LENGTH OF RESIDENCE AND INTENSITY OF INTERACTION: MODIFICATION IN GREEK L2 REQUESTS

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Pragmatics 22: (2012) International Pragmatics Association DOI: /prag bel LENGTH OF RESIDENCE AND INTENSITY OF INTERACTION: MODIFICATION IN GREEK L2 REQUESTS Spyridoula Bella Abstract
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Pragmatics 22: (2012) International Pragmatics Association DOI: /prag bel LENGTH OF RESIDENCE AND INTENSITY OF INTERACTION: MODIFICATION IN GREEK L2 REQUESTS Spyridoula Bella Abstract This paper investigates the external and internal modification devices used by native speakers and advanced learners of Greek, when making requests in formal and informal situations. The data are drawn from a discourse completion test completed by native speakers and learners of two different groups: one with extended length of residence in Greece but limited opportunities for interaction with native speakers and one with more frequent opportunities for interaction but limited length of residence in the target community. On the basis of the results, it is argued that learners with more opportunities for interaction approximate more closely to the native norm with respect to external modification and some aspects of internal modification of requests. Yet, it is shown that other aspects of internal modification remain underdeveloped, irrespective of frequency of contact with native speakers. This highlights the need for pedagogical intervention in order for the learners pragmatic development to be promoted. Keywords: L2 Greek; requests; Modification; Length of residence; Interaction intensity. 1. Introduction The documentation of second and foreign language learners pragmatic competence, i.e. the learners ability to employ different linguistic formulae in an appropriate way when interacting in a particular social and cultural context (Usó-Juan & Martínez-Flor 2008: 349), has been one of the main concerns of research in the field of interlanguage pragmatics. Therefore, an area that has been extensively investigated is the ability of learners to comprehend and produce various speech acts as well as the linguistic means learners employ in order to modify the illocutionary force and to mitigate the potential face-threatening nature of their speech acts. Of even more focal interest has been the question of the ways and the extent to which these means deviate from the ones used by native speakers (cf. Economidou-Kogetsidis 2008: ). As a result, numerous studies have been undertaken to date into a variety of speech acts, with the strongest focus on requests and apologies. These studies have looked into issues involving the comprehension, production and pragmatic development of second language learners at different levels of proficiency, when performing and comprehending various speech acts. It has been consistently revealed that efficient production of speech acts can be particularly complex, since it presupposes knowledge of sociocultural and sociopragmatic norms that prevail in the target community (cf. Félix-Brasdefer 2003: 227). This complexity is confirmed by the fact that even advanced learners with extended length of residence in the target community fail to 2 Spyridoula Bella approximate native speaker performance in terms of selection, content or form of strategies for the effective realization of various speech acts (cf. Bardovi-Harlig 2001; Rose 2005). The study of requests has attracted the greatest amount of attention in the study of speech acts. Most relevant studies have focused on the development of requests in the learners interlanguage (Achiba 2003; Cohen & Shively 2007; Félix-Brasdefer 2007; Hassall 2003; Jalifar 2009; Pearson 2006; Scarcella 1979; Schauer 2007), the request strategies they opt for and the mitigation devices they have at their disposal (Al-Ali & Alawneh 2010; Barron 2002; Blum-Kulka & Olshtain 1986; Economidou-Kogetsidis 2008, 2009; Faerch & Kasper 1989; Hassall 2001; Hill 1997; House & Kasper 1987; Jalifar 2009; Marti 2006; Trosborg 1995). Due to the great frequency of requests in interaction, their potential 1 face-threatening nature (see Blum-Kulka and Olshtain 1984; Brown and Levinson 1987; Sifianou 1992) and the ensuing central role of politeness in their production, in most cases, these studies have been theoretically based on various politeness models, with Brown and Levinson s (1987) being the most prevalent. The most extensive study of Greek requests has been Sifianou (1992). She adopts a cross-cultural perspective comparing English and Greek requests, analyzing in detail their structure and modification devices and highlighting the prominent role of solidarity (positive politeness) in their expression in Greek in-group contexts. However, there is no research on the production of requests by learners of Greek as a second language. Therefore, one objective of this paper is to provide a more holistic understanding of the production of requests, investigating the requestive behaviour of L2 learners of Greek. Specifically, the