Pragmatic expressions in cross-linguistic perspective

Author

University of Hawai`i, USA

Abstract

This  paper  focuses  on  some  pragmatic  expressions  that  are  characteristic  of  informal  spoken
English, their possible equivalents in some other languages, and their use by EFL learners from
different  backgrounds.  These  expressions,  called  general  extenders  (e.g.  and  stuff,  or
something), are shown to be different from discourse markers and to exhibit variation in form,
function  and  distribution  across  varieties  of  English,  as  well  as  in  other  languages.  In  EFL
contexts,  students  are  reported  to  use  fewer  pragmatic  expressions  and  a  smaller  range  of
possible  forms.  They  also  tend  to  favor  expressions  more  often  associated  with  writing  and
formal  speaking  (e.g.  and  so  on),  include  literal  translation  equivalents  from  their  first
language  that  are  not  used  in  English  (e.g.  and, and,  and), or  used  only  in  restricted  contexts
(e.g.  or  so),  and  often  seem  not  to  realize  that  some  forms  may  carry  negative  connotations
(e.g. and blah, blah, blah). The possibility of fostering better pragmatic awareness among EFL
students is discussed in terms of an explicit cross-linguistic focus on the forms and functions of
pragmatic expressions.

Keywords

Main Subjects


Introduction
In  recent  years  we  have  seen  a  fundamental
shift  in  interest  among  both  language
scholars and educators away from the purely
formal study of linguistic structure, typically
employing  constructed  sentences  and/or
written  language  models,  with  more
attention  now  being  devoted  to  the  analysis
of everyday language use in natural settings.
Much  of  the  new  development  in  language
study  has  been  in  the  direction  of  discourse
analysis,  with  an  explosion  of  work  in
corpus  linguistics,  allowing  for  the  analysis
of  vast  amounts  of  naturally  occurring
spoken  data  (as  opposed  to  constructed
sentences).  In  language  education,  there  has
been a large-scale transition into a variety of
communicative  approaches,  with  a  much
stronger  emphasis  on  oral  language  skills,
especially  in  spoken  interaction.  This  shift
has  focused  a  lot  more  attention  on  features
of the spoken language that were previously
 
ignored  in  both  linguistic  analysis  and
foreign language teaching materials. Among
these  features  are  some  linguistic
expressions that are primarily found in face-to-face  conversational  interaction.  Because
these  expressions  have  no  discernible
semantic  content  and  are  usually  optional
elements  in  syntactic  structure,  they  are
associated,  not  with  independent  linguistic
meaning, but with meaning in context and so
they  are  generally  described  as  pragmatic
expressions.
     
In  this  paper,  I  will  briefly  describe  the
range  of  types  of  pragmatic  expressions,
including  discourse  markers  (Well)  and
pragmatic  markers  (you  know),  then  focus
on  one  group  of  expressions  called  general
extenders. After  looking  at  some  English
examples,  such  as  and  stuff  (like  that),  or
something (like that), and how they are used,
I  will  review  some  studies  of  comparable
forms  in  other  languages  and  observations
by other scholars on the subtle differences in
their  uses  and  the  types  of  difficulties
associated  with  comparing  any  pragmatic
expressions  cross-linguistically,  or  what  we
might  characterize  as  the  problem  of
determining  pragmatic  equivalence.
Following  that,  I  will  review  some  studies
from  language  learning,  mainly  involving
English  as  a  foreign  language  (EFL),  and
investigate ways in which we might be able
to  foster  pragmatic  awareness  of  both  the
first language (L1) and the second language
(L2)  as  a  prerequisite  for  developing
pragmatic competence in that L2.  
 
