Volume 2, Issue 2
  • ISSN 2589-109X
  • E-ISSN: 2589-1103
Buy:$35.00 + Taxes



Pragmatic inferencing necessary to interpret indirect speech can be problematic for second language (L2) learners and could be influenced by factors such as L2 proficiency and L2 exposure as well as the difficulty of inference to be made (e.g., conventional vs. nonconventional inference) – particularly difficult inferences could tax working memory capacity. The comprehension of direct speech (acceptances and refusals), conventional indirect speech (acceptances and refusals – some with introductory phrases), and nonconventional indirect speech (opinions) was measured in adult Spanish-English bilinguals ( = 58) and native English speakers ( = 38). L2 speakers generally performed worse than native speakers and were influenced by inference difficulty. They more accurately and quickly comprehended direct speech than nonconventional indirect speech, and most conventional indirect speech items fell between these extremes. L2 proficiency was found to be a strong predictor of both conventional and nonconventional inferencing, with L2 exposure also having some impact. Importantly, L1 working memory capacity was shown to independently contribute to L2 learners’ accuracy on one type of conventional and one type of nonconventional inference. Thus, some pragmatic inferencing may require both enough skill to process the second language and enough working memory capacity to make the inference.


Article metrics loading...

Loading full text...

Full text loading...


  1. Bardovi-Harlig, K., & Bastos, M.
    (2011) Proficiency, length of stay, and intensity of interaction, and the acquisition of conventional expressions in L2 pragmatics. Intercultural Pragmatics, 8(3), 347–384. 10.1515/iprg.2011.017
    https://doi.org/10.1515/iprg.2011.017 [Google Scholar]
  2. Bardovi-Harlig, K., & Dörnyei, Z.
    (1998) Do language learners recognise pragmatic violations? Pragmatic versus grammatical awareness in instructed L2 learning. TESOL Quarterly, 32(2), 233–259. 10.2307/3587583
    https://doi.org/10.2307/3587583 [Google Scholar]
  3. Barron, A.
    (2007) ‘Ah no honestly we’re okay’: Learning to upgrade in a study abroad context. Intercultural Pragmatics, 4(2), 129–166. 10.1515/IP.2007.009
    https://doi.org/10.1515/IP.2007.009 [Google Scholar]
  4. Beebe, L. M., Takahashi, T., & Uliss-Weltz, R.
    (1990) Pragmatic transfer in ESL refusals. InR. Scarcella, D. Andersen, & S. Krashen (Eds.), Developing communicative competence in a second language (pp.55–74). Newbury House.
    [Google Scholar]
  5. Bella, S.
    (2011) Mitigation and politeness in Greek invitation refusals: Effects of length of residence in the target community and intensity of interaction on non-native speakers’ performance. Journal of Pragmatics, 43(6), 1718–1740. 10.1016/j.pragma.2010.11.005
    https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pragma.2010.11.005 [Google Scholar]
  6. (2014) Developing the ability to refuse: A cross-sectional study of Greek FL refusals. Journal of Pragmatics, 61, 35–62. 10.1016/j.pragma.2013.11.015
    https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pragma.2013.11.015 [Google Scholar]
  7. Blum-Kulka, S., & Olshtain, E.
    (1984) Requests and apologies: A cross-cultural study of speech act realization patterns (CCSARP). Applied Linguistics, 5(3), 196–213. 10.1093/applin/5.3.196
    https://doi.org/10.1093/applin/5.3.196 [Google Scholar]
  8. Bouton, L. F.
    (1994) Conversational implicature in a second language: Learned slowly when not deliberately taught. Journal of Pragmatics, 22(2), 157–167. 10.1016/0378‑2166(94)90065‑5
    https://doi.org/10.1016/0378-2166(94)90065-5 [Google Scholar]
  9. Cherry, K. E., & Park, D. C.
    (1993) Individual difference and contextual variables influence spatial memory in younger and older adults. Psychology and Aging, 8(4), 517–526. 10.1037/0882‑7974.8.4.517
    https://doi.org/10.1037/0882-7974.8.4.517 [Google Scholar]
  10. Destruel, E., & Donaldson, B.
    (2017) Second language acquisition of pragmatic inferences: Evidence from the French c’est-cleft. Applied Psycholinguistics, 38(3), 703–732. 10.1017/S0142716416000400
    https://doi.org/10.1017/S0142716416000400 [Google Scholar]
  11. Devlin, A. M.
