In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Second Language Pragmatics

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Data Elicitation Methods
  • Instructed L2 Pragmatics
  • Assessing L2 Pragmatics
  • L2 Pragmatics in Diverse Social Interaction

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Linguistics Second Language Pragmatics
Soo Jung Youn
  • LAST REVIEWED: 17 April 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 February 2021
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199772810-0269


The field of second language (L2) pragmatics surveys a range of research issues on how L2 learners learn to use a target language in context-appropriate manners. In the late 1970s, the field of interlanguage pragmatics emerged from cross-cultural pragmatic research. The field has now moved beyond comparisons of different pragmatic norms or simply describing language use. With nearly four decades of research, second language pragmatics has now become an independent field. Informed by different theories, the scope and definitions of L2 pragmatic competence have been expanded. An accumulative body of research illuminates underlying mechanisms and processes of L2 pragmatic development and what L2 pragmatic competence entails. In part, the increasing interest in interlanguage pragmatics reflects the notion that language competence entails the ability to use language in context, in addition to grammar. L2 pragmatics is also situated in a larger domain of language teaching, reflecting a call for more context-specific and more dynamic views of L2 communicative competence. In addition to formal aspects of language (e.g., grammar), L2 communicative competence entails the ability to engage in social interaction and perform speech acts in a contextually appropriate way. This article focuses on providing selective references, since the entire literature cannot be encapsulated in an article-length format. This article is organized around six topics: (1) Theoretical Approaches, (2) Analytical Objects of L2 Pragmatics, (3) Data Elicitation Methods, (4) Instructed L2 Pragmatics, (5) Assessing L2 Pragmatics, and (6) L2 Pragmatics in Diverse Social Interaction.

General Overviews

Research on interlanguage pragmatics first appeared in the late 1970s. The early interlanguage pragmatic research is reported in Kasper 1979, while Kasper and Dahl 1991 provides an early definition of interlanguage pragmatics. In the 1980s and 1990s, the cross-linguistic and cross-cultural focus on L2 pragmatic language use was still dominant; see Bardovi-Harlig 2010, Kasper 1992, and Kasper and Blum-Kulka 1993. Common research inquiries were comparing English native speakers and speakers of different first languages (L1s) in terms of their pragmatic strategies and linguistic forms, rather than developmental issues of pragmatics. Bardovi-Harlig 1999, Kasper and Schmidt 1996, and Kasper and Rose 2002 present explicit arguments for acquisitional pragmatics. At the same time, a renewed epistemology of pragmatics has been discussed in the field. Motivated by the discontent with the rationalist approaches to speech act research, a discursive approach to conceptualizing pragmatic actions in situated social interaction that participants co-accomplish sequentially turn by turn has emerged. Accordingly, Taguchi and Roever 2017 offers a book-length discussion on the expanded definition of L2 pragmatics, and different explanations of how L2 learners develop their pragmatic competence. The expanding scope and nature of L2 pragmatics also call for the critical understanding of data elicitation methods and measurement of pragmatic phenomena (see Bardovi-Harlig 2013). Ross and Kasper 2013 provides a historical sketch and a general introduction of how L2 pragmatic competence has received attention as an object for teaching and assessment as an integral component of communicative competence.

  • Bardovi-Harlig, Kathleen. 1999. Exploring the interlanguage of interlanguage pragmatics: A research agenda for acquisitional pragmatics. Language Learning 49.4: 677–713.

    DOI: 10.1111/0023-8333.00105

    One of the seminal early papers on the importance of investigating grammar in L2 pragmatic development.

  • Bardovi-Harlig, Kathleen. 2010. Pragmatics and second language acquisition. In The Oxford handbook of applied linguistics. Edited by Robert B. Kaplan, 232–243. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

    The author discusses the intersection of pragmatics and L2 acquisition research, as well as how interlanguage pragmatics is affiliated with research inquiries in applied linguistics. This chapter serves as a key reference to understand how the field of second-language pragmatics is situated in other disciplines.

  • Bardovi-Harlig, Kathleen. 2013. Developing L2 pragmatics. Language Learning 63.S1: 68–86.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-9922.2012.00738.x

    The author presents five areas of research that advance L2 pragmatic research, focusing on pragmatic task design, the measurement of pragmatic development, the intersection between the developments of lexico-grammar and pragmatics, and the effect of environment on L2 pragmatic development.

  • Kasper, Gabriele. 1979. Errors in speech act realization and use of gambits. Canadian Modern Language Review 35.3: 395–406.

    DOI: 10.3138/cmlr.35.3.395

    One of the early papers on interlanguage pragmatic research that appeared in the field of second language acquisition (SLA).

  • Kasper, Gabriele. 1992. Pragmatic transfer. Second Language Research 8.3: 203–231.

    DOI: 10.1177/026765839200800303

    A critical paper on what pragmatic transfer means. This article was influential in advancing the research agenda of acquisitional pragmatics.

  • Kasper, Gabriele, and Shoshana Blum-Kulka, eds. 1993. Interlanguage pragmatics. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

    This edited volume represents cross-linguistic and cross-cultural approaches to interlanguage pragmatics.

  • Kasper, Gabriele, and Merete Dahl. 1991. Research methods in interlanguage pragmatics. Studies in Second Language Acquisition 13.2: 215–247.

    DOI: 10.1017/S0272263100009955

    A monumental reference on interlanguage pragmatics. This paper not only includes a classic definition of interlanguage pragmatics but also entails an in-depth discussion of data elicitation methods that are still relevant to current research practices.

  • Kasper, Gabriele, and Kenneth R. Rose. 2002. Pragmatic development in a second language. Oxford: Blackwell.

    A seminal volume that covers theoretical and empirical approaches to L2 pragmatic development. The authors provide an excellent discussion of theoretical underpinnings of L2 pragmatic development, as well as the relationship between pragmatics and grammatical development. While the empirical research included is covered up to 2002, this text still serves as an influential resource.

  • Kasper, Gabriele, and Richard Schmidt. 1996. Developmental issues in interlanguage pragmatics. In Special issue: The development of pragmatic competence. Edited by Gabriele Kasper. Studies in Second Language Acquisition 18.2: 149–169.

    DOI: 10.1017/S0272263100014868

    A highly influential reference that advanced the interlanguage pragmatic research agenda. The authors proposed a research agenda for interlanguage pragmatics with an explicit developmental perspective with a close tie with SLA research.

  • Ross, Steven, and Gabriele Kasper, eds. 2013. Assessing second language pragmatics. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan.

    This first edited volume on L2 pragmatic assessment, which introduces a collection of innovative studies that assess various dimensions of L2 pragmatics. This introduction chapter provides a comprehensive discussion of how L2 pragmatic competence is situated in the framework of L2 communicative competence.

  • Taguchi, Naoko, and Carsten Roever. 2017. Second language pragmatics. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

    This book provides a comprehensive introduction and discussion on the current research issues in the field of L2 pragmatics, ranging from learning to teaching and assessment. The authors offer renewed discussions based on the seminal Kasper and Rose 2002. Clear and comprehensive discussions on theories and research issues serve as an accessible guide for researchers and students.

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