Pragmatic expressions
The study of pragmatic expressions owes its
development  directly  to  the  availability  of
recording  devices  that  allowed  researchers
not  only  to  capture  everyday  spoken
interaction,  but  also  to  transcribe  it  and
investigate it “on the page/screen” in ways
that  were  almost  impossible  while  the  data
was whizzing by “in the air”. From early
studies  of  the  underlying  structure  of
conversational  interaction  (Sacks,  Schegloff
&  Jefferson,  1974),  through  investigations
of  social  meaning  and  how  it  is  signaled
(Erman,  1987;  Schiffrin,  1985;  Schourup,
1985;  Tannen,  1984),  to  the  micro-analysis
of  forms  of  language  previously  unexplored
(Channell,  1994;  Overstreet,  2011),  there
has  been  a  steady  stream  of  new  findings
about  the  complex  nature  of  spoken
interaction  and  the  linguistic  expressions
being  used  to  hold  it  all  together.  Among
those linguistic expressions are a number of
forms  that  seemed  to  have  no  meaningful
role  in  linguistic  communication  and  were
often viewed as “purely performance fillers”
(Channell,  1994,  p.  120),  but  which,  on
closer  inspection,  have  been  identified  as
integral elements in how spoken discourse is
structured and made meaningful.
 
Some of the expressions that were treated as
simply meaningless interjections are actually
structuring  devices  within  spoken
interaction.  Forms  such  as  Oh,  Right,  Now,
So,  and  Well,  used  at  the  beginning  of  a
speaker’s  turn,  are  now  recognized  as
discourse  markers  (Schiffrin,  1987,
Schourup,  1999),  each  one  signaling  subtle
aspects  of  how  the  speaker  is  marking  the
sequential  connection  between  a  previous
turn  and  what  is  about  to  be  said.  Other
pragmatic  expressions  have  been  identified
that  can  function  in  initial,  medial  or  final
position,  with  different  influences  on  the
interpretation of speaker’s meaning. These
are  more  generally  known  as  pragmatic
markers  and  include  you  know,  you  see,  I
mean  and  I  think,  which  developed  from
subject  plus  lexical  verb  combinations  into
parenthetical  adjuncts  and  finally  into  fixed
phrases  that  are  used  idiomatically  (Aijmer
&  Simon-Vandenbergen,  2011;  Brinton,
 
1996).  The  range  of  different  functions  that
these  pragmatic  markers  can  fulfill  in  the
contemporary  spoken  language  has  only
recently  been  revealed.  As  a  brief
illustration,  consider  these  three  different
functions of you know, as detailed in Erman
(2001).  It  can  function  as  a  text-organizing
device,  used  when  introducing  a  supporting
example,  as  in  (1),  an  interactive  device,
when  making  a  comprehension  check,  as  in
(2),  and  a  hedging  device  on  the  assumed
accuracy of reported information, as in (3).
 
(1)  they  did  it  in  a  completely,  slapstick
farce way, you know, the the men who were
dressed up supposed to be women
 
(2) A: you’ve got to use one of them cap
things, not a swimming cap
B: Steam cap?
A: Yeah, well, you know, them white ones,
have you seen the plastic ones yeah?
 
(3)  She  said  you’re,  you’re  nice,  you’re
pretty, you know, whatever
 
The  historical  development  of  these
pragmatic expressions has revealed a regular
pathway  of  change  through  a  number  of
processes  similar  to  grammaticalization
whereby  phrases  containing  lexical  items
such  as  the  main  verbs  know  and  think  lose
their  propositional  content  and  become
indicators  of  how  speakers  are  presenting
themselves and their attitude to the message
and/or  the  addressee  within  face-to-face
interaction.  As  many  of  these  newly
revealed  functions  are  tied  to  issues  of
politeness,  cooperation,  social  solidarity,
attitudes,  and  evaluations,  rather  than
marking grammatical functions, this process
is  now  also  discussed  in  terms  of
pragmaticalization  (Overstreet  &  Yule,
forthcoming).  In  addition  to  these  types  of
markers,  which  are  syntactically
disconnected  from  the  utterances  in  which
they  appear,  there  is  another  group  of
pragmatic  expressions  that  are  typically
attached  to  the  end  of  phrases,  clauses  and
utterances.  Among  these  are  general
extenders such as and stuff (like that) and or
something (like that), which will be the main
focus of the rest of this study.
 
