skipper – The Linguistics Journal TESOL Linguistics Thu, 22 Jun 2017 07:43:27 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Code Switching in Arabic – English and Telugu – English – A Minimalist Account Tue, 28 Mar 2017 03:51:35 +0000

Title: Code Switching in Arabic – English and Telugu – English – A Minimalist Account

Keywords: antisymmetry, code switching, grammatical aspects, Greenberg’s universal 20, minimalist theory, syntactic constraints.

Supervisor: Prof. Hemalatha Nagarajan
Department of Linguistics and Contemporary English
The English and Foreign Languages University
Hyderabad, Telangana, India



This thesis addresses grammatical aspects of code switching in two language pairs- Telugu-English and Arabic-English.  The two language pairs are selected precisely for the reason that they are diametrically opposite to each other in terms of word order.  Telugu is an SOV language, whereas (Spoken) Arabic is SVO just like English.  Many researchers have looked at a single language pair and arrived at different conclusions.  Some of them (Pfaff, Joshi, et al) said that there was a need for a specific lexical apparatus to describe code switched sentences while some of them (MacSwan and Chan) advocated Null Theory.  In other words, they said that there was no need for a separate grammar but the same lexical apparatus that were used to describe monolingual sentences can be used to account for code switched sentences.   Though this thesis, at heart is an addition to the list of the Null Theory advocates, it does so in a different way. It looks at data from two language pairs which according to the limited knowledge of the researcher is first of its kind.

A lot of data was collected using two methods – grammatical judgment and naturalistic observation.  Though some researchers are against former method, many others are of the opinion that unless one knows what is wrong, how does one explain what is right?

The approach followed in this thesis to analyze the data is minimalist in the sense that only mechanisms that were absolutely essential to account for the data were used. Firstly, earlier literature that had been proposed specific lexical apparatus for code switched data is reviewed in the light of newly collected data and each one is disconfirmed.

Then the analysis proceeds to confirm the Null theory. Finally it is proved that though the languages differ in their basic word orders, there is switching possible at almost all boundaries and that the same lexical apparatus used to analyze monolingual data can be extended to account for code switched data.

Volume 10 Issue 1 July 2016 Tue, 04 Oct 2016 22:57:43 +0000 cover2016

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Foreword by Biljana Čubrović

Research Articles

1. Elsa González-Álvarez and Susana Doval-Suárez
The Use of Extraposition in the Written Production of Spanish Advanced Learners of English

2. Intesar Elwerfalli
The Difficulties in Acquiring the English Article System: The Role of Contrastive Analysis Hypothesis (CAH) and Explicit/Implicit Teaching Strategies

3. Yi-Chun Christine Yang
Noticing, Contrastive Analysis, and EFL Learners’ Speech Production

4. Fatemeh Mahdavirad
The Effect of Personal Familiar vs. Impersonal Less Familiar Topic on Expository Writing Task Performance

5. Sara Nezami Nav
Topical Structure Analysis of Thesis Discussion Sections: A Cross-Disciplinary Study

6. Mustafa Yildiz
A Cross-Linguistic Inquiry into the Potential Reasons for the Avoidance of English Phrasal Verbs: The Case of Turkish and Norwegian EFL Learners

7. Rachel Allan
Lexical Bundles in ELF Business Meetings

8. Charles Marfo
Prosody Drives Syntax: Prosody in the Focus and Topic Constructions of Akan

9. Hmoud Alotaibi
Comparison of Metadiscourse Markers in Arabic and English Research Articles in the Introduction and Conclusion Sections

10. Ourania Katsara
The Use of Linguistics in Indicating the Influence of Political Power in Shaping Politicians’ Behaviour: The Case of Demetrios D. Bousdras

Research Notes

11. Aikaterini Alexi, Georgia Papathanasopoulou, and Evangelos C. Papakitsos
The Development of Morphological Generators and Related Issues: The Case of Modern Greek

When all is said and done: A Cognitive Approach to Intelligibility Fri, 15 Jul 2016 02:57:19 +0000

Title: When all is said and done: A Cognitive Approach to Intelligibility

Keywords: Intelligibility, pronunciation, cognitive phonology, phonetics, second language acquisition, figure ground, cognitive linguistics, curriculum design, EFL, ESL, TESOL, TESL, ESOL, teaching methodology, corrective feedback, form focused instruction, cognitive phonology.

Rolf I. Naidoo
Assistant Professor
Department of English Language and Literature
College of Humanities
Daegu University



Pronunciation is central to intelligibility and yet omitted from curriculums in South Korean university EFL courses. Research in this area shows there are benefits from direct instruction Saalfield (2011). This study explores the use of the cognitive linguistics concepts figure and ground in pronunciation instruction to aid segmental improvement in learner production and awareness. Ninety six Korean freshmen participated in the study. Fifty nine learners received the Figure-Ground treatment administered over a semester. Nineteen learners in a suprasegmental group received a commercially available suprasegmental curriculum and eighteen learners in the control group follow the standard curriculum with no pronunciation instruction. Pre- and post-test measures were conducted to ascertain differences in performance between groups. Learners participated in 3 forms of assessment, controlled sentence production (CSP), spontaneous task production (STP) and a student self-assessment questionnaire (SSAQ). A two level treatment grounded in the cognitive concepts attention, awareness, and noticing form the basis for activities. The results show an increase in learner awareness and production in both the CSP and STP. A student self-assessment questionnaire depicts attitudes and beliefs of participants to provide a more holistic view of awareness and production and any further changes in attitudes.



Language Transfer: From Topic Prominence to Subject Prominence Mon, 07 Sep 2015 22:16:30 +0000

Title: Language Transfer: From Topic Prominence to Subject Prominence

Keywords: language transfer, topic-prominence, subject-prominence

Lanfeng Lu

Lanfeng Lu received her B.A degree in English Literature from Guangdong University of Foreign Studies, China and M.A. degree in TESOL from the University of Leeds, UK. From 2006 until now, she has been with Zhuhai City Polytechnic as an English teacher.


