Emergence of comprehension of Spanish second language requests



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This dissertation examines the developmental trajectory of online processing toward second language (L2) pragmatic comprehension. This goal stems from two shortcomings of previous research: (1) approaching L2 pragmatics as the acquisition of discrete phenomena through progressive stages (see Kasper, 2009), and (2) focusing narrowly on production. Building upon previous L2 pragmatic comprehension work (Carrell, 1981; P. García, 2004; Taguchi, 2005, 2007, 2008a, 2008b, 2011a, 2011b; Takahashi & Roitblat, 1994), the current study investigates the development of L2 Spanish request speech act comprehension by native English-speaking adult learners. The analysis involves accuracy, comprehension speed and the relationship between the two dimensions across three levels of directness over a 13-week period. Previous research was informed by skill acquisition theories (Anderson & Lebiere, 1998) to account for increased accuracy and decreased speed over time. Here, further analysis is based on Complexity Theory / Dynamic Systems Theory (CT/DST) (Larsen-Freeman, 1997; Larsen-Freeman & Cameron, 2008a; de Bot, Lowie, & Verspoor, 2007; Ellis, et al., 2009; Verspoor, de Bot, & Lowie, 2011) to account for the seemingly chaotic results often found in L2 research. The findings of the current study show significant overall improvement in accuracy and speed of Spanish request identification, and a moderate relationship between the two measures. However, the association between slower responses and higher accuracy in the current data contradicts skill acquisition theories. Rather, the theoretical framework of CT/DST provides a more authentic account of development. As such, the results indicate that the levels of request directness develop along distinct trajectories and timescales. Direct requests reflect higher accuracy and faster interpretation. While the most indirect level of requests shows the largest improvement in accuracy, the responses for these items are no faster at the end of the study than at the beginning. The development of conventionally indirect requests occupies a middle ground in terms of accuracy similar to direct requests and comprehension speed like implied items. Further findings reflect L2 pragmatic comprehension as a complex, dynamic system that emerges through the differential effects of predictor variables across measures and within sub-groups of participants based on proficiency improvement, motivation and response strategy.