General extenders
General extenders have been the subject of a
fairly  large  number  of  studies  in  different
varieties  of  English,  most  of  which  are
reviewed  in  Pallacios  Martínez  (2011)
They  can  be  divided  into  two  types:
adjunctive  forms,  beginning  with  and,  as  in
(4),  and  disjunctive  forms,  beginning  with
or,  as  in  (5),  both  examples  from  the
Canadian  English  data  of  Tagliamonte  and
Denis (2010, p. 337).  
 
(4)  So  it  was-  it  was  pretty  general,  you
know,  nice  and  quiet,  never  a  lot  of  noise,
and stuff like that
 
(5)  it  was  in-  when-  oh  I  think  it  was  like,
grade seven or something
 
The  disjunctive  form  or  something  is  the
most  frequently  used  version  across
different  varieties  of  English.  It  often
functions as a hedge on the accuracy of what
is  being  said,  as  illustrated  in  (5),  and  is
quickly  learned  by  EFL  students,  allowing
them  to  mark  some  part  of  what  they  are
saying as “possibly not exactly correct” in
the same way  as native speakers (NS) do it.
In  contrast,  their  use  of  adjunctive  general
extenders to express “there is more, but I
don’t need to say it” can vary  much  more,
and often in ways that don’t match typical
NS usage. In the following discussion, I will
focus more on the use of adjunctive  general
extenders  and  offer,  in  Table  1,  a  list  of  the
four  most  frequent  forms  found  in  detailed
 
studies of Canadian English (Tagliamonte &
Denis,  2010),  British  English  (Pichler  &
Levey,  2011)  and  American  English
(Overstreet & Yule, 1997).

In Table 1, the proliferation of the American
English  form  and  stuff  (like  that)  is  clear,
supplanting  and  things  (like  that)  in
Toronto, according to Tagliamonte (2011, p.
258), and gradually becoming more frequent
among  younger  middle  class  speakers  of
British  English,  according  to  Cheshire
(2007,  p.  187),  who  also  notes  that  the
British  form  and  that  is  associated  more
with working class speech, especially among
male  speakers.  The  expression  and
everything  (without  the  modifier  like  that)
has  increased  in  frequency  in  all  varieties,
possibly  due  to  a  new  use  as  an  intensifier
(Overstreet  &  Yule,  2002).  The  form  and
blah, blah, blah is used in American English
to indicate that more could be said, but it has
a  downgrading  function,  implying  that  the
“more” is of little value (Overstreet, 1999, p.
146).  This  form  is  not  included  in  the
lengthy  lists  of  forms  in  the  reports
describing Canadian and British English.
Because  general  extenders  are  placed  after
the  items  they  modify,  they  are  often  found
at the end of clauses and hence of utterances
in  English.  This  tendency  is  sometimes
overstated,  as  in  definitions  that  describe
them  as  “sentence-final”  (Tagliamonte,
2011,  p.  258).  While  general  extenders  are
frequently  attached  to  objects,  that  does  not
necessarily  place  them  at  the  end  of
utterances,  or  even  clauses,  as  shown  in  the
use of and everything in (6), nor does it rule
out the possibility of attaching to the subject,
as  or  something  does  in  the  same  example,
from Aijmer (2002, p. 245).  
 
 (6)  I  got  my  coat  and  everything  caught
under  me  and  a  young  postman  or
something  got  up  and  I  thought  ooh  this  is
grand
 
When  we  look  at  other  languages,  we  see
general  extenders  in  quite  a  wide  range  of
clause-internal  positions.  As  described  in
Overstreet (2005, p. 1849), there are several
structures  in  German  that  require  a  main
verb or the past participle of a verb to be  at
the  end  of  the  clause,  hence  regularly
positioning  the  general  extender  inside  the
clause, as in (7).  
 
(7) Ich hab’ nun jetzt erstmal meine ganzen
Pflanzen  da  in  die  Erde  gebracht  und  –  und
– sehr viel Tulpen und Krokusse und so was
gesteckt
  [I’ve just got all my plants there in
the  ground  and  –  and  –  lots  of  tulips  and
crocuses and so on put in]
 
In  Persian,  with  its  basic  SOV  structure,
general  extenders  can  readily  attach  to  a
subject (8) or an object (9) in clause-internal
positions,  as  in  these  examples  from
Parvaresh,  Tavangar,  Eslami  Rasekh  and
Izadi (2012, pp. 270-276).
 
