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Review of  Learning How to Request in an Instructed Language Learning Context


Reviewer: J. Cesar Felix-Brasdefer
Book Title: Learning How to Request in an Instructed Language Learning Context
Book Author: Eva Alcón Soler
Publisher: Peter Lang AG
Linguistic Field(s): Applied Linguistics
Pragmatics
Language Acquisition
Book Announcement: 20.1942

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EDITOR: Alcón-Soler, Eva
TITLE: Learning how to request in an instructed language learning context
SERIES TITLE: Linguistic Insights. Studies in Language and Communication. Vol. 68
PUBLISHER: Peter Lang AG
YEAR: 2008

Cesar Felix-Brasdefer, Indiana University-Bloomington

SUMMARY
This book is an edited collection of 10 articles in interlanguage pragmatics
(ILP) research that examine theoretical, empirical, and methodological aspects
of the speech act of request in instructed language learning contexts. The
chapters are well organized and each includes a list of references. In the
introduction to this volume, the Editor, Eva Alcón-Soler, describes the scope of
the volume as focusing on ''investigating the processes involved in learning how
(...) [learners of English] make requests in a foreign language [FL] context''
(p. 9). Chapters 1 and 2 provide the theoretical framework with regard to
general concepts in ILP research and offer a definition and structure of the
speech act of request. Chapters 3-5 provide input sources for pragmatic
learning, chapter 6 compares the use of internal and external modification in
requests between native and non-native speakers of English, chapter 7
contributes to the methodological debate in the field by comparing data from
role plays and Discourse Completion Tasks (DCTs), chapter 8 analyzes the
concepts of grammatical and pragmatic competence across proficiency levels, and
the last two chapters examine the role of pragmatic instruction in EFL contexts.

In the opening paper Eva Alcón-Soler reviews research in different areas of ILP
and presents an overview of the theoretical framework adopted in the volume,
namely, a sociopragmatic perspective combined with a cognitive theoretical
approach to examine requests among EFL learners. The concept of pragmatic
competence, encompassing pragmalinguistic knowledge and sociopragmatic
knowledge, is examined within different models of communicative competence
(e.g., Bachman, 1990; Canale & Swain, 1980). Topics reviewed in this chapter
include learners' level of proficiency in the target language, learners'
exposure to input and opportunities to perform requests as output, and
instruction of pragmatics.

In the second paper Safont- Jordà provides an overview of the speech act of
requests and identifies areas of research in a FL context. This chapter is
divided into four sections: Based on classic research in interlanguage and
cross-cultural pragmatics, the chapter offers a working definition of and
describes the structure of requests, namely, the head act and peripheral
modifications. Second, it reviews the traditional literature of studies dealing
with request head acts from the late 1970s to 2003. In this section the author
reviews the classifications of the pragmalinguistic resources often used to
describe a request. The third section examines previous research with regard to
the modification devices, internal and external, that often accompany a request
(pragmalinguistic level), and offers an adaptation of Sifianou's taxonomy (1999)
of internal and external request modifiers. Finally, following previous research
in cross-cultural pragmatics from the early 1980's to 2005, the author reviews
the literature of request modifiers, including some developmental studies.

In the third paper Usó-Juan analyzes the role of pragmatic input in English
language teaching (ELT) textbooks, and examines the treatment of requests (head
act and internal/external modification) in eight textbooks, five old (1977-1988)
and three recent from 2000-2006. The theoretical framework offers a
comprehensive review of research that examines the role of pragmatic input in
the classroom and reviews different aspects of pragmatic and discourse features
in ELT textbooks, as well as the methodology employed in each. The evaluation
shows that both older and more recent books displayed a preference for
conventionally indirect realizations and for internal request modifiers, and a
low preference for hints. The chapter ends with a general discussion of the
findings and pedagogical recommendations.

