Title page for ETD etd-11052009-094915

Type of Document Dissertation
Author Smith, James Bryant
URN etd-11052009-094915
Title The Acquisition of Pragmatic Competence: Compliment Response Strategies in Learners of Spanish
Degree Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)
Department Linguistics (Interdepartmental Program)
Advisory Committee
Advisor Name Title
King, Jeremy W. Committee Chair
Brody, M. Jill Committee Member
Hegarty, Michael Committee Member
Oetting, Janna B. Committee Member
Sulentic Dowell, Margaret-Mary Dean's Representative
  • Spanish
  • speech acts
  • linguistics
  • pragmatics
  • politeness
  • applied linguistics
  • compliment responses
Date of Defense 2009-08-31
Availability unrestricted
The areas of Pragmatics and Second Language Acquisition have existed separately in the field of Linguistics for some time. Their connection, however, has more recently seen a great deal of study by researchers like Scarcella and Brunak (1981), Rintell (1981), Brown and Levinson (1987), Koike (1992, 1996), Saito, Beecken (1997), Félix-Brasdefer (2003, 2006) and Huth (2006). A common thread in these studies is the effect of language transfer or cross-linguistic influence that the first language has while learners are attempting to acquire the pragmatic and politeness principles that are central to the target language and culture.

One speech act that is particularly of interest to researchers is compliment responses because they require a great deal of pragmatic insight by the speaker and therefore are often rich with data. The present study attempts to bring together the research that has been done on this speech act and clarify it using data from American learners of Spanish in a foreign language classroom at the university level. Although collecting data from learners is not a new concept, this cross-sectional study of learners at three (beginning, intermediate, and advanced) stages of learning will help to fill a void in the research that exists on the role of language transfer in pragmatic acquisition, as well as the correlation between grammatical competence and pragmatic competence.

Results from a compliment response survey administered to American native English-speaking learners of Spanish at a large American university from varying levels will be analyzed and compared to control data from native English and Spanish speakers. This research will illustrate that in the second language classroom, pragmatic accuracy in the second language often does not simply emerge with grammatical instruction. Instead, these data will show that explicit instruction might be a better tool for pragmatic accuracy in compliment responses. Results will indicate that with more Spanish instruction, students will be able to produce more grammatically correct compliment responses, but there will be little variation in their pragmatic content through the levels. These results have pedagogical implications since pragmatic competence largely remains an overlooked aspect of second language acquisition in the language classroom.

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