Saturday, July 16, 2011

Acceptability is everywhere! Firth and Wagner's SLA smackdown

Gass and
Varonis (1985a) present the following two extracts
involving two NNSs:
(extract 1)
1 NNS1: My father now is retire
2 NNS2: retire?
3 NNS1: yes
4 NNS2: oh yeah
(extract 2)
1 NNS1: This is your two term?
2 NNS2: Pardon me?
3 NNS1: Two term, this is this term is t term your
two term? (p. 151)

Gass and Varonis (1985a) view these extracts as
exemplifications of "exchanges in which there is
some overt indication that understanding between
participants has not been complete." According
to the authors, lines 1 from each extract
contain "unaccepted input" that act as "triggers."
These serve to "stimulate or invoke incomplete
understanding on the part of the hearer" (p. 151).
However, in the case of extract 1, it is at least debatable
whether the interlocutor (NNS2) demonstrates
any kind of "incomplete understanding,"
or that the preceding turn is somehow "unaccepted."
A more convincing case can surely be
made for the interpretation that NNS2's reuse of
the word "retire" (line 2) is seen-by NNS1-as a
request for confirmation, rather than as indicating
"misunderstanding" or "unacceptance." NNS1
provides confirmation in the subsequent turn
(line 3). Further along, NNS2 displays the acceptability
of this interpretation in line 4 ("oh
yeah"). Similar to the Faerch and Kasper (1983)
extract above, Gass and Varonis appear to be basing
their judgement of acceptability and understandability
of line 1 on an implicit assumption
that marked usage (i.e., the marked word order
of "my father now is retire") is problematic*. This
view distorts the analyst's interpretations of what
is going on in the talk, such that NNS2's repetition
of the word-here, "retire" (line 2)-is
taken to indicate a problem in understanding.

* Cf. English as a Lingua Franca & Jenkins' arguments etc. "Acceptability" is actually implicated in classic issues of Native/Nonnative Speaker, Standards, Correctness, ELF, WEs, intercultural communication, communicative competence, grammar, pragmatics, etc etc etc!

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