This paper explores Chinese native language transfer on English second language acquisition (SLA), focusing on Chinese topic prominence (TP) and English subject prominence (SP). The article intends to find out whether Chinese EFL learners will transfer their Chinese topic-prominent constitutions to their English interlanguage and whether transfer will differ at different proficiency levels. 125 participants are involved in three tasks: interpretation, translation and acceptability judgment. The results show that in interpretation and translation tasks, the numbers of TPs decline and even disappear with the increase of the learners’ English proficiency; in acceptability judgment task, the learners’ awareness of unacceptability and unnaturalness of Chinese TPs in English increases as their English proficiency progresses. Chinese transfer does play an important role in English SLA. Moreover, the study also finds that the results of interpretation and translation tasks are not exactly in accordance with that of acceptability task. In addition, English native speakers seem to be more tolerant with Chinese TP than most Chinese EFL learners.

Volume 9 Issue 1 June 2015 Sun, 07 Jun 2015 00:20:37 +0000 cover

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Foreword by Biljana Čubrović

Research Articles

1. Tien Ngoc Dung Dang
The Influence of Vietnamese Syllable Structure CVk
(consonant-vowel-consonant /k/) on Vietnamese Adult EFL Learners’ Intelligibility

2. Berrin Uçkun
Verb Semantics and Argument Structure Defining L2
Learners’ Dative Alternation Preferences

3. Alison Stewart and Brenda M. Wright
Positioning and Stance in Intercultural Communication:
Cultural Identity in a Japanese-Malaysian Student Facebook Exchange

4. William MacDonald
Sleep Quantity and University Students’ English as a
Foreign Language Test Performance

5. Warren Hancock
Attitudinal Recontextualisation in Media Texts:
Positive and Negative Alignment and Media Subjectivity

6. Nazlınur Göktürk
The Acquisition of Verb Inflections by Adult Turkish Learners of English

Research Notes

7. Skott Freedman
The Influence of Neighborhood Density on Word Learning

8. Todd Allen
Implications in Aizuchi Research:
What Can Japanese L1 Participants Tell Researchers? Responses from a Pilot Study.

9. Ying Cui and Yanli Zhao
Principles of Enhancing Students’ Memory in Translation Teaching
with Reference to the Chinese Educational Context

10. Biljana Čubrović
Preliminary Problems in Contrasting Vowel Inventories:
The Case of English and Serbian

Collocation Differences between Adjectives in English and English Adjective Loan Words in Japanese Sun, 29 Mar 2015 02:55:38 +0000

Title: Collocation Differences between Adjectives in English and English Adjective Loan Words in Japanese


Masatoshi Shoji


This study examined collocational differences between seven English fashion-related adjectives and their equivalent loan word forms in Japanese: elegant,fashionable, feminine, stylish, chic, boyish, and mannish. Corpus research was conducted by using the Bank of English for English and the Sketch Engine for Japanese. Additionally, for three of the adjectives, feminine, boyish and mannish, and their corresponding loan words, survey questionnaires were developed to examine both native English and Japanese speakers’ perceptions of semantic prosody of collocational examples using these words. The research explored whether the English adjectives underwent semantic changes as they were adopted into Japanese, whether English loan words are used instead of Japanese near synonyms to fill lexical gaps in Japanese, and, for selected words, whether the semantic prosody can change between English and Japanese. These questions were all answered affirmatively. In particular, semantic change occurred for six of the seven adjectives; the semantic prosody of the selected adjectives also tended to be more positive in Japanese than in English. The research also sought to understand if collocational differences between English and Japanese affect English as a foreign language (EFL) learners, however this question was not able to be confidently answered.



Volume 8 Issue 1 June 2014 Tue, 03 Jun 2014 21:44:15 +0000 cover

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Foreword by Biljana Čubrović

Research Articles

  1. Dina Awad. Diverse Acquisition Patterns
  2. Ibrahim M. R. Al-Shaer. The Use of Third-Person Pronouns by Native and Non-Native Speakers of English
  3. Napasri Timyam. An Analysis of Learner Use of Argument Structure Constructions: A Case of Thai Learners Using the Passive and Existential Constructions in English
  4. Mohammad Aliakbari, Mahmoud Qaracholloo and Ali Mansouri Nejad. Social Class and Language Structure: A Methodological Inquiry into Bernstein’s Theory of Sociology of Education Research Notes
  5. Ming Wei. Code-Switching in a Virtual English Community in China: An International Perspective
  6. Jabulani Sibanda. Interrogating Current Conceptualisations of ‘Word’ for Word Knowledge Studies:
    Challenges and Prospects.
  7. María José Serrano and Miguel A. Aijón Oliva.  On Gendered Styles and their Socio-Cognitive Foundations
Foreword – Novermber 2006 Thu, 09 Jan 2014 05:33:22 +0000 November 2006. Volume 1 Issue 3
PDF version


In the November edition of the Linguistics Journal we are pleased to present six articles from various areas of the world. Congratulations are extended to all the authors in this edition who have successfully negotiated the review procedure.

The first, by Camilla Vizconde from the Center for Educational Research and Development and the University of Santo Tomas in the Philippines, investigates student teacher attitudes towards English as the language of instruction in science and mathematics as classes. Through the qualitative analysis of interview data with teacher trainees in two teacher training institutions, Vizconde reveals that there are difficulties in following the government policy of bilingualism. Most respondents show preference for the “alternate use of both Filipino and English inside their classrooms” which runs contrary to government stipulation that English should be the only medium of instruction in such classes. Vizconde concludes that whilst student teachers recognize the importance of English, Filipino should be viewed as a valuable “support language.” This small-scale study has far-reaching implications for the current bilingual policy in science and mathematics programmes in the Philippines.

