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Intercultural pragmatics in the speech of American L2 learners of Russian: Apologies offered by Americans in Russian
The study expands the current research on second language acquisition (SLA) into intercultural pragmatics by introducing data on the development of pragmatic competence by American second language learners of the Russian language. The article discusses learners’ acquisition of pragmalinguistic and socio-linguistic knowledge in its relation to both their advancement in linguistic proficiency and study abroad experience.
With pragmatic competence understood as learners’ ability to make their conversational contributions relevant, polite, and effective (House 1996), the article examines the ways in which American learners of Russian craft their apologies within three communicative contexts: a) the context of intimacy (communication with a friend); b) the context of unfamiliarity (communication with a stranger); and c) the context of unequal social status (communication with an authority figure). As the data demonstrate, Russian native speakers opt for distinctively different means in each communicative context, while American learners tend to over-generalize their apologies to friends and carry them over into other communicative contexts. Both an increase in linguistic proficiency and direct exposure to Russian culture enable students to align their apologies more closely with the native speaker (NS) norm. The group that most approximates the Russian norm is the group of learners with low linguistic proficiency and study abroad experience. Increase in proficiency without exposure to the target culture often results in overly polite apologetic behavior and strategy overuse. It is also found that learners with high linguistic proficiency who study abroad exhibit divergent tendencies, and their apologies become more individualized. The observed convergence with, or divergence from, NS pragmatic conventions are seen as the result of both learners’ linguistic and pragmatic development and their self-reflection: learners do not blindly copy the NS norms, they create their own interlanguage and an accompanying identity in the learning process.
The article also suggests some directions for future research and for classroom practices that would promote intercultural competence and help American learners of Russian become more effective and successful communicators in their second language.
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