Future Directions in Pragmatics Assessment

Fred S. Tsutagawa

Abstract


While the discussion of the importance of pragmatic ability arguably begins with Lado (1961), the idea of sociolinguistic or pragmatic competence has been widely recognized as one of four vital communicative competencies since Canale and Swain (1980) and Canale (1983) first introduced their seminal paper on communicative competence over three decades ago. Since then, language testers such as Bachman (1990), Bachman and Palmer (1996), and Purpura (2004) have proposed subsequent models of communicative language ability (CLA) where pragmatic knowledge is featured prominently, but interestingly, the assessment of pragmatic knowledge and ability is still relatively nascent in terms of its research and development. One reason for this is because the measurement of pragmatic knowledge is inherently complex, especially since “one utterance can simultaneously encode multiple pragmatic meanings, and many times, without asking the speaker[s], it is difficult to determine which meanings were implied…[and] which meanings were actually understood” (Purpura, 2004, p. 77). As a result, most pragmatic research has tended to focus on a narrow but more quantifiable band of functional pragmatic topics such as polite and impolite speech, complimenting, use of discourse markers (Rose & Kasper, 2001), and other pragmatic tasks such as apologizing, complaining, giving advice, and inviting that are common in many ESL/EFL textbooks (Vellenga, 2004). But actual “tests of pragmatic ability are few and far between” (Kasper & Rose, 2001, p. 9), with many of the above studies employing written response formats that fail to capture the richness and unplanned nature of authentic discourse. Advances in technology, however, may possibly bridge some of the limitations that have been observed in the pragmatics testing literature thus far.

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