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Review of  Context, Individual Differences and Pragmatic Competence

Reviewer: Wei Ren
Book Title: Context, Individual Differences and Pragmatic Competence
Book Author: Naoko Taguchi
Publisher: Multilingual Matters
Linguistic Field(s): Pragmatics
Issue Number: 23.2344

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AUTHOR: Taguchi, Naoko
TITLE: Context, Individual Differences and Pragmatic Competence
SERIES TITLE: Second Language Acquisition
PUBLISHER: Multilingual Matters
YEAR: 2012

Wei Ren, Department of Foreign Languages, Graduate University of Chinese Academy
of Sciences


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; Schauer 2009; Ren 2011) have traced the development of learners’ second
language (L2) pragmatic competence employing longitudinal data. The limited
number of longitudinal studies in interlanguage pragmatics (ILP) literature
reveals an important area of research yet to be undertaken. In addition, despite
the consensus in ILP literature that pragmatic competence involves both
productive and receptive competence, few studies in ILP research have
investigated the two aspects using the same participants. More studies focusing
on the aforementioned aspects are warranted in order to better understand the
acquisition of L2 pragmatic competence. Therefore, this newly released
monograph, ‘Context, Individual Differences and Pragmatic Competence’, by
Taguchi (2012), contributes to the sparse existing literature on interlanguage
pragmatics. The book reports on a longitudinal investigation into the
development of two aspects of pragmatic competence -- pragmatic comprehension
(i.e. the ability to comprehend speakers’ implied meaning) and pragmatic
production (i.e. the ability to produce speech acts appropriately) -- among 48
Japanese students of English in an English-medium university in Japan.

In Chapter 1, after briefly introducing the development and current situation of
ILP research, Taguchi rationalizes the contributions of her book by showing that
it gives us a greater understanding of the following three areas: (1)
development of pragmatic competence; (2) theoretical L2 proficiency models; and
(3) factors affecting pragmatic development. While aiming to reveal patterns and
rates of learners’ pragmatic development, as well as individual and contextual
factors that affect such development, the study intends to answer the following
two research questions (p. 5): (1) What patterns and rates of pragmatic
development can we observe across different pragmatic functions and attributes?;
(2) What types of learning resources and experiences are available in various
contexts and how do these factors shape developmental trajectories of individual
learners?. The context of the study is also described in this chapter, including
information about the emphasis on English in Japan and the research site itself,
which encompasses the English for academic purposes (EAP) program employed at
the target university and students’ opportunities to use English outside of class.

Chapter 2 reviews longitudinal studies available in the present literature of
ILP. Studies investigating learners’ development of the comprehension of
pragmatic meaning (e.g. Bouton 1992, 1994; Taguchi 2007, 2008) are first
reviewed, followed by studies focusing on learners’ development of the
recognition and perception of pragmatic features (e.g. Kinginger and Blattner
2008; Matsumura 2001, 2007; Schauer 2009) and studies on learners’ development
of pragmatic productions (e.g. Bardovi-Harlig and Hartford 1993; Barron 2003;
Hassall 2006; Warga and Scholmberger 2007). Based on a summary of the findings
available in current ILP literature, Taguchi presents issues critical to the
future investigation of pragmatic development such as study duration (in
longitudinal designs), frequency of data points and data collection methods, the
relation between grammar and pragmatics, and the need to expand the construct of
pragmatic competence beyond speech acts. Following recent second language
acquisition (SLA) theories focusing on the dynamicity and complexity of the L2
acquisition process in a social context (e.g. Dynamic System Theory (De Bot
2008), Chaos/Complexity Theory (Larsen-Freeman and Cameron 2008) and the
Emergentism Approach (Ellis and Larsen-Freeman 2006)), Taguchi illustrates that
this new perspective can also inform longitudinal investigations of L2 pragmatic

Chapter 3 first presents the theoretical framework that guides the present
study, based on a synthesis of existing models of communicative competence
(Bachman and Palmer 1996; Bialystok 1990; Canale and Swain 1980; Hymes 1972),
and then delves into the two research questions in more detail (p. 77). The
chapter then describes the methodology of the study in four sections: (1)
descriptions of the participants; (2) descriptions of the researcher; (3)
descriptions of target pragmatic constructs (i.e. pragmatic comprehension and
pragmatic production) and instrumentation (i.e. pragmatic listening and speaking
tests and qualitative data sources); and (4) data collection procedures.

