Interlanguage pragmatics research has contributed a great deal to our
understanding of L2 pragmatic use but less to our understanding of L2
pragmatic development, although developmental issues are also its primary
research goal. Additionally, previous studies have been confined to a
rather small set of speech acts, under-researching such face-damaging acts
as criticizing and responding to criticism even though these may be more
challenging for L2 learners.
The study reported in this book examines pragmatic development in the use
of criticizing and responding to criticism by a group of Vietnamese EFL
learners with a view to shedding light on the pragmatic properties of these
speech acts. IL data were collected from 12 high beginners, 12 intermediate
learners, and 12 advanced learners, via a written questionnaire and a
conversation elicitation task, and analyzed with reference to L1 and L2
baseline data collected from 12 Vietnamese and 12 Australian NSs via the
same methods. Metapragmatic data were collected via retrospective interview.
The following findings have been discussed in the book:
1. Criticizing and responding to criticism are complex speech acts, which
should be described as speech act sets rather than single speech acts and
which need to be frequently mitigated in order to maintain harmony between
interlocutors. The complexity of these speech acts poses a lot of
difficulty to learners, including those with a high level of grammatical
2. While adult learners enjoy a fair amount of universal pragmatic
knowledge for free (Kasper, 1992), learning new pragmatic knowledge is
still a major task for them when acquiring L2 pragmatics. So is the task of
developing a control over attention to this knowledge.
3. Learning environments may play a more important role than we would have
expected. EFL learning environments do not seem to facilitate L2 pragmatic
development, especially in the case of challenging tasks such as
criticizing and responding to criticism, given the learners’ little
exposure to the target norms. Classroom discourse, which is biased towards
unequal social role relationships (Ellis, 1992; Kasper, 1997), tends to
contribute to making the task of learning L2 pragmatics almost impossible
in the EFL context.
4. The acquisitional order of modifiers seems to depend on their structural
complexity and the degree of cognitive demand involved in producing them as
claimed by Meisel et al (1981). Learners seem to attend to external
modifiers more than to internal modifiers as the latter contribute only
minimal propositional meaning to the speech acts. They also seem to have
less difficulty with external modifiers as these are often realized in
separate constituents, not as an integral part of the speech acts, and thus
do not increase the structural complexity of the speech acts (Hassal, 2001).
5. The relationship between proficiency and transfer may not be a linear
one. Also, as hypothesized by Kellerman (1983), learners play an active
role in transferring: they do have their own perceptions of what is
transferable and what is non-transferable and act accordingly.