LINGUIST List 19.2773

Thu Sep 11 2008

Review: Language Acquisition: Pütz & Neff-van Aertselaer (2008)

Editor for this issue: Randall Eggert <>

        1.    Laura Callahan, Developing Contrastive Pragmatics

Message 1: Developing Contrastive Pragmatics
Date: 11-Sep-2008
From: Laura Callahan <>
Subject: Developing Contrastive Pragmatics
E-mail this message to a friend

Discuss this message

Announced at EDITORS: Pütz, Martin; Neff-van Aertselaer, JoAnneTITLE: Developing Contrastive PragmaticsSUBTITLE: Interlanguage and Cross-Cultural PerspectivesSERIES: Studies on Language Acquisition 31PUBLISHER: Mouton de GruyterYEAR: 2008

Laura Callahan, The City College of the City University of New York

SUMMARYThis volume contains fifteen papers divided into three sections, with anintroduction and index. The contributions were selected from papers given at the31st International LAUD Symposium: Intercultural Pragmatics: Linguistic, Social,and Cognitive Approaches, held in March of 2006 at the University ofKoblenz-Landau, in Landau, Germany. (The acronym LAUD stands for LinguisticAgency University of Duisburg, from one of the earlier iterations of theconference, held in Duisberg, Germany). As the book's title suggests, its focusis on the acquisition of and instruction in pragmatic competence in a secondlanguage.

Martin Pütz and JoAnne Neff-van Aertselaer. Introduction: Developing contrastivepragmatics. Pütz and Neff-van Aertselaer define pragmatics, and highlight theimportance of studies of contrastive pragmatics, which represent a move awayfrom ''monolingual and monocultural research paradigms'' (p. ix). The editorsprovide a brief summary of each paper. The Introduction concludes withsuggestions for areas of additional research, such as, for example, conceptualdifferences between a language learner's first and second language (Danesi1995), cultural identity of language learners (Pavlenko 1999), and relativity inspeech community norms (Kramsch 2004).

Section 1: Intercultural Pragmatics and Discourse Markers

Anna Wierzbicka. A conceptual basis for intercultural pragmatics and world-wideunderstanding. Using examples from a wide range of text types, Wierzbickademonstrates both the institutionalization of certain Anglocentric culturalconcepts and the inaccuracy of assumptions that such concepts are universal. Asevidence of such assumptions, she cites Brown and Levinson (1987) and theGricean maxims. However, she does not believe that there can be no universalswithin a particular culture, and she defends herself against charges ofessentialism with multiple examples supporting the existence of shared culturalunderstandings. 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 63elements, which can be used to explain in a neutral fashion the meaning of aculturally specific term such as, for example, privacy. The resulting culturalscripts could be used to enhance the understanding of all parties in anintercultural interaction. Although this paper focuses on Anglocentric culturalconcepts, the ''NSM'' could be used to elucidate concepts specific to any culturenot only for outsiders but also for members of that culture.

Sabine De Knop. Sociocultural conceptualizations: Schemas and metaphoricaltransfer as metalinguistic learning strategies for French learners of German. DeKnop presents the differences in how various categories are encoded in Frenchand German verbs: manner and path of motion, manner of location and change oflocation, and location and physical motion marked as dative or accusative. Inall instances French is more general in its expression of these concepts, whichis reflected in the production of French L1 learners of German, who tend to usenon-idiomatic if not ungrammatical constructions. De Knop advocates callinglearners' attention to the differences using comparisons between the twolanguages, as well as visualized schemas to teach dative versus accusativemarking for location and actual and abstract motion.

Svetlana Kurtes. An investigation into the pragmatics of grammar: Culturalscripts in contrast. Kurtes begins with an overview of reflexivity andmiddleness in Serbo-Croat and English. She applies cultural script theory to theprominence of an impersonal grammatical structure in Serbian public discourse,assigning it the pragmatic function of offering the speaker self-protection andself-promotion. She advocates the use of cultural scripts in the foreignlanguage classroom, giving concrete suggestions as to how this might be done, inparticular with advanced level students.