Chapter 4 presents findings related to the first research question regarding the
patterns and rates of learners’ pragmatic development. In this chapter, Taguchi
first presents descriptive statistics of accuracy scores and response times
collected from the pragmatic listening test over three time points and analyzes
the two aspects statistically to demonstrate patterns and rates of development
of pragmatic comprehension. She then presents descriptive statistics of the
following four data sets, collected via a pragmatic speaking test administered
throughout the present study: (1) appropriateness scores; (2) grammaticality
scores; (3) planning time; and (4) speech rate. She analyzes the results
statistically in order to demonstrate which aspects of pragmatic production show
significant gains over time and which aspects do not. In addition, qualitative
data from interviews, class observations, and students’ journals are discussed
in detail to interpret the findings related to the patterns and rates of
pragmatic development found in the present study.

Chapter 5 presents findings tied to the second research question, regarding
learners’ individual variation in pragmatic development, by analyzing
qualitative data collected from a subset of the participants. The chapter starts
with an introduction of background information on eight informants, including
their TOEFL scores and reported amount of language contact. The eight
informants’ performances on pragmatic measures are then displayed. Variations in
the eight participants’ pragmatic developmental trajectories are discussed in
case histories of each individual participant through analyses of qualitative
data collected from five sources: student interviews, teacher interviews, class
observations, student journals, and field notes. The eight informants
demonstrate great variation in their pragmatic development, which is explained
based on different types of learning opportunities and the availability of

Chapter 6 summarizes findings of the present study and presents interpretations
of learners’ pragmatic development. The chapter then provides implications of
the present study for two main areas: the construct of pragmatic competence and
development, and the SLA process. The author concludes the book with notes on
the limitations of the study and directions for future research.


This book has many strong points. Firstly, the study extends the usual measures
of accuracy and appropriateness of pragmatic competence by analyzing learners’
processing speed and fluency in pragmatic performance. Pragmatic competence is
constructed in the present study to have two complementary aspects: accurate
demonstration of pragmatic knowledge and efficient processing of pragmatic
knowledge. Analysis of developmental patterns and rates of the two pragmatic
aspects reveals a relationship between them. The innovative approach to
pragmatic competence therefore contributes to our greater understanding of the
development of pragmatic competence, as well as theoretical SLA models in
general. Secondly, as previously stated, few studies in ILP research have
investigated both productive pragmatic competence and receptive pragmatic
competence within the same group of participants. The present study thus
contributes to existing ILP research by investigating longitudinally the
development of learners’ pragmatic comprehension and production. Thirdly, the
study combines qualitative and quantitative data when analyzing learners’
patterns and rates of pragmatic development. It not only analyzes learners’
pragmatic development at the group-level but also presents individual-level
analyses of pragmatic development. The rich analysis of student interviews and
journal entries, as well as teacher interview data, reveals students’ limited
gains in different situations to be partly the result of limited exposure to
target pragmatic behavior and a lack of explicit feedback. Finally, the study
tries to explain pragmatic development by examining various factors that may be
related to learners’ pragmatic development. Guided by recent SLA theories on the
dynamicity and complexity of the L2 acquisition process in a social context, the
book provides a comprehensive view of the acquisition of pragmatic competence by
perceiving learners’ pragmatic development as a dynamic process in which factors
like social distance and degree of imposition are not treated as static factors
but rather as part of a larger set of variables.

