LINGUIST List 32.1473

Tue Apr 27 2021

Review: Applied Linguistics; Pragmatics: Martín-Laguna (2020)

Editor for this issue: Jeremy Coburn <jecoburnlinguistlist.org>



Date: 29-Sep-2020
From: Maria Chiara Miduri <mariachiara.midurigmail.com>
Subject: Tasks, Pragmatics and Multilingualism in the Classroom
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Book announced at https://linguistlist.org/issues/31/31-1508.html

AUTHOR: Sofía Martín-Laguna
TITLE: Tasks, Pragmatics and Multilingualism in the Classroom
SUBTITLE: A Portrait of Adolescent Writing in Multiple Languages
SERIES TITLE: Second Language Acquisition
PUBLISHER: Multilingual Matters
YEAR: 2020

REVIEWER: Maria Chiara Miduri

SUMMARY

In the domain of language learning research, the traditional approach focusing on the environment of learning concerning the context where languages are learned needed, for a long time, a paradigm shift. The shift urged was about an ecological perspective considering language learning as a dynamic, non-linear adaptive, and context-dependent complex process rather than a static, monolingual, and linear and well-controlled continuum. In this complex system, relations between contexts, individuals, and time are the main lenses through which we can observe and analyze Homo Loquen(te)s in its day-to-day linguistic and communicative behavior. This work offers a real context study – quite ethnographic in some respects – and accounts for what happens in the real context of language learning with a focus on pragmatic learning in multilingual (ML) contexts, dealing with a Multilingual Turn both on a theoretical and empirical level. The book presents a one-year longitudinal study of ML pragmatic transfer in Catalan-Spanish bilingual adolescent learners of English as an L3, in the multilinguistic Valencian Community, as they are engaged in task-based activities in secondary school. The study constitutes a major contribution for a field at the crossroad of different disciplines, such as Second Language Acquisition, Intercultural Communication, Linguistic Ethnography, and Sociolinguistics.

The book is divided into 7 chapters plus an additional section featuring Appendices with the research material, a rich Bibliography, and a final Index to retrieve all the cited authors and concepts throughout the book.

In Chapter 1 a detailed Introduction to the study is provided. The contribution of the research is set by defining the sociolinguistic context of the empirical work presented, the definition of a Multilingual Pragmatic Transfer (1.4.2), and by describing the main challenges in studying pragmatics in the classroom: (1) interlanguage pragmatics (instruction vs. acquisition) dynamics and crosslinguistic interaction, and (2) regional and minority languages as linguistic resources. The study deals with a Catalan (L1), Spanish (L2), and English (L3) multilingual context and pragmatic dynamics and it represents an outstanding contribution to the field of pragmatic and discourse research due to the specific linguistic context where the study has been conducted.

In Chapter 2, pragmatics in an instructional context is explored both as a theoretical realm and an empirical field of ongoing research, with particular reference to classroom pragmatics. A strong overview of classroom research (2.1) is given to set the frame of reference, by dividing the field into three main paradigms about pragmatics (i. Context, ii. Learnability, iii. Teachability) with a focus on a task-based approach to classroom pragmatics (2.2) since this is the methodological tool chosen by Martín-Laguna to conduct the research. The specificity of longitudinal studies in the classroom context is provided as well, with special attention to multilingual classrooms. This overview points out that few studies have focused on the efficacy of a task-based approach in pragmatic learning, opening the way to show and prove the relevance of this study in SLA from its specific point of view. An informative table (2.3) on literature review compares “studies on pragmatic development taking into account the context of learning” with a detailed list of (a) the target pragmatic aspects that have been investigated until now, (b) the kind of methodology, instruments, and data that have been used and collected to perform research, (c) the nature of participants forming the sample for each study, and (d) the learning context and the length of the study. This tool is useful because it shows how the research production in this specific area is relatively new (2012-2015) and limited, giving the opportunity to appreciate even more the contribution of this study as a part of an ongoing process of exploration and explanation of pragmatic transfer dynamics in the real-life context of language learning.

