalized direct complaints to the teacher. The French
students produced more indirect complaints, making use of ironic humor, and in
one case non-verbal behavior. The Japanese students' complaints were even more
indirect, tending to focus on the student's own responsibility for the state of
affairs about which the complaint was raised.
Elin Fredsted. ''We make such a mishmash'': Bilingual language usage in classroom
peer group talk. Fredsted studies codeswitching and convergence in the speech of
young teens in German minority schools in Denmark and Danish minority schools in
Germany. Both school systems' language policies stipulate that students have
native-like competence in standard varieties of both German and Danish. The
author finds that codeswitching is officially disfavored in both systems, but
more so in the Danish minority schools. These young people use contact varieties
as a form of resistance to ''challenge the expected language norms [by]
developing an inter-cultural and bilingual group identity according to which
they regard their own inter-culturality as [...] something special which
characterises their personal identities'' (p. 204).
Manuela Wagner and Eduardo Urios-Aparisi. Pragmatics of humor in the foreign
language classroom: Learning (with) humor. Wagner and Urios-Aparisi present some
definitions of humor, and then move on to a discussion of its primary social
functions: ''social management, decommitment, mediation, and defunctionalization
(see Attardo 1994, based on Long and Graesser 1988)'' (p. 212). Data for this
paper come from videotaped sessions of university level German and Spanish
classes. The authors find instances of humor fulfilling various functions in the
language classroom, including the presentation of cultural and pragmatic
information, and the introduction of information that could cause conflict.
Wagner and Urios-Aparisi conclude that humor plays an important role in the
language classroom, and note that the instructors in their sample ''seem to
consider humor a pedagogical tool as well as a content area'' (p. 226).
Section 3: Development of Pragmatic Competence in Foreign Language Learning:
Focus on Requests
Helen Woodfield. Interlanguage requests: A contrastive study. Woodfield compares
the request production of German and Japanese ESL graduate students with British
English native speaker graduate students. Data was generated with written
discourse completion tasks. Three dimensions were analyzed: ''directness levels
of speech act strategy, (ii) internal modification of the head act and (iii)
request perspective'' (p. 232). Woodfield's findings indicate that advanced
proficiency does not guarantee that second language users will experience no
difficulties in the use of requests. Citing Kasper (1997: 9), the author
advocates the use of activities designed to raise learners' awareness with
respect to ''linguistic forms, pragmatic functions, their occurrence in different
social contexts and their cultural meanings'' (p. 257).
Bahar Otcu and Deniz Zeyrek. Development of requests: A study on Turkish
learners of English. Otcu and Zeyrek had four groups engage in discourse
completion tasks via role plays: low and high proficiency Turkish learners of
English, English native speakers, and Turkish native speakers. The authors found
that English learners with a lower proficiency level used formulaic utterances,
lacking the ability to create with the language. The more advanced learners were
able to do more with the L2, but this did not guarantee control of pragmatic
constructions. Otcu and Zeyrek conclude that the more proficient ESL speakers
use their increased linguistic resources to transfer constructions from Turkish
when speaking English.
Zohreh R. Eslami and Aazam Noora. Perceived pragmatic transferability of L1
request strategies by Persian learners of English. Eslami and Noora cite several
studies in which it has been shown that language learners translate
constructions from their first language, resulting in pragmatic failure. For
example, a simple statement expressing a desire for some object or action may be
polite in the learner's native language, such as Japanese or Persian, due to the
presence of honorific morphology. But, absent this grammatical feature in a
language that instead uses syntactic modifiers for mitigation, such as English,
the request is perceived as too direct.
Berna Hendriks. Dutch English requests: A study of request performance by Dutch
learners of English. Hendriks used an oral discourse completion task and a
written judgment questionnaire with intermediate and advanced Dutch ESL
students, comparing their responses to a group of English native speakers and a
group of Dutch native speakers. The three groups were very similar in
quantitative use of request modifiers, but the ESL students used a smaller
variety of modifiers. Hendriks recommends that native speaker reception of
non-native speaker request production be studied, to discover which non-native
like usages incite a negative and which a neutral reaction.
Anne Barron. Contrasting requests in Inner Circle Englishes: A study in
variational pragmatics. Barron presents a comparison of requests in Irish
English and English English. Irish English is found to be more indirect in some
aspects, although the differences are more complex than can be described with a
simple dichotomy. The author points out that ''differences due to differing
conventions of language use are all the more difficult to understand as being
language-related when groups are linguistically close [...] [A]n increased
awareness of differences in the conventions of language use has the potential to
decrease potential misunderstandings between cultures sharing a single language
and indeed between socially-based sub-groups within such cultures'' (pp.
386-387). Barron advocates a variational perspective in the classroom, not
because learners must acquire the conventions of all intralingual varieties, but
to make them aware of the existence of conventions different from their own.
Gila A. Schauer. Getting better in getting what you want: Language learners'
pragmatic development in requests during study abroad sojourns. The author
reviews the research on what effect the length of time spent in the L2 culture
and individual learners' differences might have on the development of pragmatic
competence. In her own subjects, German learners of English at a university in
England, length of stay in the target language country seemed to correlate
positively with increased competence in the selection and use of request
strategies. However, Schauer also found, as did other contributors to this
volume, evidence of negative transfer from the native language even in advanced
Developing Contrastive Pragmatics is a well-designed volume. Tables and
transcriptions of dialogue are presented in an uncluttered manner, and notes and
references are conveniently placed at the end of each article. Pütz and Neff-van
Aertselaer's concise Introduction gives just the right amount of information to
contextualize the papers that follow.
