LINGUIST List 23.2344

Wed May 16 2012

Review: Pragmatics; Language Acquisition: Taguchi (2012)

Editor for this issue: Rajiv Rao <>

Date: 16-May-2012
From: Wei Ren <>
Subject: Context, Individual Differences and Pragmatic Competence
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Announced at
AUTHOR: Taguchi, NaokoTITLE: Context, Individual Differences and Pragmatic CompetenceSERIES TITLE: Second Language AcquisitionPUBLISHER: Multilingual MattersYEAR: 2012

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


Although one of the most promising means of examining pragmatic development isthrough research involving longitudinal studies, only a few studies (e.g. Barron2003; Schauer 2009; Ren 2011) have traced the development of learners’ secondlanguage (L2) pragmatic competence employing longitudinal data. The limitednumber of longitudinal studies in interlanguage pragmatics (ILP) literaturereveals an important area of research yet to be undertaken. In addition, despitethe consensus in ILP literature that pragmatic competence involves bothproductive and receptive competence, few studies in ILP research haveinvestigated the two aspects using the same participants. More studies focusingon the aforementioned aspects are warranted in order to better understand theacquisition of L2 pragmatic competence. Therefore, this newly releasedmonograph, ‘Context, Individual Differences and Pragmatic Competence’, byTaguchi (2012), contributes to the sparse existing literature on interlanguagepragmatics. The book reports on a longitudinal investigation into thedevelopment of two aspects of pragmatic competence -- pragmatic comprehension(i.e. the ability to comprehend speakers’ implied meaning) and pragmaticproduction (i.e. the ability to produce speech acts appropriately) -- among 48Japanese students of English in an English-medium university in Japan.

In Chapter 1, after briefly introducing the development and current situation ofILP research, Taguchi rationalizes the contributions of her book by showing thatit 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 andrates of learners’ pragmatic development, as well as individual and contextualfactors that affect such development, the study intends to answer the followingtwo research questions (p. 5): (1) What patterns and rates of pragmaticdevelopment can we observe across different pragmatic functions and attributes?;(2) What types of learning resources and experiences are available in variouscontexts and how do these factors shape developmental trajectories of individuallearners?. The context of the study is also described in this chapter, includinginformation about the emphasis on English in Japan and the research site itself,which encompasses the English for academic purposes (EAP) program employed atthe target university and students’ opportunities to use English outside of class.

Chapter 2 reviews longitudinal studies available in the present literature ofILP. Studies investigating learners’ development of the comprehension ofpragmatic meaning (e.g. Bouton 1992, 1994; Taguchi 2007, 2008) are firstreviewed, followed by studies focusing on learners’ development of therecognition and perception of pragmatic features (e.g. Kinginger and Blattner2008; Matsumura 2001, 2007; Schauer 2009) and studies on learners’ developmentof pragmatic productions (e.g. Bardovi-Harlig and Hartford 1993; Barron 2003;Hassall 2006; Warga and Scholmberger 2007). Based on a summary of the findingsavailable in current ILP literature, Taguchi presents issues critical to thefuture investigation of pragmatic development such as study duration (inlongitudinal designs), frequency of data points and data collection methods, therelation between grammar and pragmatics, and the need to expand the construct ofpragmatic competence beyond speech acts. Following recent second languageacquisition (SLA) theories focusing on the dynamicity and complexity of the L2acquisition process in a social context (e.g. Dynamic System Theory (De Bot2008), Chaos/Complexity Theory (Larsen-Freeman and Cameron 2008) and theEmergentism Approach (Ellis and Larsen-Freeman 2006)), Taguchi illustrates thatthis new perspective can also inform longitudinal investigations of L2 pragmaticcompetence.

Chapter 3 first presents the theoretical framework that guides the presentstudy, 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). Thechapter 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 andpragmatic production) and instrumentation (i.e. pragmatic listening and speakingtests and qualitative data sources); and (4) data collection procedures.

Chapter 4 presents findings related to the first research question regarding thepatterns and rates of learners’ pragmatic development. In this chapter, Taguchifirst presents descriptive statistics of accuracy scores and response timescollected from the pragmatic listening test over three time points and analyzesthe two aspects statistically to demonstrate patterns and rates of developmentof pragmatic comprehension. She then presents descriptive statistics of thefollowing four data sets, collected via a pragmatic speaking test administeredthroughout the present study: (1) appropriateness scores; (2) grammaticalityscores; (3) planning time; and (4) speech rate. She analyzes the resultsstatistically in order to demonstrate which aspects of pragmatic production showsignificant gains over time and which aspects do not. In addition, qualitativedata from interviews, class observations, and students’ journals are discussedin detail to interpret the findings related to the patterns and rates ofpragmatic development found in the present study.

