Section II: Pragmatics

Researching Spanish heritage language pragmatics in study abroad

Rachel L. Shively


Pragmatics focuses on the meaning of utterances in their physical, social, and linguistic context and includes phenomena such as speech acts, politeness expressions, humor, and discourse structure (e.g., Crystal, 1997). Given that pragmatic norms vary considerably from place to place, Spanish heritage speakers (SHSs) who travel abroad are likely to find that their use of pragmatics in Spanish differs in certain ways from that of local people (e.g., Felix-Brasdefer & Placencia, 2019). Even when SHSs do study in their family’s country of origin, given their bi-/multilingual backgrounds, their pragmatic practices may be hybridized, thereby differing from monolingual norms (e.g., Diaz, Taule, & Enriquez, 2018: Pinto & Raschio, 2007). Pragmatics is a particularly interesting area of study because aspects such as politeness have the potential to be especially consequential for social interaction; for example, a particular way of formulating a request may be polite in one variety of Spanish, but impolite in another (e.g., Curco, 1998). When there is a mismatch in pragmatic norms, SHSs may risk being impolite when they want to be polite, be unable to present themselves in desired ways, or misinterpret the intended meaning of an utterance.

While a considerable literature exists on second language (L2) pragmatic development in study abroad (SA), little is known about SHS pragmatics abroad. We can expect that L2 learners and SHSs will differ in their language development. For example, if SHSs grew up speaking Spanish in their home and community, they may have acquired pragmatic norms for those settings. L2 learners, in contrast, typically do not have extensive experience using Spanish outside the classroom before SA. At the same time, growing up in a society where Spanish is a minority language, SHSs may not have had the opportunities to develop their heritage pragmatic abilities in a wide variety of settings, and therefore they may be able to expand their repertoire because of SA. Furthermore, if SHSs go abroad with advanced proficiency, they may be better equipped to notice and adopt new pragmatic resources more easily than L2 learners with lower proficiency.

Drawing from literature on pragmatics, SA, heritage language learning, and second dialect acquisition, the goal of this chapter is to highlight areas for future research concerning SHS pragmatics in SA. The chapter will suggest how this focus can contribute to new insights in the field and will identify key research questions, methods, and theoretical frameworks. This discussion will begin by providing an overview of existing research on pragmatic development in SA, will continue by outlining what is known about SHSs in SA and SHS pragmatics, and will conclude by proposing four research strands related to SHS pragmatic development in SA that deserve attention.

Learning pragmatics in SA

Pragmatic competence has been defined as “the ability to communicate your intended message with all its nuances in any socio-cultural context and to interpret the message of your interlocutor as it was intended” (Fraser, 2010, p. 15), which includes aspects such as politeness expressions, nonliteral implied meanings, conversational norms, and speech acts (e.g., apologies, compliments, refusals, requests, showing gratitude). Pragmatic abilities can be categorized as either pragmalinguistic or sociopragmatic. The former refers to the ability to link language forms to their functions, meanings, and uses in specific contexts, whereas the latter relates to familiarity with the social norms regarding when and with whom particular forms are appropriate (e.g., Thomas, 1983). Given the lack of scholarship on SHS pragmatic development, this section will discuss key issues from L2 studies, which can inform future research concerning SHSs.

Existing studies suggest that L2 learners often develop their pragmatic abilities naturalistically as a result of SA in an L2-speaking region (e.g., Perez-Vidal & Shively, 2019). In contrast to the foreign language classroom - where most L2 learning at home is assumed to occur - the SA environment offers L2 learners the opportunity to interact in a variety of settings, with different interlocutors, and for various purposes. This immersion means exposure to and practice with contextually appropriate L2 use and, consequently, the possibility for learners to enhance their pragmatic competence. However, there is considerable individual variation in terms of pragmatics learning outcomes in SA, which is related to micro- and macro-level factors such as: length of SA; amount of L2 contact; composition of social networks; nature of the input to which students are exposed; positioning of students by local people; and students’ own identities, histories, dispositions, and agency (for reviews of SA research, see, e.g., Kinginger, 2009; Perez-Vidal & Shively, 2019; for L2 pragmatics research more generally, see, e.g., Kasper & Rose, 2002; Taguchi, 2019; Taguchi & Roever, 2017).

There are also some limitations to learning L2 pragmatics naturalistically in SA. Some pragmatic features do not occur frequently in daily life, so students may not have many opportunities to observe how local people

Spanish heritage pragmatics abroad 103 employ those features. Even if a pragmatic feature is common, however, students may not notice cross-cultural differences in pragmatic norms. Previous research further suggests that expert speakers of the L2 may not provide corrective feedback about pragmatic infelicities to SA students (e.g., Hassall, 2013). Given these challenges to learning pragmatics natur-alistically, some have advocated and researched pragmatics instruction in SA (e.g., Hernandez & Boero, 2018; Morris, 2017; Shively, 2010). The majority of such studies indicate that instruction in pragmatics can be effective in accelerating learning and in supporting SA students in increasing their L2 pragmatic competence.

It can be hypothesized that many of the trends observed in the literature on L2 pragmatic development in SA will be relevant to understanding shifts in pragmatic practices among SHSs during SA. First, similar to L2 learners, the amount of contact that SHSs have with local people in SA is likely to influence the pragmatic norms they employ. Support for this idea comes from Davidson and Lekic (2013), who discovered that for both L2 learners and heritage speakers of Russian alike, those who reported more out-of-class contact with Russian during SA made greater gains in speaking. Identity and agency are also factors that are expected to impact pragmatic development abroad for SHSs. In research on SHSs who studied abroad in non-ancestral Spanish-speaking countries, George and Hoffman-Gonzalez (2019) observed that the extent to which SHSs adopted regionally specific phonological, morphological, and lexical features of their SA host community was related to whether individual students identified with the local community in SA and desired to accommodate to that dialect. Indeed, some SHSs rejected features of the local variety of Spanish because they felt that they would be distancing themselves linguistically from their heritage community. The agency to make choices about language use and the awareness about how language practices index identity are likely to be operative for SHSs with regard to pragmatics as well. Chang (2017), for instance, reported that an SHS who studied in Guatemala resisted adopting the local practice of bargaining for goods in markets because she was afraid that doing so would create an exploitative relationship between economically disadvantaged Guatemalans and a more privileged person like herself.

Despite potential similarities between L2 learners and SHSs in SA, these two groups may also experience SA differently, which may have implications for their pragmatic development. Further, for advanced-proficiency SHSs, pragmatic development as a result of SA in a non-ancestral country may be better understood as second dialect acquisition rather than second language acquisition. These aspects are considered in the following two sections.

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