Sociopragmatic development in study abroad contexts: the role of learner status in the use of second language pragmatic markers

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Magliacane, Annarita
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University College Cork
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With the ever-growing number of individuals who embark on study abroad (SA) sojourns, SA research has become a prolific and well-established area of investigation in Second Language Acquisition (SLA) research. However, while SA sojourns extend to wideranging types of study and residence experiences, SA research to date has predominantly focused on university students. Hence, a question which needs more investigation concerns the differential characteristics of the learner’s status abroad, such as work experience or university studies, which may have potential implications on the issues underpinning learner engagement with the input and interactional opportunities. This study addressed this issue by comparing Italian students in a university SA setting (n=15) and a group of au pairs (n=15) in a family setting during a six-month sojourn in Ireland. The learners’ sociopragmatic competence was tracked longitudinally with reference to their use of pragmatic markers (PMs) in oral production. More specifically, the analysis focused on the emergence and longitudinal use in the learners’ language of the six frequently occurring PMs in Irish English, i.e. ‘you know’, ‘I mean’, ‘I think’, ‘well’, ‘like’ and ‘yeah’. Data were elicited through individual sociolinguistic interviews, complemented by sociolinguistic questionnaires, and were compared to a reference corpus of Irish native speakers (NSs). The analysis of these linguistic items was two-fold. Firstly, PMs were investigated quantitatively as the study progressed. Secondly, the results of the quantitative analysis were analysed with a quali/quantitative approach. More specifically, the quantitative analysis aimed to investigate whether a) changes were present over time in the spoken production of the learners in terms of frequency and characteristics of use; b) different SA experiences led to different results for the production of PMs; c) similarities or differences with NS frequency and characteristics of use were present. These findings were then analysed in terms of the amount and the type of input that participants claimed to have had during their SA experience. In particular, the findings were analysed by considering the responses given by the informants to the questionnaires and in the interviews. Results of the research point to an increase in frequency as well as a more diversified use of PMs at the end of the SA sojourn. Thus, the six-month SA sojourn had a beneficial effect on the production of these linguistic items by the participants in this study. However, despite this common trend, the two groups presented different types of results. While the ES group outperformed the other group in terms of frequency and approached more NS values in that regard, the AU pairs presented pragmatic functions which were more typologically similar to NS ones. Thus, a correlation with the amount and type of input was probably present and, as a result, the different SA experience played a role in learners’ sociopragmatic development. Indeed, the ES group reported having used the language mainly in international contexts, whereas the au pairs tended to interact more with NSs more, but conversations were predominantly with NS children. Keywords: sociopragmatic development, pragmatic markers, study abroad, TL exposure, contextual features.
TL exposure , Sociopragmatic development , Pragmatic markers , Study abroad , Contextual features
Magliacane, A. 2017. Sociopragmatic development in study abroad contexts: the role of learner status in the use of second language pragmatic markers. PhD Thesis, University College Cork.