JoAnne Neff-van Aertselaer and Emma Dafouz-Milne. Argumentation patterns indifferent languages: An analysis of metadiscourse markers in English and Spanishtexts. Neff-van Aertselaer and Dafouz-Milne present the results of a comparisonof various types of textual and interpersonal discourse markers in four corpora:novice native speaker writers of English, novice Spanish L1 writers of Englishas a Foreign Language, expert native speaker writers of English, and expertnative speaker writers of Spanish. They find differences between both types ofnovice writers and expert native speaker writers of English, and between Englishand Spanish rhetorical preferences. The authors conclude that ''explicit exposureand teaching of metadiscourse categories'' are required for learners to acquire''reader-based discourse (Flower 1984) where socio-pragmatic decisions such asthe possible reactions of the expected audience or the amount of backgroundknowledge needed are taken into account'' (p. 99).

Augustin Simo Bobda. The management of global cultural diversity in ELTmaterials. Simo Bobda examines the representation of cultural diversity inEnglish language textbooks, finding that Western topics and cultural referencesdominate, after which Asian cultures are the next most well-represented. Africanthemes and cultural features predominate only in ''textbooks designed for usespecifically in Africa'' (p.121). The fact that such textbooks exist isencouraging, but fully localized materials can present another problem: learnersare not exposed to different cultural contexts, and hence are unaware of thesignificance that words with which they are familiar may have elsewhere. As theauthor illustrates with several examples, this can give rise to negativeconsequences when the learner has occasion to interact with members of anotherculture. Simo Bobda advocates that language materials be paired with culturalguidelines, which should include reference to non-verbal forms of communication.

Section 2: Interlanguage Pragmatics: Strategies and Identity in the ForeignLanguage Classroom

Doris Dippold. Reframing one's experience: Face, identity and roles in L2argumentative discourse. Using the concepts of face, frames, and identity,Dippold shows that ''the goals learners pursue may be quite different from thosea researcher might want them to pursue'' (p. 147). Dippold had lowerintermediate, upper intermediate, and advanced students of German engage inrole-plays with partners of the same level to elicit facework strategies. Sheconducted post-task interviews with the learners, from which it emerged that thediscussion frames ceded to a language task frame, in which ''learners act mainlyin their role as language learners and try to hold up a positive self-imagewhich 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 linguisticdevices to do so, opting instead to begin a new topic, a strategy that permitsthem to maintain lexical accuracy and fluency.

Constance Ellwood. Indirect complaint in the language classroom: Cross-culturalcontrasts between French and Japanese students of English. Ellwood usedinterviews, observations, and audiotapes of peer interactions to analyze theindirect complaints of students from France and Japan in an English languageclassroom in Australia. She notes a continuum of directness, manifested ingrammatical forms (e.g. first vs. third person pronoun, could vs. should), andin the use of the complainer's L1 (which the teacher does not understand) vs.English. Neither group verbalized direct complaints to the teacher. The Frenchstudents produced more indirect complaints, making use of ironic humor, and inone case non-verbal behavior. The Japanese students' complaints were even moreindirect, tending to focus on the student's own responsibility for the state ofaffairs about which the complaint was raised.

Elin Fredsted. ''We make such a mishmash'': Bilingual language usage in classroompeer group talk. Fredsted studies codeswitching and convergence in the speech ofyoung teens in German minority schools in Denmark and Danish minority schools inGermany. Both school systems' language policies stipulate that students havenative-like competence in standard varieties of both German and Danish. Theauthor finds that codeswitching is officially disfavored in both systems, butmore so in the Danish minority schools. These young people use contact varietiesas a form of resistance to ''challenge the expected language norms [by]developing an inter-cultural and bilingual group identity according to whichthey regard their own inter-culturality as [...] something special whichcharacterises their personal identities'' (p. 204).