Using corpus linguistics as the main analytical framework, the fourth paper by
Campoy-Cubillo examines how various corpus resources can be employed to teach
requests in the classroom. This section describes the scope of corpus research
and describes five criteria regarding the compilation of spoken corpora. It
explains how various resources can be exploited using computerized texts from
native and nonnative speakers and highlights the issue of multimodality, namely,
displaying data in several search modes. The next section discusses how spoken
corpora can be used for research purposes in pragmatics research, mainly, the
realization of requests including the analysis of prosodic features of speech
acts in the corpus. The issue of pragmatic annotation in corpus research is also
discussed.

In the fifth paper, Fernández-Guerra compares similarities and differences
observed in request head acts and their peripheral modification found in
episodes of four television shows and in three transcripts extracted from the
_Michigan Corpus of Academic Spoken English_ (MICASE). After an introduction
that addresses the issue of validity of film for research and teaching, the
study describes research-based benefits of films and TV programs. The results of
the comparison show more similarities than divergences between TV series and
naturally-occurring data with regard to the type of request head act and
peripheral modification.

In the sixth paper, Vilar-Beltrán compares mitigation realized through internal
and external modification devices in requests produced by 12 NSs of English
(from Northern Ireland) and 12 advanced nonnative speakers of English at a
University in London. The role-play data were analyzed independently for
internal and external modifiers. The overall results based on frequency counts
showed that NSs utilized more internal modification devices and NNs employed
more external modifiers.

The seventh paper in this volume addresses issues of validity in speech act
research and compares the production of internal and external modification
elements among 14 EFL students (at Universitat Jaume I, Spain) who produced
requests using two instruments: DCTs and open role plays. After an overview on
ILP research, this paper is organized in five sections: a description of a
taxonomy used to examine internal and external mitigators, a general discussion
of the methodological debate on role plays and DCTs, a general description of
the method, a brief section of results, and the conclusions of the study. The
results were as follows: DCTs elicited a wider use of mitigation devices (both
internal and eternal) than role plays; role plays provided a higher use of
internal mitigators.

Using a DCT instrument, in the eight paper Martí-Arnándiz analyzed the
relationship between grammatical and pragmatic competence as realized in the
production of request modification by three groups of EFL learners. In the
theoretical framework, requests are briefly reviewed from different
perspectives: interlanguage and cross-cultural pragmatics, study abroad
research, and developmental pragmatics. Results of the study showed that the
advanced group outperformed the lower proficiency groups in the use of internal
modifiers and in the number of certain types of external modifiers (e.g.,
disarmers and promise of reward). Similarly, advanced learners produced a higher
number of internal and external modifiers as well as request strategies. The
study ends with a general discussion on the grammatical and pragmatic competence
debate.

In the ninth paper, Martínez-Flor examines the effectiveness of an
inductive-deductive teaching approach on the use of internal and external
request modifiers among 38 university-level EFL learners (elementary level). In
accordance with the existing literature on the effects of instruction of
pragmatics (Kasper & Rose, 2002; Rose, 2005), the study used a pretest/posttest
design to examine the effects of inductive-explicit instruction and the data
were collected using role plays. The treatment consisted of three sessions: i.
raising learners' awareness of pragmalinguistic request modifiers; ii. raising
learners' awareness of sociopragmatic factors related to the appropriateness of
requests; and iii) communicative practice. Overall results showed the
effectiveness of the inductive-deductive teaching approach on the posttest data
(four weeks after treatment) which included a higher frequency and a wider
variety of both internal and external modifiers.

In the final paper, Codina-Espurz examines the effects of immediate and delayed
instruction on the use of request mitigators as produced by two groups of EFL
learners in Spain. Three groups participated in the study, two experimental
(elementary and upper intermediate) and one control (lower intermediate) and the
data were collected through DCTs after the treatment (explicit instruction of
mitigators and video episode). While instruction did not have a significant
effect on the production of the elementary group, the effects of instruction
were evident in the more advanced group that outperformed the control group on
both immediate and delayed measures.