The second paper comes from Dr. Francesco Cavallaro at Nanyang Technological University, Singapore. His paper puts forward the proposal for a methodological triangulation in investigating the language dynamics of the Italian community in Australia. This highly reflective account of research into an ethnic minority illustrates the necessity to choose methods of enquiry which suit the context of the study. Cavallaro shows how the combination of diary keeping, participant observation, questionnaire and tape-recording can successfully help the researcher gain better insights into language dynamics in settings where different levels of formality exist.

The next paper is by Dr. Raphiq Ibrahim, a cognitive and neuropsychologist at Haifa University and Rambam Medical Center in Israel. His research investigates languages with cognate relationships, Arabic and Hebrew, and asks whether there are advantages of this knowledge for Arabic Hebrew bilinguals in second language acquisition. Ibrahim’s study is based upon lexical connections between translation equivalents and suggests that “cognate words that have phonological overlap can influence the recognition of translation equivalents.” The study makes use of the comparison between repetition priming effects (reaction times and accuracy measures) and translation equivalents in Modern Standard Arabic (MSA) and Hebrew. It concludes that the “strength of the lexical associations between translation equivalents is influenced not only by the frequency of concomitant use but rather by their cognate status.”

Dr. Mina Rastegar from the University of Kerman in Iran looks at “causal modeling – path analysis”, a new statistical trend in applied linguistics. This fascinating paper critically analyses this method of enquiry and argues that it is “the best statistical option to use when the effects of a multitude of L2 learners’ variables on language achievement are investigated in one study” since the causal models can effectively explain the hypothesized variables. Rastegar puts forward the case for the replacement of traditional linear correlation with that of the new causal modeling – path analysis technique.

Dr. F. Sadighi and Mr. S. Zare from Shiraz University in Iran present a case study of Iranian EFL learners and ask whether background knowledge influences listening comprehension in TOEFL. In this paper, the researchers activated the pre-listening topic knowledge of an experimental group. In their statistical analysis of the ensuing data from the experimental and control groups, findings shows that background knowledge did actually improve listening scores. This study is a highly reflective account of a research process which can be effectively replicated in different settings.

The final article by Ms. Jing Liu, Dr. Tindall and Dr. Nisbet from Regent University in the U.S.A. looks at the use of English plural forms by Chinese learners. This study outlines some of the difficulties commonly experienced by Chinese students taking EFL courses, providing the reader with useful insights into their linguistic origins in the Chinese language. The authors provide a number of practical teaching recommendations to address this problem.

We hope you enjoy the diversity presented in this end of the year edition of The Linguistics Journal and look forward to your own contributions.

John Adamson, Ed.D.
Senior Associate Editor
The Linguistics Journal


Volume 1. Issue 3. November 2006

PDF E-book version pps. 1-146 View

Foreword by Dr. John Adamson.

1. Camilla Vizconde. Attitudes of Student Teachers towards the use of English as Language of Instruction for Science and Mathematics in the Philippines
2. Francesco Cavallaro. Language Dynamics of an Ethnic Minority Group: Some Methodological Concerns on Data Collection
3. Raphiq Ibrahim. Do Languages with Cognate Relationships have Advantages in Second Language Acquisition?
4. Mina Rastegar. Causal Modeling – Path Analysis: A New Trend in Research in Applied Linguistics
5. F. Sadighi and S. Zare. Is Listening Comprehension Influenced by the Background Knowledge of the Learners? A Case Study of Iranian EFL learners
6. Liu Jing, Evie Tindall and Deanna Nisbet. Chinese Learners and English Plural Forms

A Sociopragmatic Analysis of Griping: The Case of Iranian Students Thu, 09 Jan 2014 04:58:03 +0000 January 2006. Volume 1
pp 59 – 76 (PDF version) for academic citation

A Sociopragmatic Analysis of Griping: The Case of Iranian Students

Hamid Allami
Yadz University, Iran

Article: PDF version MS Doc version

Unlike direct complaint, “griping” is a non-face-threatening speech act in which the party or object of complaint is not present. The present study is an attempt to investigate the responses provided for griping in terms of six major categories: 1) topic switch/blank reply, 2) question, 3) contradiction, 4) joking/teasing, 5) advice, 6) agreement/ commiseration. The data has been collected through a ‘Discourse Completion Task’ (DCT) to set up the necessary conditions for the speech act to occur. The findings reveal that in response to griping, Iranian students, most of the time, feel obliged to further conversation and maintain solidarity through the use of the supportive speech act of commiseration. However, they do not support Boxer’s finding that women participate more in troubles-talks than men, or that women mostly commiserate with griping while men contradict or give advice.

Key words: sociolinguistics, pragmatics, speech act theory, non-face-threatening act, griping

Unlike direct complaint which is a face-threatening act (Sauer, 2000; Murphy & Neu, 1996; Olshtain& Weinbach, 1987) through which a speaker makes complaints about someone or something that is present in the speech act event, griping can be described as a non-face-threatening speech act in which the responsible party or object of the complaint is not present during the interaction within which the speech act is performed (D’Amico-Reisner, 1985). Although both direct and indirect complaints have the potential of leading to lengthy interactions between speaker and addressee, it is usually in the indirect complaint or griping that one finds conversational material upon which shared beliefs and attitudes may be expressed (Tatsuki, 2000). As such, the indirect complaint becomes a solidarity-building device since it freely invokes the listener to engage in a series of ‘commiserative responses’ to demonstrate attention and concern, or to maintain intimacy and stable social relationships.

In Australian English, the speech act known as ‘whinging’ seems to be closely related to ‘griping’ and also ‘nagging’. The definition using the Natural Semantic Approach is as follows (Wierzbicka, 1991, p. 181-2):

(a) I say something bad is happening to me.
(b) I feel something bad because of this.
(c) I can’t do anything because of this.
(d) I want someone to know this.
(e) I want someone to do something because of this.
(f) I think no one wants to do anything because of this.
(g) I want to say this many times because of this.