Chapter 3 deals with the epistemological review about the Multilingual Turn in SLA. Starting from an analysis of the first 1940s and 1950s studies in the field of multilingual pragmatic transfer being characterized by a monolingual bias, Martín-Laguna asserts that the positive and multidirectional pragmatic transfer in bilingualism has initiated new trends on the uniqueness of ML learners. Because of this unique ability, a holistic multilingual approach is needed, and the Multilingual Turn is a natural consequence of this process. At the very beginning of SLA studies on ML pragmatic transfer, a common tenet was that L1 had a strong influence on the target language (TL). As in many Linguistics research fields and subfields, the 1980s represented a turning point to a process-oriented approach with a revaluation of bilingualism, fostering the creation of a theoretic and empiric space for a systemic and complex perspective. A more dynamic approach opened-up the path for the holistic multilingual perspective in education, the study of pragmatic transfer in L2 pragmatics in ML learners, the role of proficiency levels in MT pragmatic transfer, and the dynamics and relations between L2 and L3 in pragmatic transfer (e.g., the second language factor, 3.3.2).

The concluding paragraph of Chapter 3 presents the two research questions that guided the study in order to fill the gaps in SLA and Interlinguistic pragmatics (ILP): the first is related to the transfer of the pragmatic ability to use pragmatic markers between languages in which ML learners receive instructions, and it is the main change over time of this process; the second deals with the correlation between proficiency level in L3 English and ML pragmatic transfer.

Chapter 4 deals with the Methodology and the peculiarity of doing classroom research in multilingual contexts. The study’s methodological structure relies upon two theoretical and empirical dimensions: (1) a cross-sectional analysis and (2) a longitudinal study over one academic year. Six sections deepen the empirical work presented. Firstly, a two-fold sample is presented: (1) teachers and (2) learners. A fundamental observation about the nature of the sample introduces the discussion: due to the naturalistic nature of the instructional setting (e.g. the classroom) a flux of authentic changes occurred over time. The initial sample was made of 792 participants, but during the academic year (subdivided into T1, T2, and T3), different factors (at least four main factors described in 4.1.1) led to high participants’ desertion, resulting in a final halved sample of 313 units (256 students and 56 teachers). A detailed description of participants’ L1 and L2 formal backgrounds introduces the linguistic space of the study. A brief overview of the researcher’s background clarifies the relevance of previous personal involvement in secondary school teaching and training activities in order to minimize, among other sociological effects, the Hawthorne effect on the field.

The novelty of the study is the nature of the data collection: compared to the majority of pragmatic markers studies, data were collected on the same multilingual learners writing in three languages, exploring other pragmatic dimensions and writing abilities in multilingual learners.

The data collection tool design process (4.2.1) features a three-fold rationale for the choice: (i) the role of the pilot study in defining the task procedure and the choice of topics, (ii) the relation between the topic choice and the ecological validity of the study (i.e., topic relevance to the learners, learners’ suggestions, learners’ linguistic preferences, etc.), (iii) the difference between tasks and exercises in the language classroom, with specific insight into the manipulation of the task in order to meet Ellis’ criteria for writing composition: the focus on meaning, the existence of a gap of opinion about the topic, learners reliance on personal linguistic or pragmatic resources, and the existence of a non-linguistic outcome. These criteria would have allowed relative freedom to approach the topic and perform the task.

Since pragmatic markers (PMs) as metadiscourse elements are the main pragmatic focus of the study, a well-researched insight into this concept is given in the middle of the chapter (4.4) as a turning point and provides as well the rationale for the category selection and PM forms (4.4.2). The coding process and database construction for the 2,817 essays as a sample are described in 4.4.3 with a graphic apparatus to get a direct view of the computational tools and software used to collect, organize, classify, and later analyze data. A final timetable for the data collection procedure (4.5) gives an overview of the entire research process.

Chapter 5 and Chapter 6 discuss the results following the Development of Pragmatic Transfer in Multilingual Learners. In this section, the analysis of 313 secondary-school ML learners in three languages in which they received instruction (i.e. English, Catalan, and Spanish) is provided. Textual and interpersonal PMs (pragmatic markers) are explored in written production by analyzing the pragmatic ability to transfer PMs between languages. The main focus is on the variable of time and the sensory variations of multilingual pragmatic transfer over time; the study used a mixed-method approach: a pragmatics-focused task to collect quantitative data and the use of learners’ diaries to obtain qualitative data. As a methodological corrective, the researcher’s field notes have been taken into account as well. The learners’ metalinguistic awareness is explored through the analysis of their reflections about their own PM production in English, Catalan, and Spanish over time. A detailed presentation of the corpora is provided in the first section of Chapter 5. The graphics used to provide infographics about the result at three separate times enables the reader to immediately understand the PM transfer during the course of the academic year (5.1). Twelve examples of the qualitative data collection are presented in comparative-synoptic tables (5.2), showing the shift of textual composition and production over time, by the learner’s choice of specific hedges and logical connectives for cause and reason, which constitute the basic logical structure of the discourse. After the exploration and discussion of quali-quantitative data, Chapter 6 discusses the effect of proficiency level on pragmatic transfer showing no major impact. In order to do this, additional data sources are provided (e.g. a proficiency test), and data were collected on a subsample of learners. The importance of the mixed-method approach is well depicted in 6.3, where the detailed analysis of textual and interpersonal PMs over time revealed divergences with the overall cross-sectional results. Furthermore, the proficiency tests suggest – on the one hand – a strict correlation (the positive correlation hypothesis) between the proficiency level of language x and the learner’s ability to transfer textual pragmatic knowledge among languages. A pivotal concept explaining this ability is the notion of “linguistic resource”. On the other hand, the results dealing with interpersonal PMs show that L2 lower-proficiency learners manage in this type of pragmatic transfer better due to the different modality of work that is requested. While textual pragmatic transfer deals with the written form, interpersonal transfer is related to oral production. This correlation is crucial to understand the nature of data in multilingual contexts, and the complexity of pragmatic learning in multilingual learners.

