Acquiring 'different strokes'. A longitudinal study of the development of L2 pragmatic competence

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Learning a language is too often viewed as simply a matter of mastering a distinct system of signs, without reference to the context in which a particular language is used. Recently, research in cross-cultural pragmatics has, however, clearly illustrated that different cultures use language in culturally distinctive ways - a fact which points to a need for language learners to learn about the cultural distinctiveness of the particular speech community in question. In the foreign language classroom, however, pragmatic issues generally remain insufficiently addressed leading to a situation where learners are vulnerable to pragmatic failure and cross-cultural misunderstanding. Time spent in the target speech community remains learners' primary opportunity to acquire pragmatic knowledge. However, the actual extent to which students of German, for example, become "more German" in their use of the German language over a period spent in the target country, remains, as yet, unanswered (cf. Kasper & Schmidt 1996). It is this issue of the development of pragmatic competence over a study abroad period in the target community which is addressed in this paper based on empirical data elicited using a discourse completion task from thirty-three Irish learners of German, twenty-seven Irish native speakers of English and thirty native speakers of German. The approach taken is speech-act based. The paper first focuses on native speaker and learner differences in the employment of lexical and phrasal downgraders in request realisations, before developments in learners' use of these linguistic elements over time in the L2 speech community are discussed.
Original languageEnglish
JournalGerman as a Foreign Language
Issue number2
Pages (from-to)1-29
Number of pages29
Publication statusPublished - 2000
Externally publishedYes