The acquisition of politeness by young EFL learners in France: Siddiqa dissertation

IMG_4398Aisha Siddiqa has just defended her doctoral dissertation based on a large-scale cross-sectional study of the development of pragmatic competence among secondary school pupils in EFL classes in the Nice area (France).

An EMMA scholar who came to the University of Nice in 2013, Aisha worked with me in our research lab Bases, Corpus, Langage to collect and analyse a large corpus of some 2000 English L2 requests by nearly 250 French pupils at three levels of secondary education, both in actual class interaction and under experimental conditions (role-plays and cartoon oral production).

Aisha also investigated pupils’ opportunities to develop pragmatic competence by analysing class activities and textbooks, and worked with pre-service teachers to raise awareness of this dimension of L2 competence. The research thus stands at the crossroads of second language acquisition research (acquisition-apprentissage d’une L2) and language education research (didactique des langues) in the interdisciplinary field of second language studies now attracting new attention in France.

Aisha defended her dissertation with brio on 23 May 2018 before a doctoral committee of L2 acquisition and teaching specialists who praised her rigorous research protocol, meticulous analysis, and readable prose, as well as her composed and well-considered responses to the comments and questions arising during the defence. Congratulations Dr Siddiqa!


This study of interlanguage pragmatics (ILP) investigates empirical data on EFL learners in French secondary schools to contribute to our understanding of the development of L2 politeness. With the increase in multilingual interactions around the globe, awareness of what is polite or impolite has become indispensable. However, pragmatic skills are generally not easily acquired in foreign language settings and the observation that even advanced learners do not necessarily exhibit target-like norms has led to calls for further investigation in this area (Kasper & Schmidt, 1996; Bardovi-Harlig, 1999). Although there is now a solid body of research in this area, most studies have focused on adult learners (Kasper & Rose, 1999) using written discourse completion tasks (see e.g., Hill, 1997; Billmyer & Varghese, 2000; Su, 2010; Jebahi, 2011) to elicit explicit pragmatic knowledge (Bardovi-Harlig, 1999, 2013).

The present study seeks to extend the scope of ILP research by focusing on a large group of young, beginning learners using mixed methods of data collection including a cartoon oral production task, open-ended role plays, and naturalistic data from classroom video recordings. Participants were some 240 secondary school learners at three different levels (age 11 to 18) to allow the tracking of ILP development with language proficiency. To contextualise findings, secondary data was collected in the form of additional analysis of classroom films, textbook analysis, and teacher interviews. The analysis of request data is based on the seminal L2 discourse analytic framework Cross-Cultural Speech Act Research Project (Blum-Kulka et al., 1989) which allows the analysis of both pragmalinguistic and sociopragmatic dimensions of requests. L2 pragmatic development was observed almost exclusively in terms of increased frequency of pragmalinguistic strategies, particularly by the end of upper secondary school, less so in terms of range of strategies or sociopragmatic features, and this was confirmed across all data collection methods. L1 data from another group revealed similar development, suggesting that L1 transfer may be one explanation for the L2 development observed in the study, particularly because analysis of secondary data revealed little focus on ILP in teaching programs.


Interlanguage pragmatics, development, politeness, EFL, young beginning learners, France.



Bardovi-Harlig, K. (2013). Developing L2 Pragmatics. Language Learning, 63(1), 68–86.

Bardovi-Harlig, K. (1999). The interlanguage of interlanguage pragmatics: A research agenda for acquisitional pragmatics. Language Learning, 49(4), 677–713.

Billmyer, K., & Varghese, M. (2000). Investigating instrument-based pragmatic variability: effects of enhancing discourse completion tests. Applied Linguistics, 21(4), 517–552.

Blum-Kulka, S., House, J., & Kasper, G. (Eds.). (1989). Cross-cultural pragmatics: requests and apologies. USA: Ablex Pub. Corp.

Hill, T. (1997). The development of pragmatic competence in an EFL context (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). Temple University Japan, Tokyo, Japan.

Jebahi, K. (2011). Tunisian university students’ choice of apology strategies in a discourse completion task. Journal of Pragmatics, 43(2), 648–662

Kasper, G., & Rose, K. R. (1999). Pragmatics and SLA. Annual Review of Applied Linguistics, 19, 81–104.

Kasper, G., & Schmidt, R. (1996). Developmental issues in interlanguage pragmatics. Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 18, 149–169.

Su, I.-R. (2010). Transfer of pragmatic competence. The Modern Language Journal, 94(1), 87–102.


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