Manuela Wagner and Eduardo Urios-Aparisi. Pragmatics of humor in the foreignlanguage classroom: Learning (with) humor. Wagner and Urios-Aparisi present somedefinitions of humor, and then move on to a discussion of its primary socialfunctions: ''social management, decommitment, mediation, and defunctionalization(see Attardo 1994, based on Long and Graesser 1988)'' (p. 212). Data for thispaper come from videotaped sessions of university level German and Spanishclasses. The authors find instances of humor fulfilling various functions in thelanguage classroom, including the presentation of cultural and pragmaticinformation, and the introduction of information that could cause conflict.Wagner and Urios-Aparisi conclude that humor plays an important role in thelanguage classroom, and note that the instructors in their sample ''seem toconsider 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 comparesthe request production of German and Japanese ESL graduate students with BritishEnglish native speaker graduate students. Data was generated with writtendiscourse completion tasks. Three dimensions were analyzed: ''directness levelsof speech act strategy, (ii) internal modification of the head act and (iii)request perspective'' (p. 232). Woodfield's findings indicate that advancedproficiency does not guarantee that second language users will experience nodifficulties in the use of requests. Citing Kasper (1997: 9), the authoradvocates the use of activities designed to raise learners' awareness withrespect to ''linguistic forms, pragmatic functions, their occurrence in differentsocial contexts and their cultural meanings'' (p. 257).

Bahar Otcu and Deniz Zeyrek. Development of requests: A study on Turkishlearners of English. Otcu and Zeyrek had four groups engage in discoursecompletion tasks via role plays: low and high proficiency Turkish learners ofEnglish, English native speakers, and Turkish native speakers. The authors foundthat English learners with a lower proficiency level used formulaic utterances,lacking the ability to create with the language. The more advanced learners wereable to do more with the L2, but this did not guarantee control of pragmaticconstructions. Otcu and Zeyrek conclude that the more proficient ESL speakersuse their increased linguistic resources to transfer constructions from Turkishwhen speaking English.

Zohreh R. Eslami and Aazam Noora. Perceived pragmatic transferability of L1request strategies by Persian learners of English. Eslami and Noora cite severalstudies in which it has been shown that language learners translateconstructions from their first language, resulting in pragmatic failure. Forexample, a simple statement expressing a desire for some object or action may bepolite in the learner's native language, such as Japanese or Persian, due to thepresence of honorific morphology. But, absent this grammatical feature in alanguage 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 Dutchlearners of English. Hendriks used an oral discourse completion task and awritten judgment questionnaire with intermediate and advanced Dutch ESLstudents, comparing their responses to a group of English native speakers and agroup of Dutch native speakers. The three groups were very similar inquantitative use of request modifiers, but the ESL students used a smallervariety of modifiers. Hendriks recommends that native speaker reception ofnon-native speaker request production be studied, to discover which non-nativelike usages incite a negative and which a neutral reaction.

Anne Barron. Contrasting requests in Inner Circle Englishes: A study invariational pragmatics. Barron presents a comparison of requests in IrishEnglish and English English. Irish English is found to be more indirect in someaspects, although the differences are more complex than can be described with asimple dichotomy. The author points out that ''differences due to differingconventions of language use are all the more difficult to understand as beinglanguage-related when groups are linguistically close [...] [A]n increasedawareness of differences in the conventions of language use has the potential todecrease potential misunderstandings between cultures sharing a single languageand indeed between socially-based sub-groups within such cultures'' (pp.386-387). Barron advocates a variational perspective in the classroom, notbecause learners must acquire the conventions of all intralingual varieties, butto 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 authorreviews the research on what effect the length of time spent in the L2 cultureand individual learners' differences might have on the development of pragmaticcompetence. In her own subjects, German learners of English at a university inEngland, length of stay in the target language country seemed to correlatepositively with increased competence in the selection and use of requeststrategies. However, Schauer also found, as did other contributors to thisvolume, evidence of negative transfer from the native language even in advancedlearners.

EVALUATIONDeveloping Contrastive Pragmatics is a well-designed volume. Tables andtranscriptions of dialogue are presented in an uncluttered manner, and notes andreferences are conveniently placed at the end of each article. Pütz and Neff-vanAertselaer's concise Introduction gives just the right amount of information tocontextualize the papers that follow.