    (2019) The interaction between duration of study abroad, diversity of loci of learning and sociopragmatic variation patterns: A comparative study. Journal of Pragmatics, 146, 121–136. 10.1016/j.pragma.2018.08.007
    https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pragma.2018.08.007 [Google Scholar]
  12. Engel de Abreu, P. M. J., & Gathercole, S. E.
    (2012) Executive and phonological processes in second-language acquisition. Journal of Educational Psychology, 104(4), 974–986. 10.1037/a0028390
    https://doi.org/10.1037/a0028390 [Google Scholar]
  13. Félix-Brasdefer, J. C.
    (2002) Refusals in Spanish and English: A cross-cultural study of politeness strategies among speakers of Mexican Spanish, American English, and American learners of Spanish as a foreign language (Doctoral dissertation). University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN.
  14. (2004) Interlanguage refusals: Linguistic politeness and length of residence in the target community. Language Learning, 54(4), 587–653. 10.1111/j.1467‑9922.2004.00281.x
    https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-9922.2004.00281.x [Google Scholar]
  15. Garcia, P.
    (2004) Developmental differences in speech act recognition: A pragmatic awareness study. Language Awareness, 13(2), 96–115. 10.1080/09658410408667089
    https://doi.org/10.1080/09658410408667089 [Google Scholar]
  16. Gibbs, R. W.
    (1981) Your wish is my command: Convention and context in interpreting indirect requests. Journal of Verbal Learning & Verbal Behavior, 20(4), 431–444. 10.1016/S0022‑5371(81)90542‑9
    https://doi.org/10.1016/S0022-5371(81)90542-9 [Google Scholar]
  17. Grice, H. P.
    (1975) Logic and conversation. InP. Cole & J. L. Morgan (Eds.), Syntax and semantics: Vol. 3, Speech acts (pp.41–58). Academic Press.
    [Google Scholar]
  18. Harrington, M.
    (1992) Working memory capacity as a constraint on L2 development. InR. J. Harris (Ed.), Cognitive processing in bilinguals (pp.123–135). North Holland. 10.1016/S0166‑4115(08)61491‑0
    https://doi.org/10.1016/S0166-4115(08)61491-0 [Google Scholar]
  19. Holtgraves, T.
    (1999) Comprehending indirect replies: When and how are their conveyed meanings activated?Journal of Memory and Language, 41(4), 519–540. 10.1006/jmla.1999.2657
    https://doi.org/10.1006/jmla.1999.2657 [Google Scholar]
  20. Just, M. A., & Carpenter, P. A.
    (1992) A capacity theory of comprehension: Individual differences in working memory. Psychological Review, 99(1), 122–149. 10.1037/0033‑295X.99.1.122
    https://doi.org/10.1037/0033-295X.99.1.122 [Google Scholar]
  21. Köylu, Y.
    (2018) Comprehension of conversational implicatures in L2 English. Intercultural Pragmatics, 15(3), 373–408. 10.1515/ip‑2018‑0011
    https://doi.org/10.1515/ip-2018-0011 [Google Scholar]
  22. Lundell, F. F., & Erman, B.
    (2012) High-level requests: A study of long residency L2 users of English and French and native speakers. Journal of Pragmatics, 44, 756–775. 10.1016/j.pragma.2012.02.010
    https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pragma.2012.02.010 [Google Scholar]
  23. McDonald, J. L.
    (2006) Alternatives to the Critical Period Hypothesis: Processing-based explanations for poor grammaticality judgment performance by late second language learners. Journal of Memory and Language, 55(3), 381–401. 10.1016/j.jml.2006.06.006
    https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jml.2006.06.006 [Google Scholar]
  24. Olshtain, E., & Blum-Kulka, S.
    (1985) Degree of approximation: nonnative reactions to native speech act behavior. InS. M. Gass & C. G. Madden (Eds.), Input in second language acquisition (pp.303–325). Newbury House.
    [Google Scholar]
  25. Roever, C.
    (2006) Validation of a web-based test of ESL pragmalinguistics. Language Testing, 23(2), 229–256. 10.1191/0265532206lt329oa
    https://doi.org/10.1191/0265532206lt329oa [Google Scholar]
  26. Schauer, G. A.
    (2006) Pragmatic awareness in ESL and EFL contexts: Contrast and development. Language Learning, 56(2), 269–318. 10.1111/j.0023‑8333.2006.00348.x
    https://doi.org/10.1111/j.0023-8333.2006.00348.x [Google Scholar]
  27. Szekely, A., Jacobsen, T., D’Amico, S., Devescovi, A., Andonova, E., Herron, D., & ... Bates, E.