The well-motivated selection of articles for each of the three sections makes
for a cohesive collection. All but one of the papers report on empirical
studies, and many contain literature reviews of a compactness appropriate for an
article yet comprehensive enough to be very useful to readers interested in
pursuing research in interlanguage pragmatics. The meticulous descriptions of
methodology will likewise be of great use.
The papers are for the most part highly accessible. Wierzbicka, in particular,
painstakingly builds her case in such a fashion that what at first seems
slightly arcane - the use of an artificially restricted code to explain the
terms used in an expanded code - becomes not only comprehensible but also
plausible to the reader. A few of the papers would be improved by the inclusion
of a brief example at the first mention of certain specialized terms or
acronyms, so that each selection could be read as a stand-alone piece. This
would be less important if the book were to be seen only by those within its
discipline, but it is certain to be of interest to a wider audience, with the
volume being sampled rather than read from cover to cover.
Missing is an About the Contributors section. Brief biographies would be of
interest given that the papers are applicable to more than one discipline and
their authors may have come to the study of contrastive pragmatics via diverse
avenues. Readers, especially those who are at turning points in their own
career, may wish to know something of the writers' experiences and current
situation. This is a very minor point, however, and perhaps the omission was
motivated by the fact that authors' affiliations can change between the
submission and publication of work.
Observations could be made about each and every one of the papers; I will make
only a few here, with the promise that readers will discover other aspects of
Neff-van Aertselaer and Dafouz-Milne note that rhetorical conventions in one
group of language learners' L1, Spanish, may influence their use of written
English. The most salient differences are the shorter sentences of English and
its insistence on a thesis statement at the very beginning of an essay, whereas
Spanish prefers longer sentences and progressive argumentation that culminates
in the thesis. Although this paper focuses on the development of written
academic English, these findings are important for the teaching of written
academic Spanish to native speakers of Spanish in the United States. Instructors
in this discipline have often been trained only in the rhetorical conventions of
English, and may penalize students who use the style of expert writers in their
country of origin.
De Knop speaks of differences in mental conceptualization and differences in the
expressions of conceptualization, with the latter presupposing the former.
Although the author distinguishes the cognitive linguistics approach used in her
paper from the Sapir-Whorf theory of linguistic relativity, it still seems to be
treated as self evident that a different way of describing a movement points to
an actual difference in the speaker's cognition of that movement. If this claim
is in fact being made it would be interesting to see further support, and
intriguing to design an experiment to test it.
De Knop's pedagogical suggestions for highlighting the differences between the
learner's L1 and L2 are very well-taken. Many of the authors offer suggestions
for teaching language students about the pragmatics of the language they are
learning and of the culture(s) with which that language is associated. This
supports what has been advocated by other researchers, that explicit instruction
can raise metapragmatic awareness and influence students' production (see, for
example, Alcon 2005, Bardovi-Harlig and Griffin 2005, Felix-Brasdefer 2008,
Koike and Pearson 2005, LoCastro 1997).
Several of the contributors to the present volume highlight a lack of
correlation between advanced linguistic skills and pragmatic expertise in the L2
culture. This has serious implications, given that interlocutors may be less apt
to pardon the lapses of expert second language users, and pragmatic errors that
are committed out of ignorance may be attributed to arrogance or bad character.
Alcon, Eva. 2005. Does instruction work for learning pragmatics in the EFL
context? _System_. 33-3: 417-435.
Attardo, Salvatore. 1994. _Linguistic Theories of Humor_. Berlin/New York:
Mouton de Gruyter.
Bardovi-Harlig, Kathleen and Griffin, Robert. 2005. L2 pragmatic awareness:
Evidence from the ESL classroom. _System_. 33-3: 401-415.
Brown, Penelope and Levinson, Stephen. 1987. _Politeness: Some Universals in
Language Usage_. Cambridge/New York: Cambridge University Press.
Danesi, Marcel. 1995. Learning and teaching languages: The role of 'conceptual
fluency'. _International Journal of Applied Linguistics_. 5: 3-20.
Felix-Brasdefer, J. Cesar. 2008. Teaching pragmatics in the classroom:
Instruction of mitigation in Spanish as a Foreign Language. _Hispania_. 91-2:
Flower, Linda. 1984. Writer-based prose: A cognitive basis for problems in
writing. In Sandra McKay, ed. _Composing in a Second Language_. New York:
Newbury House. 16-41.
Kasper, Gabriele. 1997. Can pragmatic competence be taught? University of Hawaii
Second Language Teaching and Curriculum Center.
Koike, Dale and Pearson, Lynn. 2005. The effect of instruction and feedback in
the development of pragmatic competence. _System_. 33-3: 481-501.
Kramsch, Claire. 2004. Language, thought and culture. In Alan Davies and
Catherine Elder, eds. _The Handbook of Applied Linguistics_. Oxford: Blackwell.
LoCastro, Virginia. 1997. Pedagogical intervention and pragmatic development.
_Applied Language Learningh. 8: 75-109.
Long, Debra and Graesser, Arthur. 1988. Wit and humor in discourse processing.
_Discourse Processes_. 11: 35-60.
Pavlenko, Aneta. 1999. New approaches to concepts in bilingual memory.
_Bilingualism: Language and Cognition_. 2-3: 209-230.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Laura Callahan is Associate Professor of Hispanic Linguistics at the City
College and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York (CUNY), and
Research Fellow at the Research Institute for the Study of Language in Urban
Society (RISLUS), at the Graduate Center, CUNY. Her research interests include
intercultural communication, language and identity, and heritage language
maintenance. Recent work focuses on language choice in service encounters
between native and non-native speakers of Spanish in three large urban areas of
the United States: New York City, the San Francisco Bay Area, and Los Angeles.
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