Mapping pragmatic competence to the CEFR: a cross-sectional study of L2 English requests

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McCarthy, Martina Maria
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University College Cork
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This thesis broadly investigates the development of L2 pragmatic competence of English language study abroad learners at B1, B2, and C1 level. It also tests the validity of the CEFR descriptors for “sociolinguistic appropriateness” (CoE, 2018) against statistically analysed learner data. More specifically, the speech act of requests was chosen as the focus for this cross-sectional study which explores the influence of proficiency level and sociocultural variables on the exponents employed. Regarding the design of the study, an original five-question WDCT was used to elicit requests from 50 participants in each test group. This generated data of 750 request responses overall. The data were analysed using a quali-quantitative approach whereby the responses were firstly coded using a slightly altered version of the renowned coding categories delineated by Blum-Kulka and Olshtain (1984). Thereafter, statistical analysis was carried out using chi-square and binomial tests between groups and request situations to test the effect of proficiency level and sociocultural variables respectively on the employment of exponents. The significant results were then mapped to the CEFR descriptors for “sociolinguistic appropriateness” by using six hypotheses based on same. Three of those hypotheses stipulated that the number of exponents available increases in line with proficiency level, while the others referred to how C1 and B2 level learners adjust their use of language to the context but B1 level learners do not. Overall, all groups employed the same exponents. Naturally, the quality of language increased in line with proficiency level. However, the B1 group indexed their resourcefulness in drawing on their comparatively restricted linguistic repertoire to perform the same exponents as the other groups. Also, it was found that proficiency level did not have a profound impact on exponents. There were a few notable exceptions such as the B1 group’s reliance on can and please compared to the C1 group’s preference for would (you mind). In addition, there was some evidence of developing multi-strategy requests as proficiency level improved, but this was apparent in some request situations, not all. Furthermore, all groups responded in strikingly similar ways to the sociocultural variables of power difference, social distance, and the level of imposition. For instance, all groups were able to mark formality with address terms and greetings according to the context. Also, all groups recognised the need to use grounders in high imposition requests. Differences in how the groups adjusted their language according to the context in certain request situations shed light on the development of rhetorical logic (O’Keefe, 1988) and demonstrated an enhanced ability to attend to face-work in a range of contexts on the part of the C1 group. In addition, the results refuted the three hypotheses based on the developmental progression in exponents as suggested in the CEFR descriptors for “sociolinguistic appropriateness”. Also, the hypothesis that the B1 group does not adjust language according to the context was refuted. Hence, revisions to the CEFR descriptors for “sociolinguistic appropriateness” were presented based on the results. Moreover, a proposal regarding a means to expand the scales and descriptors was put forth to reflect the wealth of literature on (L2) pragmatics. In explaining the results, it was deduced that the study abroad nature of the participants was an important factor since the results refuted the findings of many studies on EFL learners, for instance. The multidisciplinary approach adopted in the thesis showed how collaborative research across the fields of pragmatics, ILP, and the CEFR would be conducive to developing a more holistic understanding of L2 pragmatic competence.
CEFR , L2 English , Pragmatic competence , Second language acquisition , Language pedagogy , Requests , Speech acts
McCarthy, M. M. 2018. Mapping pragmatic competence to the CEFR: a cross-sectional study of L2 English requests. PhD Thesis, University College Cork.
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