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Review of  Third Language Learners

Reviewer: Qichang Ye
Book Title: Third Language Learners
Book Author: Maria Pilar Safont Jordà
Publisher: Multilingual Matters
Linguistic Field(s): Applied Linguistics
Language Acquisition
Subject Language(s): English
Issue Number: 16.2502

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Date: Thu, 25 Aug 2005 14:39:20 +0800 (CST)
From: Qichang Ye , Zhuanglin Hu
Subject: Third Language Learners: Pragmatic Production and Awareness

AUTHOR: Safont Jorda, Maria Pilar
TITLE: Third Language Learners
SUBTITLE: Pragmatic Production and Awareness
SERIES: Second Language Acquisition 12
PUBLISHER: Multilingual Matters
YEAR: 2005

Zhuanglin Hu, School of Foreign Languages, Peking University

Qichang Ye, Department of English, School of Humanities and Social
Sciences, Beijing Jiaotong University


The book tries to provide a bridge between two applied linguistics
subfields, namely those of interlanguage pragmatics and third language
acquisition (henceforth: TLA). It examines the production and
identification of request acts formulas on the part of bilingual learners
of English in the Valencian Community (Spain). This area is officially
considered a bilingual region where both Catalan and Castilian are
employed. In this context, English learning is a different perspective, a
third language acquisition (p. 1), a unique phenomenon positioned
somewhere between the two ends of the traditional dichotomy: English as a
foreign language (henceforth: EFL) and English as a second language
(henceforth: ESL). Therefore, the issues in TLA include: language transfer
from the first language or the second language (henceforth: L2) to the
third language (henceforth: L3), metalinguistic knowledge and creative
thinking, interactional competence, the age factor and immersion pedagogy.

Safont Jorda's study is divided into two parts. The first part contains
three chapters (1-3), reviewing the theoretical background and the
sociolinguistic context where the experiment was conducted, while the
second part (4-9) has six ones on several aspects of the empirical study.

Chapter 1 presents a review of research in TLA and its defining
characteristics as related to but also distinguished from two other areas:
those of second language acquisition (henceforth: SLA) and bilingualism
(p. 2). Often bilingualism is considered to relate to TLA mainly in two
ways. Firstly, the findings obtained by bilingualism studies may
facilitate the understanding of the processes underlying TLA. Secondly,
bilingualism may provide with further information on those processing
mechanisms TLA learners may resort to as bilingual speakers (p. 3).

TLA is often understood as those languages learned after a second one,
which may imply a third, fourth or fifth language (p. 11). However, TLA
cannot be seen as a simple adding of another language to EFL or ESL; on
the contrary, TLA possesses its own characteristics: (1) non-linearity,
(2) language maintenance, (3) individual variation, (4) interdependence
and quality change (p. 12) In contrast to SLA which is usually regarded as
linear by second language researchers, the third language researchers
argue for non-linearity in multilingual processes on the basis of
biological growth studies (p. 12) due to the factors of language
attrition, language maintenance, and individual variation. These phenomena
imply that TLA should be viewed from a dynamic perspective, including
variation and interaction among its defining features and influencing
factors (p. 13).

The interaction of specific features in TLA can be explored by focusing on
the existing relationships among those languages known by learners. This
interdependence characterizing third language learning demands considering
learners' first, second and third languages as a whole linguistic system
(pp. 13-14). Accordingly, multilingualism cannot be interpreted as a mere
quantitative change in the languages known to bilingual learners, rather
it is a qualitative linguistic change in TLA (p. 14).

This view is also the result arising from the comparison between SLA and
TLA. As a common practice, multilingual acquisition is often considered to
be a simple variation on bilingualism and SLA. Nevertheless, they are
different in several aspects. Based on Cenoz (2000), these differences
(1) the order in which languages are learned;
(2) sociolinguistic factors, and
(3) the psycholinguistic processes involved (p. 18).

In SLA, few possibilities of variation exist as far as order of
acquisition is concerned; while in TLA, the possibilities for order
variation increase a great deal (p. 19). Sociolinguistic difference refers
to a set of contextual and linguistic factors influencing third language
competence and performance (p. 19).