Wierzbicka (1991) deliberately juxtaposes the definitions of ‘complain’ as mentioned earlier, and ‘whinge’ so as to highlight the range of meaning a word, here a verb, can have with respect to the culture in which it has become a part.

According to both Tannen (1990) and Michand & Warner (1997), such commiserative responses frequently serve as back-channels or evaluative responses in an extended structure of discourse exchanges and might invoke expressions like “Oh, that’s horrible!”, “Yeah, I know what you mean”, and “That’s too bad.”

The present study aims to ascertain whether responses to griping by Iranians are in accord with the findings of the current research on griping. This may serve as further evidence to contribute to the universality of the function of griping, or provide evidence to indicate its non-universality.

Review of Related Literature
There is already an extensive literature on the speech act of complaint (Kasper, 1981; Brown & Levinson, 1987; Wierzbicka, 1991; Olshtain & Weinbach, 1993; Laforest, 2002 to cite a few). Searle (1976), in his typology of speech acts, distinguishes between apology and complaint as expressive speech acts, where the former is made to threaten the addressee’s positive-face want (See Brown & Levinson, 1987). Complaint has also been classified as a particular speech act – in reaction to a ‘socially unacceptable act’- to imply severity or directness (Brown & Levinson, 1987). It has been further defined as a speech act to give the speaker a way to express ‘displeasure or annoyance’ as a reaction to a past or on-going action the consequences of which are perceived by the speaker as affecting him unfavorably (Olshtain and Weinbach, 1993).

While direct complaint, as defined by Brown and Levinson (1987), is a face-threatening act, it has been claimed that griping carries no face threat. Furthermore, unlike direct complaint, which is used to call for negotiation, griping is used as a means to invoke commiseration (Edmondson, 1981).

The earliest study on griping (as cited in Boxer, 1993a) was carried out by Katriel (1985) who examined the ritual samples of griping among Israelis. Jefferson & Lee (1981) and Jefferson (1984) studied ‘troubles-telling’ encounters from a conversation analysis point of view. These studies refer to the potential of establishing solidarity through griping.

Bayraktaroglu (1992) in a study on Turkish commiserative responses found griping a common speech act among friends and intimates. He defined it in the following manner:

When one of the speakers informs the other speaker of the existence of a personal problem, the subsequent talk revolves around this trouble for a number of exchanges, forming a unit in the conversation where trouble is the focal point…,[involving] the speaker who initiates it by making his or her trouble in public, the trouble-teller, and the speaker who is on the receiving end, the ‘trouble-recipient’ (p. 319)

Bayraktaroglu also distinguished griping from troubles-talking in that the latter is a type of oral narrative which is initiated by the former.

Boxer (1993a) refers to her previous research in 1991 that showed that griping does not always function as rapport-inspiring speech interactions. She found that approximately 25% of griping sequences serve to distance the interlocutors from one another while 75% of the samples of griping were found to be rapport-inspiring by a group of 10 native English-speaking raters. The study found that speakers of English often employed griping in sequential interaction in an attempt to establish solidarity. Moreover, in this type of negotiation, which brought the interlocutors closer to each other by opening up a more personal side to the relationship, it was found to be a predominantly female phenomenon in the native speaker study.

In a further study, Boxer (1993b) investigated griping in conversations between Japanese learners of English as an L2 and their L1 peers. She found that natives use griping as a positive strategy for establishing points of commonality. She refers to Yamada’s (1989) findings that depict Americans as having a positive orientation towards talk, where talk is seen as a way of better understanding of one another, and resolving problems and difficulties; whereas the Japanese have a negative orientation towards talk where talk is seen as a kind of problem-maker itself. Therefore, the Japanese verbal and nonverbal back channeling behavior seems to be an attempt to avoid the possibility of face-threatening behavior. Further, she mentions that as negative evaluations of the type are frequently employed by Americans to establish solidarity, and in at least some U. S. speech communities they have the potential to open and support conversation, interactions and even relationships. If the Japanese transfer their rules of speaking to English and initially respond to griping with non-commiserative replies, they may well miss the opportunities that can lead to further interaction. She concludes that from what appears in her research, it may be very difficult for Japanese learners of English to establish fertile ground for interaction.

In another study, Boxer (1996) used ethnographic interviews as a way of tapping into the norms of both L1 and L2 communities. She found troubles-telling to be used to further conversation, build relationships, and establish solidarity. She classified the responses to griping into six categories: 1) topic switch, 2) questions, 3) contradiction, 4) joking/teasing, 5) advice/lecture, and 6) commiseration. In that study, Boxer used two sets of interviews, one of which was structured and the other open-ended, to elicit responses to gripings. Her findings reveal that gripings were seen more as a positive way of sharing mutual information and building relationships. She also found that women participated more in troubles-talks than men and were recipients of more indirect complaints because they were seen as more supportive in general than men.

Significance of the Present Research
The present research is an attempt to study the replies Iranian university students make to griping on different personal and interpersonal issues in terms of the six categories mentioned earlier. It is different from the previous studies in that this study tries to discover whether or not the responses on different issues all serve to establish commiseration.

Subjects: The subjects in this study comprised 50 university students – 25 male and 25 female – with a median age of 21 at Shahreza University, Iran. They were randomly selected from an original group of 40 female and 27 male students most of whom were majoring in ‘English Translation’.

Instrument: A DCT questionnaire of twenty items was devised to serve the purposes of the study. The stem of each item provided a griping situation, demanding a reply from the subjects. Each item included six responses (x1, x2, x3, x4, x5, x6) in line with the six categories of griping responses [1) topic switch, 2) questions, 3) contradiction, 4) joking/teasing, 5) advice/lecture and 6) commiseration]. For example:
You meet a classmate at the university. He grumbles;” Did you see what a terrible exam Mr…(a very strict teacher) gave us again?” You say:

a) When is our next exam?
b) What do you think your score will be?
c) It was not a hard exam at all.
d) Couldn’t be easier than that!
e) You should have studied harder!
f) Yeah, it was awful!