study focuses on the external and internal modification devices that advanced learners of Greek employ when performing requests in power symmetrical and power asymmetrical situations (see Scollon & Scollon 2001). With regard to advanced learners performance when realizing various speech acts, it has often been shown that high levels of proficiency do not guarantee concomitantly high levels of pragmatic competence (Bardovi-Harlig 1999: 686) and that other variables like length of stay in the target community and quality and quantity of input should be taken into account when assessing L2 learners performance. The role of length of residence in the target community for the development of learners pragmatic competence is an issue of utmost importance, since it may be associated with the observed long-lasting persistence of non-nativeness in L2 pragmatics (see, e.g. Bardovi-Harlig 2001). Furthermore, the inconsistency of research findings regarding the impact that length of residence might have on learners sociopragmatic development renders the issue even more worth exploring (see Churchill & Dufon 2006; Félix- Brasdefer 2004; Kasper & Rose 2002 for detailed reviews of the relevant studies). On the other hand, although the second language setting has been found to promote pragmatic awareness and pragmatic competence (Bardovi-Harlig & Dörnyei 1998; Schauer 2006), it has often been shown that, even learners with extended length of residence in the target community, fail to achieve successful pragmatic performance 1 Although most researchers define requests as (negative) face-threatening acts, it has been stated often that certain cases of requests can be considered as enhancing the addressee s positive face at the same time as threatening his/her negative one (see e.g. Sifianou 2010: 34; Turner 1996: 4). Moreover, certain kinds of requests, such as those occurring in brief service encounters cannot be seen as threatening, since they are performed to the mutual benefit of both interactants, in accordance with their institutional roles as buyer and seller (Antonopoulou 2001: 242). Modification of L2 Greek requests 3 when not provided with adequate opportunities for social contact with native speakers (Bella 2011; Matsumura 2001; Shively & Cohen 2008). Against this backdrop, a second objective of this study is to examine whether it is length of residence or interaction intensity, i.e. opportunities that learners have for social contact with native speakers, that correlates more positively with the successful performance of requests by L2 learners of Greek. To this end, native speakers performance is compared to two different groups of learners: one with extended length of residence in the Greek community but limited opportunities for social contact with native speakers, and one with less extended length of residence but more opportunities for social contact. 2 The paper begins with a discussion of the basic theoretical concepts involved (section 2) and then proceeds to present the method of the study (section 3). The results of the study are presented in section 4 and discussed in section 5. The final section includes the conclusions and the pedagogical implications of the study. 2. Theoretical background 2.1. Requests Following Searle s (1969) classification of illocutionary acts, researchers let requests fall under the category of directives, which are considered as attempts to get the hearer to do an act which speaker wants hearer to do, and which is not obvious that the hearer will do in the normal course of events or hearer s own accord (Searle 1969: 66). On such grounds, a request has been defined as a directive speech act in which the speaker asks the hearer to perform an action which is very often for the exclusive benefit of the speaker (Trosborg 1995). Therefore, requests are considered, potentially damaging for the addressee s negative face, i.e. the individual s need to have his/her freedom of action unimpeded (Brown & Levinson 1987: 61). According to Blum-Kulka et al. (1989), Sifianou (1992) and Trosborg (1995), requests consist of two main parts: the core request or head act and the peripheral modification devices. The head act consists of the main utterance which has the function of requesting and can stand by itself. Three main types of request head act realization are acknowledged in the literature: direct (e.g. Clean up the kitchen!), conventionally indirect (e.g. Could you clean up the kitchen?) and non-conventionally indirect (e.g. The kitchen needs some cleaning) (see Blum- Kulka et al. 1989). In addition to variation in the directness level of a request, speakers can use request modification to mitigate its illocutionary force. Modification items are optional and can be of two types: internal, which appear within the request act itself, and external, which appear in the immediate linguistic context of the head act. Internal modifiers are of two types: syntactic and lexical/phrasal. Syntactic modifiers comprise interrogative or conditional structures, negation (e.g. can t you clean up the kitchen?), non-obligatory use of past tense (e.g. I wanted to ask you to clean up the kitchen), etc. Lexical/phrasal modifiers include devices such as politeness markers ( please ), understaters (e.g., Could you tidy up a bit?), cajolers (e.g. You know, it would be nice if you cleaned the kitchen today) etc. External modification, on the other hand, appears in the form of supportive moves which either precede or follow the head act. These 2 See Bella (2011) for a similar methodological approach to L2 invitation refusals. 