The third factor influencing TLA is the psychological processes involved
(p. 21). These psychological processes will, according to the author,
highlight TLA research, since the studies of those processes have analyzed
the interlanguage of bilingual and multilingual learners (p. 37). The two
interrelated aspects (metalinguistic awareness and interlanguage
pragmatics) constitute the focus of this research.

As a key component in language-learning and a crucial issue in TLA,
metalinguistic awareness "is the ability to think flexibly and abstractly
about the language; it refers to an awareness of the formal linguistic
features of language and ability to reflect thereupon. Metalinguistic
awareness allows the individual to step back from the comprehension or
production of an utterance in order to consider the linguistic form and
structure underlying the meaning of the utterance. To be
metalinguistically aware, then, is to know how to approach and solve
certain types of problems which themselves demand certain cognitive and
linguistic skills"(Malakoff, 1992: 518)(p. 41).

As the title of this book suggests, another focus of the research is
interlanguage pragmatics (including interactional competence).
Interlanguage pragmatics is concerned with the pragmatic competence and
performance of second and foreign language learners, especially the non-
native speaker's use and acquisition of pragmatic knowledge in/of the
target language (p. 67).
Around these two interrelated topics, the questions the author wants to
answer are: (1) How do the learners' first and second languages influence
L3 production? (2) To what extent will learners' linguistic and cultural
background affect L3 production? (p. 39).

Chapter 2 deals with the field of interlanguage pragmatics. After
introducing some of the most influential theories and frameworks for
interlanguage pragmatists, the chapter focuses on developmental
perspectives and speech acts production (the speech act of requesting).

Several versions of communicative competence arose from different
criticisms raised against the Chomskyan notion of linguistic competence.
Here the author pays special attention to Celce-Murcia et al.'s (1995)
model of communicative competence (p. 54), since this model has direct
influence on the author's own research. The model comprises five
constituents: linguistic competence, actional competence; sociocultural
competence; discourse competence and strategic competence, and all these
are interrelated. The central component in this model is discourse
competence. All four subcomponents are influenced by the strategic
competence as the knowledge and use of communication strategies (p. 55).
In the author's view, a model of pragmatic competence should be: "On the
one hand, a model of this sort should be explanatory enough to account for
all competencies involved in its operation. In so doing, it would help us
to ascertain how to foster foreign language learners' communicative
competence. On the other hand, it should also present the kind of
relationship that exists among its constitutions and its effect on the
learners' overall communicative process"(pp. 56-57). Without doubt,
accounting for third language learners' pragmatic production and awareness
will expand the scope of the research on the acquisition of pragmatic
competence (p. 83).

Chapter 3 describes the sociolinguistic context in the Valencian Community
(p. 85). The two aims of this chapter are: The first aim is to offer a
sociolinguistic description of the community in which the informants of
our study live, the second, to offer further information on our
informants' linguistic background.

Chapter 4 is devoted to describing in detail the methodological aspects of
the present study: the informants' characteristics, the elicitation
procedures and the methodological decisions taken in the data analysis.
Participants in the present study were 160 female students from Jaume I
University based in Castello, who were engaged in an English for Academic
Purpose course which lasted one semester (p. 101). These subjects were
from different regions within the same community, with half a number of
the subjects studying Industrial Design Technical Engineering, the other
half studying Primary Teacher Education.

In order to examine the subjects' knowledge of request-act formulations,
the author first distributed a pre-test which contained several prompts or
scenarios that aimed at eliciting requests strategies (p. 104). A
comparison was made between results from this task and those of a post-
test that was administered after the study had taken place in order to
ascertain the effects of instruction on the subjects' use of request
formulations (p. 105). To consider the learners' pragmatic awareness, a
discourse-evaluation test in the form of discourse completion text
(henceforth: DCT) was also used (p. 106). After the administration of the
tests and tasks mentioned before (i.e. pre-test, Role-play 1 and DCT 1),
the instructional period was started, which was to teach pragmatic items
explicitly in the classroom (p. 107). Parametric tests, especially the
paired t-test statistical analysis, were employed during the whole
research process involved in the present study (p. 112).

