Speech Act Acquisition in Instructed Pragmatics: Advanced EFL Learners’ Patterns of Downgrading and Upgrading in Disagreements

In: Investigating the Learning of Pragmatics across Ages and Contexts
Author: Karen Glaser

Purchase instant access (PDF download and unlimited online access):



This chapter investigates the development of internal modification patterns in disagreements in forty-nine advanced EFL learners who received explicit pragmatic instruction on this speech act. Replicating the interlanguage pragmatic literature’s predominant focus on face-saving and mitigating devices, the instruction targeted downgraders explicitly while not addressing upgraders. A detailed analysis of modifier use in semantic strategies and adjuncts as well as the comparison with native speaker baseline data produced valuable insights into learner patterns of upgrading and downgrading before and after the instruction: Firstly, the learners were found to develop their internal modification differently in semantic strategies compared to adjuncts. Secondly, the learners showed different modification patterns compared to the native speaker baseline. Thirdly, while the instruction resulted in an increased use of downgraders, it was not effective in counteracting the learners’ predisposition to overuse upgrading in adjuncts, especially with regard to intensifiers. The quantitative findings are supplemented with qualitative insights on realization strategies and pragmatic formulas. The results suggest that both the teaching and the investigation of speech acts might profit from a distinction between semantic strategies and adjuncts, and that upgrading requires as much attention as downgrading in pragmatic instruction as well as in interlanguage pragmatics research.