4 Spyridoula Bella involve reasons or explanations for the act (grounders), preparators (e.g. I d like to ask you something ), disarmers (e.g. I know you hate housework, but could you clean up a bit today?), etc. Since these constitute the means available for indexing politeness of speech acts (Blum-Kulka 2005 [1992]: 266) and taking into account both the basic social function of politeness and the nature of this speech act as an imposition, efficient use of these devices is essential so that the speakers requesting performance may be considered as appropriate in a variety of situations (Martínez-Flor and Usó-Juan 2006: 25). The production of requests calls for a great deal of both pragmalinguistic and sociopragmatic expertise 3 on the part of the users, in order for successful interaction to be accomplished and potential unwelcome effects on the hearer to be reduced or softened. In other words, the requester needs to possess both knowledge of the linguistic resources for formulating a request in a particular language and knowledge of the contextual and sociocultural variables that render a particular pragmalinguistic choice appropriate in a particular speech situation. Hence, requests may present inherent difficulties for language learners, who need to know how to perform requests successfully and to avoid the effect of being perceived as rude, offensive or demanding (Usó-Juan 2010: 237). Therefore, it comes as no surprise that the relevant research has revealed major deviations between native and non-native speakers of different languages with regard to the pragmalinguistic and sociopragmatic choices involved in the performance of requests. Studies have shown differences with respect to the amount and type of modification employed by native and non-native participants, as well as variation depended on situational factors involved (Achiba 2003; Barron 2002; Blum- Kulka & Olshtain 1986; Faerch & Kasper 1989; Hassall 2001; Hill 1997; House & Kasper 1987; Kobayashi and Rinnert 2003; Schauer 2004; Trosborg 1995; Zhang 1995). With respect to external modification, Kasper (1981) reported that both learners and NSs used the same amount of this type of modifiers, in contrast to Trosborg (1995) who shows that learners underused external modifiers when compared to native speakers. However, most relevant studies have revealed that learners tend to overuse external modifiers, often creating an effect of verbosity or waffling (Achiba 2003; Bella 2011; Blum-Kulka & Olshtain 1986; Edmondson & House 1991; Hassall 2001; House and Kasper 1987; Schauer 2004). Regarding internal modification, Blum-Kulka & Olshtain s (1986) study revealed no differences in the amount and type of modifiers between learners and native speakers. In their majority, however, relevant studies have consistently found that learners tend to use less internal request modification as well as different types of request modifiers compared to native speakers and that, even advanced learners, rarely seem to approach target language norms in this respect (Barron 2002; Bella 2011; Hendriks 2002; House and Kasper 1987; Woodfield 2008). These findings have led to the assumption that internal modifiers, especially lexical/phrasal ones, are particularly 3 For instance, knowing the acceptable ways of asking how much someone has paid for her new flat (e.g. Would you mind telling me how much it has cost you? or God, this flat must have cost a fortune!) would be an indication of pragmalinguistic knowledge, while knowing whether it would be acceptable to ask in a given language and a given context how much somebody paid for a new flat would be an indication of sociopragmatic knowledge. Modification of L2 Greek requests 5 hard to acquire due to their affective and highly context sensitive nature (cf. Barron 2002: 234; Bella 2011: 1737). This study focuses on the use of external and internal modifiers in the requests of L2 learners of Greek. Since both types of modifiers are strongly connected with matters of politeness, the findings will be discussed in the light of Brown and Levinson s (1987) account of politeness. As is well known, Brown and Levinson s model has received not only extensive support but also substantial criticism on a number of grounds (see, e.g. Bargiela-Chiappini 2003; Eelen 2001; Watts 2003). However, for the purposes of the present study, I will side with Locher s (2006: 250) contention that Brown and Levinson s astute description of linguistic strategies is useful when analyzing linguistic interaction, as well as Christie (2005), who, while not