Chapter 5 handles the role of instruction in English learners' pragmatic
production. the author claims that "Pragmatic production should be based
on criteria of appropriateness"(p. 114), where appropriateness should be
evaluated on two aspects: knowledge about the language and about how to
use it (p. 131). The following hypothesis was proposed:

(1) Pragmatic instruction will affect the learners' degree of pragmatic
competence (p. 114).

Hypothesis 1 concerns the effect of pragmatic instruction on the learners'
performance. The results showed that the learners' pragmatic competence
was influenced by the instructional period they were engaged in. "The
effects of instruction pointed to positive outcomes, as a trend towards
polite behaviour in the use of request strategies was illustrated by means
of an increase in the use of conventionally indirect strategies and a
decrease in the use of direct formulations"(p. 126). At the same time, the
results demonstrated that instruction not only affects pragmatic
production, but it also seems to play a role in pragmatic awareness (p.

Chapter 6 examines the influence of learners' proficiency level in their
use of request realizations and peripheral modification items. In order to
obtain data concerning participants' requestive behaviour, different
elicitation techniques are employed, leading to the following hypothesis:

(2) There will be a mismatch between beginner and intermediate learners on
those developmental stages concerning grammatical and pragmatic competence
(p. 132).

Hypothesis 2 is specified in the following Research Questions (RQ):
RQ1: Will there be a great difference between intermediate and beginner
learners in their overall performance?
RQ2: Will their level be connected to a particular type of linguistic
request realization?
RQ3: Will there be any difference in their global use of peripheral
elements accompanying the request head act?
RQ4: Will beginner bilinguals outperform beginner monolinguals? Will this
also be case with intermediate bilingual and monolingual participants? (p.

The results partly disconfirmed Hypothesis 2, as no mismatch was found
between the intermediate and beginner learners' linguistic and pragmatic
competence (p. 138). Nevertheless, the results are in line with previous
studies dealing with the use of requests by learners at different
proficiency levels and with longitudinal studies addressing learners at a
beginner level (p. 138).

Chapter 7 deals with the role of the elicitation method used. Three
different task types are employed here: those of a written production
test, an oral production task and an awareness-raising task. The
hypothesis proposed in this chapter is:

(3) The task performed, whether it be an oral or a written task (i.e. role-
play vs. discourse-completion test) will affect the choice and use of
request realizations (p. 141).

As in the case of the two previous chapters, Hypothesis 3 is formulated
into several research questions:
RQ1: Will learners use a wider range of request-head peripheral elements
in the oral production task?
RQ2: Will the discourse-completion task elicit more request realization
strategies than the open role-play task?
RQ3: Will bilingual learners outperform monolingual ones in the oral and
written task? (p. 141).

The experiment results indicated that learners seemed to employ a wider
range of linguistic request formulae in the discourse-completion test than
in the Role-play task (p. 142), and these differences are statistically
What is contrary to hypothesis is that a wider use of modification devices
was found in the written than in the oral task, the difference being
statistically significant (p. 144). However, this phenomenon is task-
dependent (p. 147). That showed that the nature of the task learners were
required to carry out influenced their pragmatic production.

Chapter 8 is devoted to analyzing another aspect of the learners'
pragmatic competence, that of pragmatic awareness. The author wants to
consider the extent to which pragmatic awareness may be more developed in
third than in second/foreign language learners of English. The
participants' linguistic background is the focus of this chapter, and the
following hypothesis is proposed.

(4) Bilingual learners studying English as a third language will show a
higher degree of pragmatic awareness than monolingual learners (p. 153).

Hypothesis 4 demands answers to the following research questions:
RQ1: To what extent will bilingual learners' awareness differ from that of
monolingual subjects?
RQ2: Will bilingual subjects provide a wider range of reasons to justify
their judgments than monolingual learners?
RQ3: Will bilingual subjects provide more suggestions for the
inappropriate expressions they are required to evaluate than monolingual
RQ4: Will bilingual subjects offer more reasons related to politeness
phenomena in justifying their evaluation than monolingual learners?
RQ5: Will bilingual learners identify inappropriate and appropriate
request linguistic realizations more successfully than monolingual
RQ6: Will bilingualism affect pragmatic production? (p. 154).