(8) gæzâ væ inâ âli bud!    
    (the food and stuff was great!)
(9) je mântoji, jâ čizi mixâm bærdâræm    
    (I want to an overcoat or something buy)
 
In  connection  with  the  syntactic  position  of
general  extenders,  Parvaresh  et  al.  (2012)
point  out  that  none  of  their  advanced  EFL
students  tried  to  use  the Persian  structure  in
(9) in their English. Though they did transfer
some general extender types, to be discussed
later,  they  didn’t  transfer  Persian  syntax.
This  would  seem  to  support  the  observation
(cf.  Bouton,  1994)  that  structures  involving
pragmatic  expressions  may  be  harder  to
acquire  than  grammatical  structures  in  an
L2.   
 
Pragmatic expressions in EFL studies
When  we  employ  a  cross-linguistic
perspective  to  investigate  pragmatic
expressions in the use of a foreign language,
we  find  a  number  of  different  explanations
offered for the patterns perceived. The most
general  finding from this area of research is
that  non-native  speakers  (NNS),  even  those
at  an  advanced  level,  typically  use  a  more
limited  number,  as  well  as  a  more  limited
range  of  pragmatic  expressions  than  native
speakers (NS). While I will focus mainly on
studies  in  EFL  situations  in  this  discussion,
similar  findings  have  been  reported  from
investigations where other languages are the
target.  For example, in Dippold’s (2008)
study  of  the  use  of  hedges  in  argumentative
discourse by advanced level British students
speaking  German,  the  NNS  used  relatively
few hedges in comparison with the frequent
use  by  a  comparable  NS  group.  If  NNS
groups  are  not  using  the  types  of  pragmatic
expressions  normally  found  in  NS
performance,  is  there  a  simple  way  to
demonstrate their uses, and might there be a
way  to  help  build  awareness  of  these  forms
and their functions within EFL studies?       
The  first  and  most  obvious  explanation  for
the  absence  of  L2  pragmatic  expressions  is
that  the  NNS  don’t  need  them  in  most
situations where they use English. Often this
follows  from  the  nature  of  the  discourse
and/or the participants and may be indicative
of the way in which new varieties of English
evolve, as when it is used as a lingua franca
in  interactions  between  NNS.  When
speakers  of  two  different  languages  use
English  as  their  medium  of  communication,
there  seems  to  be  a  very  general  absence  of
the  types  of  pragmatic  expressions  typically
found  when  native  speakers  interact.  As
Murray  (2012)  has  noted  with  regard  to
spoken  exchanges  involving  English  as  a
lingua  franca,  “discourse  markers  and
particles  appear  to  be  relatively  scarce”
(2012,  p.  321).  It  may  be  that  such
encounters  are  treated  as  more
“transactional” by the participants, that is,
more  concerned  with  communicating
referential  meaning,  “factual  or
propositional information” (Brown & Yule,
1983,  p.  2),  and  that  expressions  more
associated  with  social  meaning  in
“interactive”  encounters  are  not  included
when  personal  relationships  between
speakers  are  not  a  primary  issue.  This  type
of situation may have more in common with
written  English  discourse,  which  brings  us
to  another  explanation  of  the  patterns
observed  in  NNS  use  of  pragmatic
expressions.  
 