Five items (1,4,14,15,19) were griping on different subject matters among friends, five items (3,5,10,12,16) among family members, another five (2,6,7,18,20) on casual matters among strangers and the last five (8, 9, 11, 13, 17) on deeper, more challenging matters (e.g. political) among strangers.

Any student coming into my office would receive the questionnaire and would be requested to fill it out right away (if he were not in a hurry), or take it with him, complete it and bring it back later.

Data analysis: The data obtained was submitted to a 2 by 6 ANOVA. Gender was the first variable to observe as a between-subject factor (gender: 1= male, 2= female). The second variable, griping, was observed as a within-group factor (griping: x1, x2, x3, x4, x5, x6). The result of ANOVA indicates griping to be significant (F 5, 190= 21.09, 0.009) while gender does not seem to play any significant role (F<1). (see table 1)

In order to find which of the griping categories were preferred by the participants, a post hoc test (LSD) was run. (table 2)

Table 2. Post hoc Pair-wise Comparisons among Different Categories of Griping


* The mean difference is significant at the .05 level.

A further analysis of the summed pairs (x1.x2, x3.x5, x4.x6) also indicates that griping is significant (F2, 76=12.123, P=0.002) whereas the interaction of gender is again insignificant (see table, 3).

Table 3. Descriptive Statistics for Griping Categories Combined


Figure 2 simply shows that category pair (x4.x6) is more significant than other pairs.

To gain more insight into the nature of griping, the questions were grouped into four categories in terms of types of conversation such as those between friends, between family members, on casual matters between strangers and on serious matters (e.g. political) between strangers. The results indicate a significant difference between griping categories (F5, 180=21.309, P=0.001). However, the interaction between griping and question types was not significant (F15, 180= 1.351, P=0.176), (see table 4).

Table 4. Descriptive Statistics for Categories with regard to Question Types (QTYPE)

Complaint, by definition, is an expression of dissatisfaction made by one individual to another concerning the behavior of the other, in case of direct complaint, or that of a third party in the case of griping. While the illocutionary force of griping can be said to establish solidarity, its perlocutionary effect may not meet the complainer’s purpose.

The findings of this study suggest a significant difference between replies to griping, indicating that griping is mainly employed for commiseration and less for other purposes such as advice, joking and contradiction. This is in line with Boxer’s claim that griping principally aims at commiseration. The findings reveal that in response to griping, Iranian students, most of the time, feel obliged to make further conversation and maintain solidarity through the supportive speech act of commiseration.

Compared with findings of research on direct complaint (e.g. Kasper, 1981; Brown & Levinson, 1987; Wierzbicka, 1991; Olshtain & Weinbach, 1993; Laforest, 2002), this study, by implication, can serve as a piece of evidence in support of Brown and Levinson’s assumptions that, indeed, there are speech acts, such as griping, that are not only non-face-threatening but rather support seeking.

The findings, however, do not support Boxer’s finding that women participate more in troubles-talks than men, or that women mostly commiserate with griping, but men contradict or give advice. The equal attention paid to griping strategies, by both female and male groups under study with regard to furthering this act, serves to show a strong similarity between them and illustrates how both sexes have mutually assumed at least within certain limits the same reply foremost for maintaining this non-face threatening act.

The findings also indicate that the commiserative response to griping occurs not only within friendly groups but also between strangers to establish, at least, a momentary solidarity based on presumed negative evaluation.

Final Remarks
There are numerous studies investigating the speech act performance of native speakers of different languages. It has become evident in such studies and comparative studies that although the typology of speech acts appears to be universal, their conceptualization and verbalization can vary to a great extent across cultures (Blum-Kulka, House and Kasper, 1989, among others). In other words, speakers of different languages can have access to the same range of speech acts and realization strategies, but they can differ in the strategies they choose. Cross-cultural miscommunication is, thus, a result, not of poor linguistic competency, but a lack of understanding of cultural differences. In this respect, studies within the fields of pragmatics and sociolinguistics can have a tremendous impact on highlighting the potential areas one must look for in order to find out the similarities and differences between language behaviors of peoples from different cultural/linguistic backgrounds. As a result, L2 learners must be aware of L2 sociocultural constraints on speech acts in order to be pragmatically competent.

Bayrakaraglu, A. (1992). Disagreement in Turkish troubles-talk. Text, 12, 317-338.

Blum-Kulka, S., House, J. & Kaspers, G. (Eds.). (1989). Cross-cultural pragmatics: Requests and apologies. Norwood, New Jersey: Ablex.

Boxer, D. (1993a). Complaining and commiserating: A speech act view of solidarity in spoken American English. New York: Peter Lang.

Boxer, D. (1993b). Social distance and speech behavior: The case of indirect complaints. Journal of Pragmatics, 19, 103-125.

Boxer, D. (1996). Ethnographic interviewing as a research tool in speech act analysis: The case of complaints. In S. M. Gass and J. Neu (Eds.), Speech acts across cultures: Challenges to communication in second language (pp. 217-299) Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

Brown, P. & Levinson, S. (1987). Politeness: Some universals in language Usage. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

D’Amico-Reisner, L. (1985). An ethnolinguistic study of disapproval exchanges. Unpublished Ph.D. dissertation. University of Pennsylvania.

Du, J. S. (1995). Performance of face-threatening acts in Chinese: Complaining, giving bad news, and disagreeing. In G. Kasper (Ed.), Pragmatics of Chinese as a native and target language (pp. 165-206). Manoa, Hawai’i: University of Hawai’i Press.

Edmondson, W. J. (1981). On saying you’re sorry. In F. Coulmas (Ed.), Conversational routines. (pp. 273-288). New York: Mouton de Gruyter.

House, J. & Kasper, G. (1981). Politeness markers in English and German. In F. Coulmas (Ed.). Conversational routine: Explorations in standardized communication situations and prepatterned speech, Vol. 2 (pp. 157-185). The Hague: Mouton Publishers.

