Investigating English home language and 12 learner's ability to access pragmatic and contextual aspects of literary text

Badal, Bernice
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Stellenbosch : Stellenbosch University
ENGLISH ABSTRACT: This study investigates differences in L1 and L2 Grade 12 learners' interpretation of an English literary text. In particular, the research focuses on pragmatic features of the text, or features which require knowledge of the cultural and situational context in order to be understood. It is hypothesised from the outset that L1 learners will be more adept at interpreting the pragmatic features of the text since L2 learners may lack the necessary linguistic and cultural knowledge needed to derive meaning from an English literary text. The research takes the form of a qualitative study in which data was derived from ten participants in the form of a standardised test and semi-structured interviews. The test was based on F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby and aimed to determine learners' textual and pragmatic competence through a series of questions. Semi-structured interviews then followed in order to investigate the students' own reasons for shortcomings in the test. In addition, the research draws on theories put forth by Brown and Levinson (1978) and Sperber and Wilson (2005) regarding “pragmatic competence”, Hymes‟ (1972) notion of "communicative competence‟, as well as research into how narratives are embedded into cultural mores, customs and norms. These concepts and ideas were incorporated into the research so far as they could assist in articulating the reasons for shortcomings in the literacy test. The two methods of data collection and subsequent analysis generated significant information which was then correlated. First, the L1 learners outperformed their L2 peers in the literary test, both in terms of understanding the literary elements and in terms of understanding the cultural and contextual elements of the text. Second, the semi-structured interviews revealed two contrasting methods of language socialisation pertaining to the learners: while the L1 learners acquired English through direct methods and were found to engage more with English literary texts in the home, the L2 learners generally revealed that English was not practised outside of the classroom and engagement with English or English texts was not explicitly encouraged in the home. The study reveals that inadequate exposure to a language not only affects text-comprehension on a grammatical level, but prevents the learner from engaging with and understanding critical pragmatic elements of the literary text such as idioms, metaphors and other cultural references.
Thesis (MA)--Stellenbosch University, 2013.
English language -- Interpretation --Literary text, English language -- Pragmatic competence, English language -- Pragmatic and contextual aspects, Theses -- Linguistics, Dissertations -- Linguistics