In  a  study  comparing  the  use  of  English
general  extenders  in  the  speech  of  two
groups of university students, one consisting
of  French  L1,  advanced  level  NNS  and  the
other a NS group at a British university, De
Cock  (2004)  found  a  highly  systematic  and
quite  revealing  pattern  of  usage.  As  shown
in Table 2, adapted from De Cock (2004, p.
237),  there  is  a  divergence  in  preferred
forms  of  adjunctive  general  extenders,  with  
 
the  NNS  group  mostly  relying  on  the
expressions and so on, etcetera, whereas the
forms and things (like that), and everything,
and stuff (like that)  were favored by the  NS
group.  This  split  exactly  parallels  the
difference  in  distribution  Overstreet  and
Yule (1997) discovered  between formal and
informal  spoken  language  use.  Formal
expressions  such  as  and  so  on  are  more
common  in  academic  English,  both  spoken
and  written  (Biber,  Johansson,  Leech,  
Conrad  &  Finegan,  1999;  Simpson,  2004),
which  may  have  been  the  primary  input
source  for  these  NNS  students.  One  might
speculate  that  it  is  the  inclusion  of  such
formal  expressions  in  their  interactive
spoken  language  that  accounts  for  the
impression  that  some  advanced  EFL
speakers  “may  sound  rather  bookish  and
pedantic” (Channell, 1994, p. 21). 

Reviewing  the  results  in  Table  2,  we  might
suspect  that  these  NNS  university  students
have  learned  some  English  expressions  to
serve the general extender function that will
inevitably  make  their  speech  sound  more
formal than NS usage and contribute to “the
impression of detachment and formality they
may well give in informal situations” (De
Cock,  2004,  p.  236).  We  should  note  that
French  has  a  wide  range  of  general
extenders,  described  in  some  detail  by
Dubois (1992) as “extension particles”, with
different  forms  available  for  different
functions, both formal and informal, but the
students  in  De  Cock’s  (2004)  study  had
obviously  not  carried  their  L1  pragmatic
knowledge  of  general  extenders  over  into
their  understanding  of  how  English
expressions  are  used  with  comparable
functions. As a result, in De Cock’s report,
“the findings suggest that the learners are
lacking in routinized ways of interacting and
building  rapport  with  their  interlocutors”
(2004, p. 243).
 
A  similar  conclusion  was  reached  by  Otu
and Zeyreck (2008) in their study of Turkish
learners  of  English  when  they  investigated
how  these  NNS  performed  requests  in
English.  They  found  that  the  students
themselves had a sense of their unfamiliarity
with  NS  norms  for  performing  the  speech
acts  appropriately.  The  researchers  noted
that “most of these students refer to this
situation as knowing textbook English  only,
and  being  totally  blind  of  the  rest  of  the
picture” (2008, p. 265).
 
Yet  another  explanation,  and  hardly  a
surprising  one,  is  emerging  from  other
recent  studies  that  find  pragmatic
expressions in NNS English that seem to be
derived  from  the  L1.  Eslami  Rasekh  and
Noora  (2008)  noted  that  “even  highly
proficient  learners  often  rely  on  their  L1
strategies or conventions of form” (2008, p.
321)  when  they  investigated  request
strategies  by  Persian  learners  of  English.  In
another  study  of  Persian  learners  and  their
use  of  general  extenders,  Parvaresh  et  al.
(2012) came to the conclusion that “first
language norms influence the use of general
extenders  by  non-native speakers” (2012, p.
 
261).  To take a specific case, both German
(und,  und,  und)  and  Persian  (væ,  væ,  væ)
make  use  of  a  structure  that  is  a  possible
combination  in  English  (and,  and,  and),  but
one  that  is  not  typically  found  in  everyday
uses  of  English.  Despite  the  fact  that  the
expression  is  unlikely  to  be  part  of  any  NS
input,  it  is  found  in  the  English  speech  of
Persian  NNS,  as  in  (10),  from  Parvaresh  et
al. (2012, p. 266).
 
(10)  I  have  to  study,  I  mean,  memorize
things and and and
 
Other  structures,  such  as  and  this  and  that,
which  are  very  occasionally  recorded  in
English NS data (see Tagliamonte  &  Denis,
2010, p. 363), may be used more frequently
by  a  NNS  group  when  a  parallel  structure
exists  in  the  L1.  Example  (11)  is  from
Persian  NNS  data  and  is  described  as  an
example of transfer from Persian (væ in, væun).
 