Jefferson, G. & Lee, J. R. E. (1981). The rejection of advice: Managing the problematic convergence of a “troubles-telling” and a ‘service encounter’. Journal of Pragmatics, 5, 399-422.

Katriel, T. (1985). ‘Griping’ as a verbal ritual in some Israeli discourse. Dialogue, 367-381.

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see PDF file for appendix

The Pragmatics of Cooperation and Relevance for Teaching and Learning Thu, 09 Jan 2014 04:13:16 +0000 January 2006. Volume 1
Article 1. pps 5-16 (pdf Journal version) for academic citation

The Pragmatics of Cooperation and Relevance for Teaching and Learning

Dr. Roger Nunn
Petroleum Institute, UAE

Article: PDF version MS Doc version

Education draws on such a broad range of theories and practices that important pragmatic theories based on the philosophy of language such as Grice’s theory of cooperation (1975) and Sperber and Wilson’s relevance theory (1995) have not always been considered essential even for language teachers. McCarthy (1991, p. 2), for example, in his introduction to discourse analysis for language teachers, finds no place for Grice, classifying Gricean pragmatics as intrinsically interesting, but “of little practical adaptability to the language teaching context”, adding that, over a ten-year period, he has “never met an occasion where the maxims could be usefully applied.” In contrast, as a teacher of languages for over thirty years in many different countries and contexts, I have come to see pragmatics, including Gricean pragmatics, as an essential if not the essential discipline for teachers to understand both what they are teaching and what is happening in their classrooms. As a discipline concerned, “not with language as a system or product per se, but rather with the interrelationship between language form, (communicated) messages and language users” (Oatey and Zegarac in Schmitt, 2002, p. 74), it is difficult to see pragmatics as irrelevant to a profession so centrally and essentially concerned with people, language and language use. Teaching and learning are always mediated through language, so theories of communication, precisely expressed by those trained philosophers who have turned their attention to the practical use of language, could arguably be of intrinsic interest to all teachers. For language teachers, however, they are of relevance not only for insights into the process of teaching and learning through communication but also for a consideration of what is being taught.

This discussion, instead of asking whether such important theories of communicative practice are applicable, will directly address how they are applicable. It will be necessary to adopt a dual approach considering both what is taught in language lessons and how language is taught through classroom communication. Pragmatics is doubly applicable to language teaching, because classroom language teaching is an occupation which essentially uses language in a social context to promote the learning and teaching of language for use in social contexts. As the discipline par excellence which considers why communication often fails and how it can be more successful, pragmatics is a central competence to teach students who will use language outside the classroom and to teach teachers who will mediate its use for learning inside the classroom. English language teaching must now increasingly consider the ever-increasing variety of contexts in which speakers across the globe are learning and using English. Theories of practice that shed light on how language is used in context and how people negotiate understanding, however different they may be in ability, culture and status are essential to our professional understanding.

Theories of communication can always be put to double use by language teachers. During the so-called communicative era, communicative theory sometimes tended to be applied only to the content of language lessons, to what teachers taught and students learnt. But, retrospectively, we can now see that the language teaching profession could usefully have made more use of this theory to examine its own process. Hymes’ theory of communication always had two potential applications to language teaching. Hymes’ (1971) work on communicative competence was cited in influential papers on the communicative approach, such as the collection of papers edited by Brumfit and Johnson, (1979) This was influential, in theory at least, in changing the emphasis of what we teach, from teaching language as a self-contained grammatical system towards teaching language for use in social contexts. Hymes’ ethnolinguistic essays on language and education (1980), although less frequently cited, were potentially just as relevant as they applied the theory of communication to innovation and interaction in the language classroom, which is itself a social context. Paradoxically, by applying the theory of communication itself to classroom analysis, Hymes’ theory can easily be used to support ethnolinguistic studies which indicate that a so-called communicative approach is not suited to all contexts (see Nunn, 1999, for example).

Similarly, in spite of the increase in interest in pragmatics, we should not see the discipline merely as another dimension of competence for linguistics educators to teach and test. Pragmatics has much, possibly more, to tell us about communication in the educational contexts where so many of us spend so much of our lives communicating and where communication is of the essence. In this brief discussion, I shall consider Gricean pragmatics and relevance theory in relation to pedagogical communication in general and not just to language teaching.

Grice’s maxims, which were never intended to be seen as a set of rules to be obeyed, could arguably still serve as useful guiding principles for teachers. Teachers, or students, as normal human beings, deliberately flout them, or unwittingly violate them, but it is still useful to have them there as a point of reference. If we draw on our experience as students ourselves, as classroom researchers/observers and especially as practitioners in our own classrooms, the following table could form a useful checklist for much of what can go wrong in classroom communication. Deliberate and frequent flouting of the maxim of quality, through, for example, a teacher’s sarcasm, may become a norm which helps to define the maxim of quality in a particular situation. Experienced teachers could usefully make conscious attempts to self-observe, applying Grice’s maxims to their spoken communication with students and might also want to consider them as means of making written communication more efficient. This brief editorial opinion paper will not attempt to provide an exhaustive list of applications, but to name but a few obvious applications that could have wide-reaching consequences, teachers’ language use when giving instruction or their contributions to classroom interaction can easily be considered in terms of the maxims of quantity and manner. The maxim of quality is very pertinent to teachers’ attempts to provide spontaneous explanations of grammar in that such explanations tend to “lack adequate evidence”.

Conversational Maxims (Grice 1975, p. 45)

Quantity Make your contribution as informative as is required (for the current purposes of the exchange). Do not make your contribution more informative than is required.
Quality Do not say what you believe to be false. Do not say that for which you lack adequate evidence.
Relation Be relevant
Manner Be perspicuous.
Avoid obscurity of expression.
Avoid ambiguity.
Be brief. (Avoid unnecessary prolixity).
Be orderly.