Chapter 5 presents findings tied to the second research question, regardinglearners’ individual variation in pragmatic development, by analyzingqualitative data collected from a subset of the participants. The chapter startswith an introduction of background information on eight informants, includingtheir TOEFL scores and reported amount of language contact. The eightinformants’ performances on pragmatic measures are then displayed. Variations inthe eight participants’ pragmatic developmental trajectories are discussed incase histories of each individual participant through analyses of qualitativedata collected from five sources: student interviews, teacher interviews, classobservations, student journals, and field notes. The eight informantsdemonstrate great variation in their pragmatic development, which is explainedbased on different types of learning opportunities and the availability ofresources.

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


This book has many strong points. Firstly, the study extends the usual measuresof accuracy and appropriateness of pragmatic competence by analyzing learners’processing speed and fluency in pragmatic performance. Pragmatic competence isconstructed in the present study to have two complementary aspects: accuratedemonstration of pragmatic knowledge and efficient processing of pragmaticknowledge. Analysis of developmental patterns and rates of the two pragmaticaspects reveals a relationship between them. The innovative approach topragmatic competence therefore contributes to our greater understanding of thedevelopment of pragmatic competence, as well as theoretical SLA models ingeneral. Secondly, as previously stated, few studies in ILP research haveinvestigated both productive pragmatic competence and receptive pragmaticcompetence within the same group of participants. The present study thuscontributes to existing ILP research by investigating longitudinally thedevelopment of learners’ pragmatic comprehension and production. Thirdly, thestudy 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-levelanalyses of pragmatic development. The rich analysis of student interviews andjournal entries, as well as teacher interview data, reveals students’ limitedgains in different situations to be partly the result of limited exposure totarget pragmatic behavior and a lack of explicit feedback. Finally, the studytries to explain pragmatic development by examining various factors that may berelated to learners’ pragmatic development. Guided by recent SLA theories on thedynamicity and complexity of the L2 acquisition process in a social context, thebook provides a comprehensive view of the acquisition of pragmatic competence byperceiving learners’ pragmatic development as a dynamic process in which factorslike social distance and degree of imposition are not treated as static factorsbut rather as part of a larger set of variables.

However, there are also some weaknesses in the present study. Firstly, theretrospective verbal interviews were only conducted after the last datacollection session. Not eliciting data in the two earlier sessions bringschallenges to the nature and extent of the data collected, particularly withregard to the tasks in the two earlier phases. The time lag between theperformance of the pragmatic speaking test in Phase 1 and Phase 2 and theelicitation of the retrospective verbal interviews was very long, and thus is athreat to the veridicality of the verbal interviews. Secondly, there is noexplicit illustration of the order of case histories displayed in Chapter 5. Itwould help the reader follow the author better if she had explained why shechose to present the eight case histories in the order presented in the book. Inaddition, citations about informants that were not discussed are at timesconfusing.

To sum up, despite the few weaknesses indicated above, the book makes importantcontributions to the field of ILP. It adds to the rather limited body oflongitudinal studies in ILP, especially those investigating both productive andreceptive aspects of pragmatic competence. It proposes an original theoreticalframework, which constructs pragmatic competence as both an accuratedemonstration of pragmatic knowledge and the efficient processing of pragmaticknowledge. In addition, the study employs a variety of research instruments,both quantitative and qualitative, in order to describe learners’ pragmaticdevelopment at both the group and individual levels, which makes the studyunique in the field of ILP. In a nutshell, this book is highly recommended forresearchers and students at the graduate level who are interested in both ILPand 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 LanguageAcquisition, 15, 279-304.

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

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

Bouton, L. F. (1992). The interpretation of implicature in English by NNS: Doesit 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: Learnedslowly when not deliberately taught. Journal of Pragmatics, 22, 157-167.

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

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

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

Hassall, T. (2006). Learning to take leave in social conversations: a diarystudy. In: M. A. DuFon and E. Churchill (eds.) Language learners in study abroadcontext. 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 awarenessin study abroad. In: L. Ortega and H. Byrns (eds.) Longitudinal Studies andAdvanced L2 Capacities. 223-246. New York: Routledge.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Warga, M. and U. Scholmberger (2007). The acquisition of French apologeticbehaviour 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.

Page Updated: 16-May-2012