(11) A: No! I really love to be there
E: I love to be there and this and that
 
According to Parvaresh et al. (2012, p. 275),
this  particular  form  is  not  a  signal  that
communicates  the  basic  adjunctive  general
extender meaning of “there is more”, but has
a  particular  interpersonal  meaning  and  is
used  by  speakers  in  response  to  a  comment
by another speaker. The comment is usually
repeated  before  the  general  extender,  which
signals  that  the  comment  is  being  treated  as
“offensive” in some way. In this case, it is
important  to  recognize  that,  although
structurally identical forms may exist in two
languages,  they  cannot  be  treated  as
translation  equivalents  because  their
functions  are  so  different.  The  closest  form
in  American  English  with  a  comparable
function,  though  not  an  obvious  lexical
equivalent,  might  be  (or)  whatever.  In
Kleiner’s  (1998)  analysis,  the  general
extender  (or)  whatever  can  be  used  to  mark
preceding material as “other-authored” and
to express “the speaker’s disaffiliation with
or  opposition  to  that  material”  (1998,  p.
602).  Although  this  usage  may  have  a
function  similar  to  that  conveyed  by  the
Persian  expression  in  particular  contexts,
there  will  almost  certainly  be  socio-cultural
implications  tied  to  negative  commentary
and its effect on the participation framework
that  are  likely  to  differ  cross-culturally.
Realizing  this,  we  should  always  be  careful
about  assuming  pragmatic  equivalence
cross-linguistically,  even  when  we  think  we
can identify a form (lexically or structurally
similar  or  not)  that  seems  to  have  a  parallel
function.  As  Koutlaki  (2002)  has  pointed
out,  in  a  comparison  of  the  pragmatics  of
some English  and Persian speech acts,  what
seems  face-threatening  in  the  act  of  making
an  offer  in  one  culture  may  actually  be
considered  face-enhancing  in  another.
However, if we can find forms with parallel
functions,  which  are  used  with  comparable
frequency in similar situations, then we may
be  able  to  advise  students  about  what  are,
and  are  not,  good  translation  equivalents
(though  not  necessarily  perfect  pragmatic
equivalents).
 
There  is  a  subtle  trap  waiting  for  EFL
learners  because  of  the  existence  of  what
appear  to  be  cognate  expressions,  such  as
German  oder  so  and  English  or  so.  They
look  like  they  would  be  direct  translation
equivalents.  However,  the  German
expression (oder so) was, by a wide margin,
the  most  common  disjunctive  general
extender in Terraschke’s (2007a) German
NS  data,  while  the  English  expression  (or
so) was used only once in her New Zealand
English  NS  data.  Given  this  substantial
difference,  we  might  suspect  that  the
similarity  in  form  disguises  a  difference  in
 
function  and,  indeed,  we  find  that  the
English  form  is  highly  restricted  in  its
collocations,  accompanying  only  numbers
and  time  expressions.  The  German
expression  is  not  subject  to  such  narrow
restrictions  and  its  wide  range  of  functions
seems  to  be  readily  transferred,  as  in  NNS
English  examples  such  as  (12),  from
Terraschke (2007a, p. 94), where the speaker
is  comparing  two  towns  and  uses  the
English  expression  in  a  way  not  found
among English speakers.
 
(12)  But  well  I’m,  yeah,  I  believe  that
there’s more to do or so  
 
It  is  worth  noting  that,  in  this  and  many
similar cases, there is no indication that any
form  of  miscommunication  took  place  and
hence no feedback is provided to the student
that an inappropriate pragmatic expression is
being used.   
 
