Date of Degree
PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Second Language Acquisition
This project deals with the sociocultural and pragmatic aspects of second language acquisition. Most current research in this field examines the ability of second language learners to produce socioculturally appropriate utterances in simulated speech settings. Researchers are interested in whether students can interact adequately within the confines of both their linguistic competence and the foreign culture's interactional norms. Analyses of learners' speech routines are quite valuable to our understanding of their ability to enact conversational routines. However, they do not indicate to use what the learners understand; that is, they do not tease apart what learners understand to be true about the language from what they can do under the pressure of performance. The purpose of this dissertation is to determine whether learners of Russian perceive the sociocultural weight of the two personal pronouns for 'you,' ty (informal/intimate) and Vy (formal/polite). In this project, the term understand is used in two ways, each of which is tested empirically. First, understanding implies knowledge about the pragmatic impact of the pronouns. Do learners correctly indicate which pronoun is appropriate in context? Second, understanding is listening ability. Do learners utilize their pragmatic knowledge when they listen to native speech? Or do proficiency factors, individual learner characteristics, syntactic saliency (overt pronoun vs. pro-drop), and overall attentional limitations affect their listening ability? Students at Middlebury College and at the University of Iowa participated in two experimental tasks evaluating their pragmatic knowledge and listening ability with the ty / Vy feature: (a) a metapragmatic judgment task and (b) a listening task using video clips from famous Russian films. Results indicate that pragmatic knowledge is not significantly different across proficiency levels, nor is perception of the pronouns in a listening task; that is, beginning learners and advanced learners demonstrate similar ability with the understanding of the feature. Furthermore, female learners outperformed male learners on the listening task, although performance on the pragmatic knowledge task did not vary by gender. These results add to the body of knowledge in second language acquisition and, more specifically, to our knowledge of how pragmatic features of a language are acquired.
Copyright 2006 Lisa Kristine Dykstra