The full potential of theories of implicature to both the content of teaching and the process of communicating with students in ELT has yet to be fully exploited, but there is evidence of a growing awareness of the practical applications of pragmatics to ELT. Gabrielatos (2002, cited online), for example, draws on Gricean maxims to propose general solutions to problems common to the classroom. For learners who “may communicate unintended messages through being over/under-explicit or using the wrong register, although they are grammatically accurate” he suggests:

– Avoiding asking learners to be (over) explicit at all times.

– Training learners in understanding the amount of information the listener/ reader needs or expects.

White (2001) provides a detailed description of a course design based on Gricean maxims, showing how the maxims of spoken interaction can be applied to the teaching of writing. The qualities White refers to – clarity, brevity, relevance and sincerity – are arguably usefully considered by any writers, even if maxims are made to be flouted by skilled users. This is an interesting application, because writing often tends to be more efficient than speech and Grice’s theory as well as relevance theory might seem to be almost more suited to issues of efficient written communication. Brown and Yule’s distinction between transactional and interactional language (1983, pp. 2-3) is of interest here. Transactional language is used to convey “factual or propositional information” and has the primary purpose of “the efficient transference of information”. They use “primarily” to imply that there are multiple purposes in communication. Interactional language, by contrast, is used “to establish and maintain social relationships”. As Brown and Yule point out, “It is clearly the case that a great deal of everyday human interaction is characterised by the primarily interpersonal rather than the primarily transactional use of language.”

The emphasis on “cooperation” clearly signals the relevance of Gricean pragmatics to classroom learning. The communication between students and teachers involves both transactional and interpersonal language, the latter being particularly important with regard to establishing the kind of interpersonal relationship that will enable educational transactions to take place in an atmosphere of cooperation and motivation. Grice’s (1989, p. 26) characterization of “cooperation” – “each participant recognizes in them [talk exchanges], to some extent, a common purpose or set of purposes, or at least a mutually accepted direction” – could be seen as an essential requirement of classroom discourse. The wording of the principle of cooperation is sufficiently flexible to be applicable to different genres of communication, including classroom communication:

Make your conversational contribution such as is required, at the stage at which it occurs, by the accepted purpose or direction of the talk exchange in which you are engaged. (Grice 1975, p. 45)

However, useful the maxims may appear as a set of “rules” of good conduct, it is vital to keep reminding ourselves that Grice’s maxims are not rules and are only part of a much broader theory about the inferential process. They are subordinated to the principle of cooperation which is itself only one constituent of a theory which is essentially about implicature in an inferential process. This process requires consideration of the following:

(1) the conventional meaning of the words used, together with the identity of any references that may be involved; (2) the Co-operative Principle and its maxims, (3) the context, linguistic and otherwise, of the utterance; (4) other items of background knowledge; and (5) the fact (or supposed fact) that all relevant items falling under the previous headings are available to both participants and both participants know or assume this to be the case.(1989, p. 31).

Just like in other contexts, maxims of varying kinds applied to the relationship between a teacher and students exist in a complex relationship with each other and are all subordinated to the broadly defined principle of co-operation and influence the process of conversational implicature, the way interlocutors achieve or don’t achieve understanding. Further maxims related to social harmony such as “be polite” are accepted by Grice. They conflict with the four maxims associated with the efficient transfer of information, such as the maxims of quality or relevance. When the preservation of social relationships conflicts with the maxims of quality, quantity or manner, which make transactional communication more efficient, this does not discredit the co-operative paradigm. Such clashes can be seen as essential and normal features of the communication process leading to useful and necessary inferences, requiring us to balance efficiency with social skill. A teacher who is merely an efficient communicator is unlikely to be a successful motivator of students, just as a teacher who emphasizes social skills alone is unlikely to inspire real achievement.

In the following sample of classroom discourse recorded in a secondary school English class in the Middle East, the teacher (T) uses multiple elicitations, a very common feature of his classroom contributions. This leads to a chorus of bids to contribute from students (SS). The local teacher was criticised for this in post lesson analysis by a western teacher trainer.

T. Why?
Why did he send this letter to Farouk Mousa?

SS. (teacher teacher)

T. Yes, Raad?

S. To help his son.

T. To help his son, very good, to help his son.
With what?
What does his son need?
What does he need?
Come on.
The rest. What does he need?
What does Jim need?

Yes? Yes?
He needs…

S. some money

T. some money. Very good.

Who can tell me again? Telex no 1
What’s the main point in telex no 1?
Some of the main points?

Er what have you got from telex no 1 again?
What have you got from telex …what is it about, telex no 1?
Ha? Telex no 1 … what is it about?

An analysis of this technique of multiple elicitation, often delivered during this lesson in a declamatory style, can be considered in terms of Grice’s maxims of quantity and manner and it is all too easy for an outsider to conclude that there is too much “teacher talk” and repetition and that the teacher could usefully consider the maxim of manner “be brief”. But quantity and manner also need to be considered in terms of Grice’s Principle to which the maxims are subordinated. Considering the wording of the principle, which refers to making contributions “such as is required, at the stage at which it occurs, by the accepted purpose or direction of the talk exchange” might lead to a different conclusion. The “accepted purpose” is difficult to assess but is deducible from the observed effect in the discourse, which is eager crescendos of bidding from the students and very broad participation from all corners of a very large class. Grice also requires us to consider “context, linguistic and otherwise” and other features of the background situation, including the cultural context in which the discourse is embedded. At this “stage in the discourse” the teacher is observably trying to obtain broader participation. This was a mixed ability class of more than forty students, so there might be other pedagogical reasons in the context that require the teacher to override an outsider’s view of appropriate quantity and brevity. The declamatory style was also arguably appropriate to the cultural context. However, this is not to say that this teacher might not usefully be asked to consider his own discourse non-judgementally in terms of the principle and its maxims. Further research with other teachers in the same context indicated that this teachers’ elicitation style, in terms of both quantity and manner, was atypical. Grice’s maxims are not rules to follow blindly, but they do provide the reflective teacher with a useful means of critically examining his or her own interactive behaviour. All teachers can benefit from an external means of re-assessing something that is such an essential component of their daily practice.