Fostering pragmatic awareness
A  further  explanation,  and  one  that  may
provide  the  best  reason  from  a  processing
point of view, is that the NNS have no idea
that  there  are  pragmatic  expressions  in
language use. This doesn’t mean, of course,
that they don’t use pragmatic expressions
such  as  general  extenders  in  their  L1,  but
that  they  are  completely  unaware  that  they
do  so.  As  Overstreet  (2000)  reported  from
her  research  in  the  1990s,  NS  of  American
English,  including  English  language
teachers  and  professors  of  linguistics,  not
only appeared to be unaware of the existence
of  general  extenders  in  their  L1,  but  even
after  being  made  aware  of  them,  claimed
that they personally didn’t use such forms in
their  speech  (despite  empirical  evidence  to
the  contrary).  One  possible  reason  for  this,
as  Dines  (1980)  noted  among  speakers  of
Australian  English,  is  that  some  general
extenders  are  viewed  as  “stigmatized”  in
some way and hence likely to be considered
inappropriate  in  the  speech  of  educated
individuals.  While  a  negative  stylistic
perspective  may  indeed  exist,  it  is  perhaps
comparable  to  opinions  on  split  infinitives
and  ending  sentences  with  prepositions  in
English  (cf.  Yule,  2010,  p.  85),  forms  that
may  be  condemned  by  prescriptivist
commentators,  but  are  in  widespread  use
among  all  segments  of  the  population.
General  extenders  are  similarly  used  in
spoken  interaction  by  virtually  everyone
and,  while  some  individuals  may  be  more
frequent  users  of  particular  forms  than
others,  familiarity  with  the  forms  and
functions  of  general  extenders  is  part  of
adult NS pragmatic competence.  
 
We  cannot  assume  that  L2  pragmatic
competence will develop by itself since it is
socio-culturally  acquired  and  unlikely  to  be
part  of  any  innate  language  acquisition
device.  It  is  only  through  studies  at  the
metapragmatic  level  that  we  have  become
aware  of  the  phenomenon  (cf.  Overstreet,
2010).  Consequently,  given  the  socio-cultural  limitations  inherent  in  many  EFL
learning contexts, there may be a need for a
more  proactive  approach  to  developing  L2
pragmatic  awareness.  Schmidt  (1993)  has
argued that “noticing” has to take place in
order  for  pragmatic  information  to  be
processed,  at  least  in  short  term  memory.
Indeed,  as  a  number  of  studies  have  shown,
we can increase pragmatic awareness so that
L2  learners  have  an  opportunity  to  develop
their  own  competence  in  the  use  of
pragmatic  expressions.  Kasper  and  Schmidt
(1996)  and  House  (1996)  provide  examples
and  reviews  of  studies  where  pragmatic
awareness  was  developed  in  different  L2
contexts.  In  a  similar  vein,  LoCastro  (1997)
described  how  L2  pragmatic  fluency  was
improved  in  spoken  English  and  Wishnoff
(2000)  presented  strong  evidence  that

raising L2 students’ awareness of hedges in
English  academic  writing  resulted  in
substantial  improvement  in  their  ability  to
use  those  hedges  appropriately  in  their  own
L2 writing.  
 
At  a  more  fundamental  level,  especially  in
EFL  contexts,  as  Eslami-Rasekh  (2005)  has
argued, it may be more effective to begin by
raising  students’  awareness  of  pragmatic
expressions  in  their  L1  and  encouraging  a
comparison  between  L1  and  L2  forms  to
develop  familiarity  with  similarities  and
differences. The data provided by Parvaresh
et  al.  (2012)  offers  an  opportunity  to  see
how  one  type  of  comparison  might  be
presented.  In  Table  3,  the  most  frequently
used  Persian  L1  adjunctive  general
extenders  are  listed  alongside  the  most
frequent  English  L2  forms  produced  by
Persian EFL students.

The  English  L2  forms  listed  in  Table  3  are
clearly not the same as the English L1 forms
listed earlier in Table 1. These students seem
to  be  using  and  everything  with  a  similar
frequency to the NS in Table 1, but they are
using the more formal expression and so on
with  greater  frequency,  more  like  the  other
NNS  in  Table  2.  The  expression  and  other
things is not an impossible form in English,
but  is  extremely  rare,  so  that  it  will
inevitably sound like an interlanguage form,
typical  of  neither  the  L1  nor  the  L2.  These
students  could  be  advised  to  omit  the  word
other  in  this  expression  to  give  it  a  more
target-like form.  
 