However, there are also some weaknesses in the present study. Firstly, the
retrospective verbal interviews were only conducted after the last data
collection session. Not eliciting data in the two earlier sessions brings
challenges to the nature and extent of the data collected, particularly with
regard to the tasks in the two earlier phases. The time lag between the
performance of the pragmatic speaking test in Phase 1 and Phase 2 and the
elicitation of the retrospective verbal interviews was very long, and thus is a
threat to the veridicality of the verbal interviews. Secondly, there is no
explicit illustration of the order of case histories displayed in Chapter 5. It
would help the reader follow the author better if she had explained why she
chose to present the eight case histories in the order presented in the book. In
addition, citations about informants that were not discussed are at times

To sum up, despite the few weaknesses indicated above, the book makes important
contributions to the field of ILP. It adds to the rather limited body of
longitudinal studies in ILP, especially those investigating both productive and
receptive aspects of pragmatic competence. It proposes an original theoretical
framework, which constructs pragmatic competence as both an accurate
demonstration of pragmatic knowledge and the efficient processing of pragmatic
knowledge. In addition, the study employs a variety of research instruments,
both quantitative and qualitative, in order to describe learners’ pragmatic
development at both the group and individual levels, which makes the study
unique in the field of ILP. In a nutshell, this book is highly recommended for
researchers and students at the graduate level who are interested in both ILP
and SLA.


Bachman, L.F. and A.S. Palmer (1996). Language testing in practice, Oxford,
Oxford University Press.

Bardovi-Harlig, K. and B. Hartford (1993). Learning the rules of academic talk:
A longitudinal study of pragmatic development. Studies in Second Language
Acquisition, 15, 279-304.

Barron, A. (2003). Acquisition in interlanguage pragmatics : learning how to do
things with words in a study abroad context, Amsterdam ; Philadelphia, PA, John

Bialystok, E. (1990). Communication Strategies: A Psychological Analysis of
Second-Language Use, Oxford, Blackwell.

Bouton, L. F. (1992). The interpretation of implicature in English by NNS: Does
it come automatically without being explicitly taught? In: L. F. Bouton and Y.
Kachru (eds.) Pragmatics and language learning (vol. 3), 66-80.
Urbana-Champaign: University of Illinois.

Bouton, L. F. (1994). Conversational implicature in the second language: Learned
slowly when not deliberately taught. Journal of Pragmatics, 22, 157-167.

Canale, M. and M. Swain (1980). Theoretical bases of communicative approaches to
second language teaching and testing. Applied Linguistics, 1, 1-47.

De Bot, K. (2008). Introduction: Second language development as a dynamic
process. Modern Language Journal, 92, 195-221.

Ellis, N. and D. Larsen-Freeman (2006). Language emergence: Implications for
applied Linguistics - Introduction to the special issue. Applied Linguistics,
27, 558-589.

Hassall, T. (2006). Learning to take leave in social conversations: a diary
study. In: M. A. DuFon and E. Churchill (eds.) Language learners in study abroad
context. 31-58. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.

Hymes, D. (1972). On communicative competence. In: Pride, J.B. and Janet Holmes
(eds.) Sociolinguistics. 263-293. Harmondsworth, England: Penguin Books.

Kinginger, C. and G. Blattner (2008). Development of sociolinguistic awareness
in study abroad. In: L. Ortega and H. Byrns (eds.) Longitudinal Studies and
Advanced L2 Capacities. 223-246. New York: Routledge.

Larsen-Freeman, D. and L. Cameron (2008). Complex Systems and Applied
Linguistics, Oxford, Oxford University Press.

Matsumura, S. (2001). Learning the rules for offering advice: A quantitative
approach to second language socialization. Language Learning, 51, 635-679.

Matsumura, S. (2007). Exploring the aftereffects of study abroad on
interlanguage pragmatic development. Intercultural Pragmatics, 4, 167-192.

Ren, W. (2011). The effect of study abroad on L2 pragmatic development: A
longitudinal investigation. Unpublished PhD Dissertation, University of Bristol.

Schauer, G. (2009). Interlanguage pragmatic development: The study abroad
context, London, Continuum.

Taguchi, N. (2007). Development of speed and accuracy in pragmatic comprehension
in English as a foreign language. TESOL Quarterly, 42, 313-338.

Taguchi, N. (2008) Cognition, language contact, and development of pragmatic
comprehension in a study-abroad context. Language Learning, 58, 33-71.

Warga, M. and U. Scholmberger (2007). The acquisition of French apologetic
behaviour in a study abroad context. Intercultural Pragmatics, 4, 221-251.

Wei Ren completed his PhD in Applied Linguistics at the University of Bristol in 2012. He is currently a lecturer at the Graduate University of the Chinese Academy of Sciences. His research interests include L2 pragmatics and cross-cultural pragmatics.

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