Pragmatic Socialization in a Second Language

Li, Duanduan

The University of British Columbia, Canada


Pragmatic socialization is defined as "the ways in which [people] are socialized to use language in context in socially and culturally appropriate ways" (Blum-Kulka, 1997). Research done within the framework of pragmatic socialization reflects a more social, contextual, and cultural orientation in comparison with cognitive or psychological approaches to first and second-language pragmatics (Ochs, 1996; Schieffelin & Ochs, 1986).

Interlanguage (second-language/L2) pragmatics research has traditionally relied mainly on quantitative approaches to data collection and analysis (Kasper, 2001). Although these methods have contributed to fruitful theoretical and methodological developments in applied linguistics, they have inherent underlying limitations by using role-plays or written questionnaires to elicit L2 learners’ responses in rather contrived situations. A powerful contribution that the language socialization paradigm makes to an understanding of language development is its close attention to the linguistic forms that are used to socialize learners into expected roles and behaviors in particular cultural contexts (Kasper, 2001).

In this paper, I provide an overview of L2 pragmatic socialization research, including its theoretical underpinnings, methodological advancements, and some of the key themes in studies conducted to date. I also exemplify the approach with research conducted with Chinese-American women learning English in order to gain employment and to integrate within American society. Using a multiple-case study approach, I describe the trajectories of the woman as crucially related to their effectiveness in being able to make requests successfully in their L2, English, particularly in high-stakes contexts. I conclude that, by examining pragmatic behaviors in authentic contexts of use—with their own historical antecedents, interpersonal negotiations, and personal and societal significance, researchers can contextualize the study of pragmatics in a changing, multilingual world in illuminating new ways (Li, 2007).

Selected References

Blum-Kulka, S. (1997). Dinner talk. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Kasper, G. (2001). Four perspectives on L2 pragmatic development. Applied Linguistics, 22, 502-530.

Li, D. (2007s). "Pragmatic Socialization ". In Duff, P. & N. Hornberger (Eds.) Encyclopedia of Language and Education Volume 8: Language Socialization. Norwell , MA 02061: Kluwer Academic Publishers.

Ochs, E. (1996). Linguistic resources for socializing humanity. In J. Gumperz & S. Levinson (Eds.) Rethinking Linguistic Relativity (pp. 407-437). New York: Cambridge University Press.

Schieffelin, B. & Ochs, E. (1986) Language socialization. Annual Review of Anthropology, 15, 163–191.

Session: Paper session
Thursday, April 3, 2008, 13:45-15:15
room: 11