The  most  intriguing  L2  form  and  the  most
frequent  is  and  blah,  blah,  blah.  In  other
recent studies of the use of general extenders
by  NNS  (e.g.  Fernandez  &  Yuldashev,
2011), this expression is not recorded  at all.
There  are  no  examples  reported  in  recent
British  English  studies  (e.g.  Levey,  2012,
Pichler  &  Levey,  2011).  As  noted  earlier,
this  form  is  certainly  used  by  NS  of
American  English,  but  in  a  quite  restricted
way, with almost a pejorative meaning. It is
not  clear  if  any  of  the  Persian  L1  forms  in
Table  3  have  similar  negative  implications,
but  two  of  the  most  frequent  items  have
forms referring to “talks”. They are not just
signaling  “there  is  more”,  as  with  most
forms in Table 1. It is possible that the focus
of  high  frequency  Persian  general  extenders
on “there is more talk (about something)”
has  an  influence  on  which  English  general
extender  these  students  have  chosen  as  the
best  pragmatic  equivalent.  To  help  students
understand  the  effect  of  this  choice,  we
might  present  the  examples  from  Table  1
alongside  the  forms  in  Table  3  as  a  way  of
letting  the  students  see  for  themselves  that
their  solution  to  the  pragmatic  equivalence
problem  may  be  infelicitous  on  some
occasions  and  has  the  potential  for
miscommunication if, when using  and blah,
blah, blah, the speaker doesn’t actually want
to  act  as  if  all  further  information  is  being
downgraded.
 
Conclusion
I  have  suggested  that  it  is  possible  to
increase students’ pragmatic awareness by
drawing  attention  to  how  pragmatic
expressions  such  as  general  extenders  are
used  in  both  the  L1  and  L2.  This  approach
would  seem  to  be  justified  because  of
reports  that  learners  often  adopt
inappropriate,  or  pragmatically  non-equivalent  forms,  either  because  of
misperception of the typical functions of L2
forms  or  because  of  influence  from  L1
forms.
 
In order for this approach to work, however,
we need to pay more attention to the ways in
which  pragmatic  expressions  are  used  in
both  the  L1  and  L2  of  particular  groups  of
learners,  so  that  we  have  reliable
information  on  which  to  base  our  materials.
There  are  many  signs  that  this  goal  can  be
accomplished,  as  increasing  numbers  of
studies,  particularly  corpus-based
investigations,  reveal  patterns  of  language
use  in  spoken  interaction  that  were
previously  unnoticed.  I  have  proposed  that
general  extenders  represent  a  distinct  and
easily  identifiable  group  of  pragmatic
expressions  that  lend  themselves  to  cross-linguistic  comparison  and  potentially  allow
us  to  tease  apart  the  subtle  differences  that
make  cross-linguistic  and  cross-cultural
studies  not  only  challenging,  but
intellectually  rewarding,  and  ultimately
beneficial  for  the  development  of  better
understanding  and  greater  tolerance  among
people.  
 
Notes
1  The  label  “general  extender”,  from
Overstreet and Yule (1997), has become the
most  widely  used  technical  term  for  this
range of forms. Among other labels that may
be  encountered  are  “set-marking  tags”
(Dines,  1980),  “utterance-final  tags”
(Aijmer, 1985), “list completers” (Jefferson,
1990),  “vague  category  identifiers”
(Channel,  1994)  and  “coordination  tags“
(Biber et al., 1999).  
 
2  There  have  also  been  studies  of  general
extenders  in  languages  other  than  English,
such as  Brazilian Portuguese (Roth-Gordon,
2007),  French  (Dubois,  1992),  German
(Overstreet,  2005),  Lithuanian  (Ruzaite,
2010),  Persian  (Parvaresh  et  al.,  2012),
Spanish  (Cortés  Rodríguez,  2006)  and
Swedish (Norrby & Winter, 2002). Their use
has  also  been  studied  among  different
groups  of  learners  of  English  as  a  foreign
language  (EFL)  whose  first  language  is
French  (DeCock,  2004),  German
(Terraschke,  2007a,  b,  2010;  Terraschke  &
Holmes,  2007),  Norwegian  (Hasselgren,
2002),  Persian  (Parvaresh  et  al.,  2012)  and
Swedish (Aijmer, 2004). 

 

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