    (2004) A new on-line resource for psycholinguistic studies. Journal of Memory and Language, 51(2), 247–250. 10.1016/j.jml.2004.03.002
    https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jml.2004.03.002 [Google Scholar]
  28. Taguchi, N.
    (2005) Comprehending implied meaning in English as a foreign language. Modern Language Journal, 89(4), 543–562. 10.1111/j.1540‑4781.2005.00329.x
    https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1540-4781.2005.00329.x [Google Scholar]
  29. (2007) Development of speed and accuracy in pragmatic comprehension in English as a foreign language. TESOL Quarterly, 41(2), 313–338. 10.1002/j.1545‑7249.2007.tb00061.x
    https://doi.org/10.1002/j.1545-7249.2007.tb00061.x [Google Scholar]
  30. (2008a) The effect of working memory, semantic access, and listening abilities on the comprehension of conversational implicatures in L2 English. Pragmatics & Cognition, 16(3), 517–539. 10.1075/pc.16.3.05tag
    https://doi.org/10.1075/pc.16.3.05tag [Google Scholar]
  31. (2008b) Pragmatic comprehension in Japanese as a foreign language. Modern Language Journal, 92(4), 558–576. 10.1111/j.1540‑4781.2008.00787.x
    https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1540-4781.2008.00787.x [Google Scholar]
  32. (2008c) The role of learning environment in the development of pragmatic comprehension: A comparison of gains between EFL and ESL learners. Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 30(4), 423–452. 10.1017/S0272263108080716
    https://doi.org/10.1017/S0272263108080716 [Google Scholar]
  33. (2008d) Cognition, language contact, and the development of pragmatic comprehension in a study-abroad context. Language Learning, 58(1), 33–71. 10.1111/j.1467‑9922.2007.00434.x
    https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-9922.2007.00434.x [Google Scholar]
  34. (2011) The effect of L2 proficiency and study-abroad experience on pragmatic comprehension. Language Learning, 61(3), 904–939. 10.1111/j.1467‑9922.2011.00633.x
    https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-9922.2011.00633.x [Google Scholar]
  35. Taguchi, N., Gomez-Laich, M. P., & Arrufat-Marques, M.
    (2016) Comprehension of indirect meaning in Spanish as a foreign language. Foreign Language Annals, 49(4), 677–698. 10.1111/flan.12230
    https://doi.org/10.1111/flan.12230 [Google Scholar]
  36. Taguchi, N., Li, S., & Liu, Y.
    (2013) Comprehension of conversational implicature in L2 Chinese. Pragmatics & Cognition, 21(1), 139–157. 10.1075/pc.21.1.06tag
    https://doi.org/10.1075/pc.21.1.06tag [Google Scholar]
  37. Taguchi, N., Xiao, F., & Li, S.
    (2016) Effects of intercultural competence and social contact on speech act production in a Chinese study abroad context. Modern Language Journal, 100(4), 775–796. 10.1111/modl.12349
    https://doi.org/10.1111/modl.12349 [Google Scholar]
  38. Tromp, J., Hagoort, P., & Meyer, A. S.
    (2016) Pupillometry reveals increased pupil size during indirect request comprehension. The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 69(6), 1093–1108. 10.1080/17470218.2015.1065282
    https://doi.org/10.1080/17470218.2015.1065282 [Google Scholar]
  39. Verhagen, J., & Leseman, P.
    (2016) How do verbal short-term memory and working memory relate to the acquisition of vocabulary and grammar? A comparison between first and second language learners. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 141, 65–82. 10.1016/j.jecp.2015.06.015
    https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jecp.2015.06.015 [Google Scholar]
  40. Xu, W., Case, R. E., & Wang, Y.
    (2009) Pragmatic and grammatical competence, length of residence, and overall L2 proficiency. System, 37(2), 205–216. 10.1016/j.system.2008.09.007
    https://doi.org/10.1016/j.system.2008.09.007 [Google Scholar]
  41. Yamanaka, J. E.
    (2003) Effect of proficiency and length of residence on the pragmatic comprehension of Japanese ESL learners. Second Language Studies, 22(1), 107–175.
    [Google Scholar]

Data & Media loading...

This is a required field
Please enter a valid email address
Approval was successful
Invalid data
An Error Occurred
Approval was partially successful, following selected items could not be processed due to error