A summary of the main findings is presented in Chapter 7. In the Conclusions, we get the answer to the research questions declared in the third section of the book. In particular, from the cross-sectional analysis of data, we discover that there is a clear evolution towards transfer over time, while through the mixed-method approach, we understand that the process of pragmatic learning in an ML context is non-linear and complex, especially between English and Spanish at T3 of the year-long study. Of particular interest are the pedagogical implications of research findings (7.3) – that suggest ways to improve language learning in the ML classroom – and the awareness of the study limitations (7.2) which set the possibility for further research in the field. What is presented as an affirmation in light of previous studies about PM transfer behavior in ML learners, we can transform into three linked questions: (a) How does an ML learner actually transfer pragmatic markers in trilingual production? (b) Which are his favorite markers to use in all three languages? and (c) Why do learners tend to use the same textual and interpersonal PM strategies across languages? From a more linguistic-anthropological perspective, it should be useful to think about an economic principle behind the choice to use the same textual form from an original linguistic repertoire or multicompetence.

Chapter 8 contains six Appendices giving the reader all the prompts and questionnaires used to collect data on the field. English, Catalan, and Spanish writing tasks are provided (Appendix 1-3) as well as the questions used for guided learners’ diaries (Appendix 4). Of particular interest is Appendix 5, presenting a rich comparative list of targeted pragmatic marker forms in English, Catalan, and Spanish.

EVALUATION

The book is well-researched but sometimes redundant and too technical. It would have been useful to add a list of acronyms used throughout the book, for example. . While promptly defined as soon as they are introduced in any paragraph, they are very numerous and the reader would benefit from a clear cognitive map of the theoretical structure of the study from the beginning, with special reference to Intercultural Communication. The huge amount of specialized language pertaining to Language Acquisition , and the specificity of the study, call for a quick reference to all the frameworks taken into account – and not just the lonely comparative table listed and concerning only 2012-2015 studies – especially because of the huge literature review spanning from the 1940s to 2010s. Furthermore, the book is an account of a one-year study in a classroom context, but the sociolinguistic dimension of the day-to-day activity life in the classroom has no space in the monograph. While the study accounts precisely for the adolescent learner, it does not explain the subjective learning context; neither is the relevance of linguistic interaction among peers discussed. Some of the limitations – or challenges – recognized in the study by Martín-Laguna can be considered the starting point for an understanding of the sociolinguistic and sociocultural experience of learners under study.

To conclude, the book is a good addition to the field of study, but its connection to pedagogy suggests the need for further work featuring a more practical guide, based on this study’s findings. Such a guide would aid teachers in real-life class situations across languages, especially those working in higher multicultural (at least L4, L5, L6) contexts. The pedagogical implications of the findings are not very clear for a teacher wanting to improve his pragmatic transfer teaching in class. Due to the nature of the study, many chapters are too wordy. The best sections are those featuring tables, graphics, and diagrams which interpret data and data analysis, but the plain enumeration of items and the Pearson correlations numbers in the text, make the reading experience boring,, too much elaborated, and hard to follow, for readers without advanced linguistic training. Thus, readers who would benefit from this book are scholars and research-minded educators.


ABOUT THE REVIEWER

Maria Chiara Miduri, Ph.D., is a linguistic and cognitive anthropologist, independent researcher and teacher. Her main research interests lie at the intersection between Second Language Acquisition, Cognitive Grammar, Ethnopragmatics, Semantics and Ethnosemantics, and Grammar modelling.
She is engaged in the scientific community service in the field of Linguistics and as an educator.



Page Updated: 27-Apr-2021