The results showed a global advantage of bilingual over monolingual
learners of English as a foreign language regarding both pragmatic
production and pragmatic awareness (p. 159-160).

Chapter 9 summarizes the theoretical implications deriving from the
findings described from Chapters 5 to 8, and puts forward suggestions for
further research related to the fields of interlanguage pragmatics and
TLA. At the same time, the author points out the possible directions for
further studies in third language research.


As one of the series of SLA, the author's study has empirically
demonstrated the distinctive features of TLA. It is an important and
timely book at the intersection of interlanguage pragmatics and TLA. It
represents original research. This study and the studies of this sort are
original in the sense that it does not treat language acquisition as
isolate skills training, but as a dynamic system of interactive features
of various subsystems. The author repeatedly stresses that TLA (or:
language learning) is not merely a quantitative but a qualitative change
(p. 13-4, p.56-7, p.161). In view of this, multilingualism cannot be
interpreted as a mere quantitative change in the languages known to
bilingual learners, but "we are facing a qualitative rather than
quantitative linguistic change in TLA" (p. 14).

Interlanguage is usually treated as a continuum (Larsen-Freeman & Long
1991), and continuum implies a semiotic process. Semiosis is always an
integrative process involving different factors that interact in a
complicated fashion. Thibault (2004a, 2004b) has successfully demonstrated
that meaning-making is always an integrative process. The strength of
Safont Jorda's research just lies in this fact. Certainly, however, a
research cannot be all-embracing; it always leaves some aspects to be
desired, and Jorda's study is not an exception in this regard.

Firstly, Hypothesis 1 in Chapter 5 concerns the effect of pragmatic
instruction on the learners' performance. However, in our view, the whole
enterprise of language education is built on this premise, it is axiomatic
rather than hypothetical. Secondly, the subjects in this study were all
female, the author herself also admitted that the research addressed only
female participants of a similar age group (p. 170). Tannen (1991) points
out that women and men talks differently. Upon her argumentation, it goes
without saying that women will use more indirect requests than men do. In
this sense, the author's experiment is not sufficient in explaining the
pragmatic competence of the third language learners in the Valencian
community. Thirdly, though the importance of qualitative change in TLA
research is emphasized, yet the cultural factors are seldom touched upon
in the author's study. How to do things with words is always the case in
which a social person tells somebody something in a particular way. Van
Lier (1995: xi) tells us that language awareness can be understood as "an
understanding of the human faculty of language and its role in thinking,
learning and social life. It includes an awareness of power and control
through language, and of the intricate relationships between language and
culture". In this sense, metalinguistic awareness is to understand not
only the linguistic form and structure but also the context in which the
utterance takes place. From this perspective, the learners' reflexive
element has to be included in this awareness.


Celce-Murcia, M. Dörnyei, Z. and Thurrell, S. (1995) Communicative
competence: A pedagogically motivated model with content specifications.
Issues in Applied Linguistics 6, 5-35.

Cenoz, J. (2000) Research on multilingual acquisition, In J. Cenoz and U.
Jessner (eds.) English in Europe: The Acquisition of a Third Language.
Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.

Larsen-Freeman, Diane & Michael H. Long (1991) An Introduction to Second
Language Acquisition Research London: Longman.

Malakoff, M. E. (1992) Translation ability: A natural bilingual and
metalinguistic skill. In J. Harris (ed.) Cognitive Processing in
Bilinguals. Amsterdam: Elsevier.

Tannen, Deborah (1991) You Just Don't Understand. London: Virago Press.

Thibault, Paul J. (2004a) Brain, Mind, and the Signifying Body: An
Ecosocial Semiotic Theory London/New York: Continuum.

Thibault, Paul J. (2004b) Agency and Consciousness in Discourse London/New
York: Continuum.

van Lier, Leo (1995) Introducing Language Awareness London: Penguin Books


Zhuanglin Hu is Professor, School of Foreign Languages, at Peking
University. His main areas of interest are semiotics, pragmatics,
functional linguistics, discourse analysis and the studies of metaphor.

Qichang Ye is Associate Professor, School of Humanities and Social
Sciences, at Beijing Jiaotong University. His areas of interest are
semiotics, functional linguistics, discourse analysis and applied

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