Pragmatic Knowledge and Ability in the Applied Linguistics and Second Language Assessment Literature: A Review

Fred S. Tsutagawa


Almost forty years after Stalnaker’s (1974) initial call for “the development and application of a pragmatic theory in which detailed explanations of phenomena relating to linguistic contexts can be given” (p. 214), a unifying construct definition and theory still does not exist to explain fully pragmatic knowledge and ability (Roever, 2011, 2013). Given that test validity and reliability are crucial concerns in the field of second language (L2) assessment, it is important that we try to develop a more comprehensive theoretical construct, so that tests of pragmatic ability will have more construct validity, better represent the target language use (TLU) domain of the test construct, and thus have results that are hopefully more generalizable and useful to stakeholders. This paper presents a brief review of the extensive pragmatics literature and examines how the construct of pragmatic knowledge and ability has been operationalized from the perspective of theoretical and applied linguists. The paper presents (1) an introduction to the theoretical foundations of pragmatics, (2) a brief survey of applied empirical studies in L2 pragmatics, and (3) an overview of how the L2 assessment field has conceptualized pragmatic knowledge and ability, looking also at the various theoretical frameworks that have been proposed and utilized. Validation studies for the assessment models, although scarce, are discussed where appropriate. Lastly, some general ideas and suggestions are offered to help lead us towards a unifying construct definition of pragmatic knowledge and ability.

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