While “cooperation” will always be a useful concept for educators, Sperber and Wilson (1995) consider that the maxim of “relevance” is not given enough importance and promote it to a superordinate concept. This focus sometimes appears too narrow, and requires us to acquire a number of concepts which at first sight seem to favour rather opaque jargon, such as “mutual manifest assumptions” or “ostension”. But relevance theory is well worth the “processing effort”, because it is about much more than “relevance”. It contains many insights into the necessary conditions for acquiring knowledge through communication, which are central to the teaching-learning process.

Sperber and Wilson (1995, p. vii) suggest that “individuals must focus their attention on what seems to them to be the most relevant information available”. This is necessary to be as efficient as possible using the smallest possible processing effort. The most efficient communication produces maximum effects with the least possible processing effort. To ensure that classroom communication responds to the requirements of relevance, teachers need to make assumptions about their students’ present state of knowledge. Teachers always feel that what they are teaching is ‘relevant’, but students may perceive the processing effort as too large. This not just a question of “effort” in terms of motivation and commitment. It is also a question of a student’s conceptual and psychological readiness to take on new assumptions. When new assumptions are presented, they need to be perceived as relevant. In terms of relevance theory, teachers perform acts of ‘ostension’, making new knowledge or assumptions ‘manifest’ to students. Acts of ‘ostension’ provide new information not previously available but intended to be optimally relevant.

Relevance theory is a theory of practice and admits what most teachers instinctively know. Making something available or ‘manifest’ does not guarantee it will be learnt by students. According to Sperber and Wilson (152) “a phenomenon is relevant to an individual if and only if one or more of the assumptions it makes manifest is relevant to him.” To be relevant, ‘new’ information or assumptions have to combine with known information or assumptions to produce “contextual effects” (108). Importantly a ‘context’ for Sperber and Wilson (15) is “a psychological construct, a subset of the hearer’s assumptions about the world.” If students perceive no relevant link, even the most motivated and willing students are not able to learn. The student needs to believe that the teacher has not been obscure. New information, if perceived as relevant, may have two effects: it may lead students to modify or even abandon old assumptions. However, new information may also support and therefore strengthen old assumptions.

The “degree of confidence” we have in our assumptions influence our learning behaviour. ‘Assumptions’ are defined by Sperber and Wilson (1995, p. 2) as “thoughts treated by the individual as representations of the actual world”. Perception is not directly connected to an objectively determined actual state of the world but to assumptions about the world. Education has the obvious aim of developing and improving these assumptions. Providing teachers and students reach a level of communication which meets mutual perceptions of relevance, the real business of educational improvement may begin.

Improvements in our representation of the world can be achieved not only by adding justified new assumptions to it, but also by appropriately raising or lowering our degree of confidence in them, the degree to which we take them to be confirmed. (p. 76)

Teachers are often aware that students place too much confidence in underdeveloped assumptions. An important implication of relevance theory is that the teacher needs to improve awareness about the students’ starting assumptions.

While what appears above might seem mainly theoretical, Grice’s maxims and relevance theory can be built into educational activities of all kinds in a very practical way. (For detailed discussion, see Nunn, 2003 which outlines an instructional procedure for practising and analysing intercultural negotiation, in simulated situations in which high level of awareness of assumptions about common knowledge are of central importance to performance.)

A brief example of how to build in relevance checks into an offshoot of the traditional lecture adapted to content-based language teaching, in the form of a mini-lecture is provided below. Grice’s maxims can be applied quite naturally to the delivery of a lecture. The collaborative note-taking print (Nunn and Lingley, 2004) in the table below illustrates one means of checking its relevance. Students use the print to consolidate lecture material with a partner, but the teacher also collects the prints to assess the relevance of the overall lecture. Relevance in this case includes but is not limited to comprehension. Applying Grice’s broader theory of implicature and the aspects of relevance theory discussed above also require us to consider other important variables embodied in the inferential process that underlie the delivery and reception of (mini)lectures in addition to the issue of student perception/understanding of lectures, such as the lecture’s awareness and adaptation to students’ L1 culture of learning/teaching, student expectations and what the students bring to the class themselves.

Collaborative Note-taking Print (adapted from Nunn and Lingley, 2004)

Your Partner
Mini-Lecture title:

Main points of the lecture:

New information:


General ability to understand the lecture

Which information was the most relevant?

Was any information irrelevant to you?

Mini-Lecture title:

Main points of the lecture:

New information:


General ability to understand the lecture

Which information was the most relevant?

Was any information irrelevant to you?

This brief paper has considered the applications of just one theory based on the philosophy of language. Teachers can benefit from the precision and rigour provided by trained philosophers such as Grice or Sperber and Wilson as an aid to understanding and operationalizing key concepts such as “relevance” and “cooperation” that are commonly used but rarely precisely defined. As Lowe (2004) points out, theory that informs practice based on the philosophy of language provides a useful tool for the reflective language teacher, and is currently an underexploited resource. This brief discussion has attempted to outline the relevance of pragmatic theory to educational discourse, suggesting that it encourages educators to pay greater attention to the educational process as an essentially cooperative activity, “cooperation” in this sense being rigorously defined in terms of transactional maxims and interactional principles.

While it might be argued that it is obvious that teachers need to be “relevant”, and all teachers are aware of this, “relevance” is defined in pragmatics well beyond the conventional “lay sense” of the term. It is an abstract concept and a difficult one to pin down and operationalize. A detailed awareness of the pragmatic meaning of relevance precisely defined within a coherent theory of communication can provide important insights into how to provide the kind of classroom activities and tasks that are both of practical interest and based on a sound theory of communicative practice. Whereas theories of communication have commonly been applied to the content of language courses, they have less commonly been applied to the process of education, which is always mediated through language.

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