ignoring Brown and Levinson s weaknesses, argues that their model still has a great deal of analytical mileage in that it provides a framework for understanding social behaviour (2005: 6) Length of residence vs. intensity of interaction Length of residence in the target environment has often been proved to be one of the most critical variables responsible for the development of language learners pragmatic competence. Various studies have revealed that several aspects of pragmatic competence are enhanced during a period of stay in the target language community; these aspects include comprehension of conversational implicature (Bouton 1992, 1994), directness and politeness (Blum-Kulka & Olshtain 1986; Han 2005; Siegal 1994), comprehension and/ or production of routine formulae in speech acts (Barron 2002; Hoffman Hicks 1999; Owen 2002; Shively 2008), speech act strategies (Barron 2002; Cohen & Shively 2008; Schauer 2007) and lexical and syntactic modification of speech acts (Cohen & Shively 2007; Félix-Brasdefer 2004). However, as suggested by Félix-Brasdefer (2004: 598), the results of studies dealing with the effects of length of residence on pragmatic ability should be viewed with caution, due to the variation research findings present regarding both the pragmatic measure used (comprehension, production, etc.) and the time span proposed for pragmatic development to take place. Furthermore, findings of studies like Matsumura (2001), who examined changes of Japanese students sociocultural perceptions with respect to the speech act of offering advice during an eight-month period of study-abroad in Vancouver and found no association between these students pragmatic development and length of residence in the target speech community, raise questions regarding the effect of length of residence on pragmatic development and performance. On the other hand, Matsumura (2001) observed a positive correlation between richness of input and pragmatic development (see also Kim 2000). Such results point to the potentially more influential role of quality and quantity of input on learners pragmatic ability. Therefore, reservations are expressed by some researchers as to whether pragmatic ability is influenced by the quality of nonnative speakers exposure and social contacts [ ] rather than the quantitative measure of length of residence (Kasper & Rose 2002: 196). These researchers consider length of residence an uninteresting variable (Klein et al. 1995: 277) and claim that what really matters is intensity of interaction (ibid.). 6 Spyridoula Bella Indeed, Bella s (2011) study on invitation refusals by L2 learners of Greek revealed that opportunities for interaction are much more critical than length of residence in the target community for the development of learners sociopragmatic competence with regard to this particular speech act. Bella (2011) used role-plays in order to compare the performance of native speakers with two groups of L2 learners of Greek when refusing an invitation from an intimate: the first group had extended length of residence, but few opportunities for social contact with native speakers, whereas the second group s length of residence was shorter, but opportunities for interaction with native speakers were considerably more. The study s results indicated that learners with more opportunities for interaction, regardless of their limited length of residence in Greece, overperformed learners with more extended length of stay with regard to the structure of their contributions in the two stages of the refusal sequence as well as the appropriate use of external modification strategies. These findings suggest that the impact of length of residence in the target community and intensity of interaction with native speakers on pragmatic development remains an open question which is worth exploring further. In light of the above theoretical discussion, the present paper aims to provide additional insights both to the study of requests with special reference to Greek L2 requests and to the role that length of residence in the target community and intensity of interaction with native speakers might play on the performance of learners of Greek as an L2. Specifically, the following research questions will be investigated: 1. In what ways do L2 learners of Greek deviate from native speakers with regard to the amount and type of external and internal modifiers they employ when performing requests in different situations? 2. Is length of residence in the target community a sufficient condition for the development of sociopragmatic ability in request modification or is intensity of interaction a more decisive factor? 3. Method: Participants and data collection procedures 3.1. Participants A total of 150 subjects participated in the study: 50 native speakers of Greek (25 males and 25 females), all coming from Athens (mean age: 23.8 years), and 100 non-native speakers (40 males and 60 females, mean age: 26.2) from various L1 backgrounds (Albanian, Ukranian, Bulgarian, Ru
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