EVALUATION
In both the cross-cultural and ILP literature the speech act of requests has
received considerable attention. However, Alcón-Soler's edited volume examines
different aspects of this speech act in instructed language learning contexts,
in particular EFL contexts. In addition, this book contributes to the on-going
methodological debate in the field (role play vs. DCT data) (Salazar-Campillo),
examines various sources of pragmatic input in the classroom taken from TV
series (Fernández-Guerra), speech act corpora (Campoy-Cubillo), English language
teaching textbooks (Usó-Juan), as well as the effectiveness of pragmatic
instruction in the FL classroom (Martínez-Flor; Codina-Espurz). In particular,
Campoy-Cubillo's article is an informative paper that provides the reader with
an overview of the notion of corpus research and its pedagogical advantages in
the classroom.

It should be noted that in this volume the production of only one speech act,
that of requests, is analyzed. The data are largely analyzed using quantitative
methods with particular attention given to the pragmalinguistic resources used
to express a request (head act), and its peripheral elements (internal and
external). However, little information on situational and individual learner
variation is provided. Since most of the empirical chapters rely on quantitative
data analysis, in a few chapters the frequencies displayed on the tables seem
rather low (i.e., number of occurrences), and as a result, the conclusions
should be interpreted tentatively. Furthermore, in some chapters it would have
been helpful for the individual authors to elaborate on the issue of validity of
different data sources and instruments used to collect the data (role plays and
DCTs) and to explain their findings in light of the current methodological
debate (Cohen, 2004; Dörnyei, 2007; Roever, 2004).

Overall, this edited volume is a welcome addition to interlanguage pragmatics
research and a practical reference for teacher educators who address issues of
pragmatic instruction in the EFL classroom. In particular, researchers and
graduate students interested in the instructional component of pragmatics in FL
contexts would find this volume valuable.

REFERENCES
Bachman, Lyle. F. (1990). _Fundamental considerations in language testing_.
Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

Canale, Michael, and Swain, Merrill. (1980). Theoretical bases of communicative
approaches to second language teaching and testing. _Applied Linguistics_ 1, 1-47.

Cohen, Andrew. D. (2004). Assessing speech acts in a second language. In
_Studying speaking to inform second language learning_, D. Boxer & A, D. Cohen
(eds.), 302-. Clevedon, UK: Multilingual Matters.

Dörnyei, Zoltan. (2007). _Research methods in Applied Linguistics_. Oxford:
Oxford University Press.

Kasper, Gabriele., and Rose, Kenneth. (2002). _Pragmatic development in a second
language_. [Language Learning Monograph Series]. Malden, MA: Blackwell.

Hudson, Thom. (2001). Indicators for pragmatic instruction: Some quantitative
tools. In _Language teaching_, K. R. Rose & G. Kasper (eds.), 283-300.
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Roever, Carston. (2004). Difficulty and practicality in tests of interlanguage
pragmatics. In _Studying speaking to inform second language learning_, D. Boxer
& A. D. Cohen (eds.), 283-301. Clevedon, UK: Multilingual Matters.

Rose, Kenneth. (2005). On the effects of instruction in second language
pragmatics. _System_, 33(3), 385-399.

Sifianou, Maria. (1999). _Politeness phenomena in England and Greece. A
cross-cultural perspective_. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Cesar Felix-Brasdefer is Assistant Professor of Spanish and Linguistics in the
Department of Spanish and Portuguese at Indiana University, and an adjunct
faculty member of the Department of Second Language Studies. He teaches courses
in Spanish and Linguistics and conducts research in the areas of discourse
analysis and interlanguage pragmatics, politeness, speech act theory, and
pragmatic variation. His publications have appeared in various journals such as
_Journal of Pragmatics_, _Intercultural Pragmatics_, _Journal of Politeness
Research_, _Language Learning_, _Hispania_, _Spanish in Context_, and
_Multilingua_. His recent book, _Politeness in Mexico and the United States_
(2008), was published by John Benjamins, and he co-edited a volume for the
_Pragmatics and Language Learning_ series (2006).
 

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