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Children’s metapragmatic knowledge and intensity of second language as a medium of instruction in the intermediate years of a French immersion program Takakuwa, Mitsunori

Abstract

Compared to grammatical knowledge of language (what to use), the ability to use language appropriately depending on a context (how to use) is termed linguistic pragmatic knowledge. Throughout the elementary school years children developmentally not only acquire pragmatic knowledge but also increase their explicit grasp of pragmatic knowledge. This is termed metapragmatic knowledge. It includes the ability to infer meanings that are not expressed literally. In nonliteral uses of language, the speaker means something different from what is said. Among such nonliteral uses of language are indirect requests and irony. As children's metapragmatic knowledge has a positive relationship with their literate proficiency, on which success in school depends, children can benefit from the development of their metapragmatic knowledge in their academic achievement. The study of bilingualism has shown that bilingualism has a positive effect on children's metalinguistic development. Can metapragmatic knowledge be enhanced by increasing exposure to a second language (L2)? Bilingual pupils were given two tasks in which the children's levels of metapragmatic knowledge were investigated. The measure of metapragmatic knowledge consisted of two assessments: (a) understanding of indirect requests, and (b) understanding of irony. Participants listened to eight short stories in which brief interactions were presented in a multimedia, computer-based format. After each story, participants were asked a set of questions to probe subjects' attributions of the speaker's communicative intent and hearer's interpretation. L2 intensity was positively associated with metapragmatic knowledge measured by comprehension of requests. Conversely, the association between L2 intensity and metapragmatic knowledge measured by comprehension of irony was not necessarily positive. Those who scored higher had positive relationship between L2 intensity and their metapragmatic knowledge whereas those who scored lower had negative relationship between L2 intensity and their metapragmatic knowledge. In summary, L2 intensity is not always positively associated with any type of metapragmatic knowledge. This suggests that a larger amount of exposure to L2 is not necessarily beneficial to children's development of metapragmatic knowledge. Therefore, it is important to consider the levels of children's metapragmatic knowledge when planning an increase of exposure to L2 instruction.

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