Chapter 4 - Pragmatic and grammatical awareness: A function of the learning environment?  pp. 63-79

By Kimberly Niezgoda and Carsten Röver

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A question that has received surprisingly little attention in second language acquisition research is whether learners' pragmatic and grammatical competence in a second language (SL) develop hand in hand or differentially. In other words, if students can produce impeccable conditional clauses, does that also imply that they will be able to order a hamburger? In an exploration of the relationship between pragmatic and grammatical competence, Bardovi-Harlig and Dörnyei (1998) undertook an award-winning study1 to investigate the effects of environment and language proficiency on learners' metalinguistic assessment of pragmatic and grammatical errors in the target language. They found that learners in an SL setting assessed pragmatic errors as more severe than grammatical errors, whereas learners in a foreign language (FL) setting assessed grammatical errors as more severe than pragmatic errors. This study is a replication of Bardovi-Harlig and Dörnyei (1998), but also investigates whether the environment effect they found is inevitable, or whether a highly select group of exceptional students may be able to overcome it.

Grammatical, pragmatic, and communicative competence

Although Larsen-Freeman and Long (1991, p. 39) assert that “a definitive analysis of communicative competence is just as elusive as was language proficiency,” the notion of communicative competence has been a driving force in SL curriculum development, teaching, and – more recently to a smaller extent – testing (Swain, 1985; Wesche, 1987; Alderson, 1988). Definitions of communicative competence tend to include (among other things) at least two components: a code component, which describes a language user's knowledge of syntax, morphology, semantics, lexis, and phonology; and a use component, which describes a language user's ability to use language appropriately for a purpose within a given context.

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