Academic journal article Utrecht Studies in Language and Communication

Refusing in L2 Spanish: The Effects of the Context of Learning during a Short-Term Study Abroad Program

Academic journal article Utrecht Studies in Language and Communication

Refusing in L2 Spanish: The Effects of the Context of Learning during a Short-Term Study Abroad Program

Article excerpt

This chapter examines the effects of learning context on the production of refusals among 12 US learners of Spanish studying abroad during an eight-week summer program in Mexico. Two control groups were included: an at home group of US learners of Spanish and a group of native speakers of Spanish. Learner data were collected twice, beginning (pretest) and end of observation period (posttest), using a modified version of the Multimedia Elicitation Task (Schauer, 2004). Native speaker data were collected once. Results are analyzed for frequency and strategy type and for situational variation in strategy use at the beginning and end of the observational period.

1 Introduction

This chapter examines the effects of context of learning on the production of refusals among US learners of Spanish during an eight-week summer immersion program in Mexico. The acquisition of pragmatic knowledge, such as the learners' ability to produce and comprehend social action (e.g., requests, compliments) or interactional activities (e.g., leave-takings or issuing and responding to requests) in study abroad (SA) contexts has received little attention in comparison to the acquisition of pragmatics in at home (AH) contexts. My understanding of pragmatics centers on "meaning as communicated by a speaker (or writer) and interpreted by a listener (or reader)" (Yule, 1996: 3). Pragmatic knowledge, according to Leech (1983) and Thomas (1983), is comprised of two components: (1) pragmalinguistic competence - knowledge about and performance of the conventions of language use or the linguistic resources available in a given language that convey "particular illocutions" in contextually appropriate situations (Leech, 1983: 11), and (2) sociopragmatic competence - knowledge of and performance consistent with the social norms in specific situations in a given society, as well as familiarity with variables of social power and social distance. To develop pragmatic knowledge in SA (and in AH) contexts, learners not only need to develop their ability to make form-meaning connections, but also they need to consider the significance of context and the pragmatic function expressed through their illocutions in pragmaticallyappropriate contexts (Schmidt, 1993). This chapter focuses on the development of one aspect of pragmatic knowledge, namely, the ability to refuse an invitation, a request, and an offer, in two learning contexts (all university-level students): U.S. learners studying Spanish in Central Mexico (SA) and U.S. learners studying Spanish in a foreign language (FL) context in the United States, namely, at home (AH), where exposure to natural input in the target language is limited. The present study adopts Martinsen's (2008) definition of short-term study abroad programs, i.e., those Tasting two months or less" (p. 504).

The present study examines the speech act of refusals as the main unit of analysis. Refusals belong to the category of commissives (Searle, 1975) because they commit the refuser to performing an action (Searle, 1977). As a reactive speech act, a refusal functions as a response to an initiating act and is considered a speech act by which a speaker "[fails] to engage in an action proposed by the interlocutor" (Chen et al, 1995: 121). Like other speech acts, refusals are sensitive to social variables such as gender, age, level of education, power, and social distance (Brown and Levinson, 1987; FélixBrasdefer, 2008a). According to previous research (Beebe et al, 1990; FélixBrasdefer, 2008a), a refusal response may be expressed directly ('No; I can't') or indirectly. If a refusal is expressed indirectly, the degree of complexity increases, as the speaker has to choose the appropriate form or forms to soften the negative effects of a direct refusal. Refusals may be mitigated by means of adverbs and/or mental state predicates ('Unfortunately, I don't think I'll be able to attend the party'), justifications for the refusal (T have plans'), an indefinite reply ('I don't know if I'll have time'), an alternative ('Why don't we go out for dinner next week instead? …

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