The well-motivated selection of articles for each of the three sections makesfor a cohesive collection. All but one of the papers report on empiricalstudies, and many contain literature reviews of a compactness appropriate for anarticle yet comprehensive enough to be very useful to readers interested inpursuing research in interlanguage pragmatics. The meticulous descriptions ofmethodology 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 seemsslightly arcane - the use of an artificially restricted code to explain theterms used in an expanded code - becomes not only comprehensible but alsoplausible to the reader. A few of the papers would be improved by the inclusionof a brief example at the first mention of certain specialized terms oracronyms, so that each selection could be read as a stand-alone piece. Thiswould be less important if the book were to be seen only by those within itsdiscipline, but it is certain to be of interest to a wider audience, with thevolume being sampled rather than read from cover to cover.

Missing is an About the Contributors section. Brief biographies would be ofinterest given that the papers are applicable to more than one discipline andtheir authors may have come to the study of contrastive pragmatics via diverseavenues. Readers, especially those who are at turning points in their owncareer, may wish to know something of the writers' experiences and currentsituation. This is a very minor point, however, and perhaps the omission wasmotivated by the fact that authors' affiliations can change between thesubmission and publication of work.

Observations could be made about each and every one of the papers; I will makeonly a few here, with the promise that readers will discover other aspects ofparticular interest.

Neff-van Aertselaer and Dafouz-Milne note that rhetorical conventions in onegroup of language learners' L1, Spanish, may influence their use of writtenEnglish. The most salient differences are the shorter sentences of English andits insistence on a thesis statement at the very beginning of an essay, whereasSpanish prefers longer sentences and progressive argumentation that culminatesin the thesis. Although this paper focuses on the development of writtenacademic English, these findings are important for the teaching of writtenacademic Spanish to native speakers of Spanish in the United States. Instructorsin this discipline have often been trained only in the rhetorical conventions ofEnglish, and may penalize students who use the style of expert writers in theircountry of origin.

De Knop speaks of differences in mental conceptualization and differences in theexpressions of conceptualization, with the latter presupposing the former.Although the author distinguishes the cognitive linguistics approach used in herpaper from the Sapir-Whorf theory of linguistic relativity, it still seems to betreated as self evident that a different way of describing a movement points toan actual difference in the speaker's cognition of that movement. If this claimis in fact being made it would be interesting to see further support, andintriguing to design an experiment to test it.

De Knop's pedagogical suggestions for highlighting the differences between thelearner's L1 and L2 are very well-taken. Many of the authors offer suggestionsfor teaching language students about the pragmatics of the language they arelearning and of the culture(s) with which that language is associated. Thissupports what has been advocated by other researchers, that explicit instructioncan raise metapragmatic awareness and influence students' production (see, forexample, 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 ofcorrelation between advanced linguistic skills and pragmatic expertise in the L2culture. This has serious implications, given that interlocutors may be less aptto pardon the lapses of expert second language users, and pragmatic errors thatare committed out of ignorance may be attributed to arrogance or bad character.

REFERENCESAlcon, Eva. 2005. Does instruction work for learning pragmatics in the EFLcontext? _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 inLanguage Usage_. Cambridge/New York: Cambridge University Press.

Danesi, Marcel. 1995. Learning and teaching languages: The role of 'conceptualfluency'. _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_. 91-2:479-494.

Flower, Linda. 1984. Writer-based prose: A cognitive basis for problems inwriting. 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 HawaiiSecond Language Teaching and Curriculum Center.

Koike, Dale and Pearson, Lynn. 2005. The effect of instruction and feedback inthe development of pragmatic competence. _System_. 33-3: 481-501.

Kramsch, Claire. 2004. Language, thought and culture. In Alan Davies andCatherine Elder, eds. _The Handbook of Applied Linguistics_. Oxford: Blackwell.235-261.

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 REVIEWERLaura Callahan is Associate Professor of Hispanic Linguistics at the CityCollege and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York (CUNY), andResearch Fellow at the Research Institute for the Study of Language in UrbanSociety (RISLUS), at the Graduate Center, CUNY. Her research interests includeintercultural communication, language and identity, and heritage languagemaintenance. Recent work focuses on language choice in service encountersbetween native and non-native speakers of Spanish in three large urban areas ofthe United States: New York City, the San Francisco Bay Area, and Los Angeles.