Prosodic Pointing in inferential comprehension: the application of Relevance Theory to L2 listening instruction

Pauline Madella, Jesús Romero-Trillo

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    The interface between pragmatics and prosody has been shown to be significant in intercultural communication (RIESCO BERNIER; ROMERO-TRILLO, 2008; ROMERO-TRILLO, 2002, 2012, 2015, 2019). In this paper, we re-evaluate the pragmatics-prosody interface on the grounds that prosody is seldom interpreted independently from accompanying gesture, facial modification and head movement. To enhance L2 hearers’ pragmatic competence, or what we define as attentional and inferential abilities, we introduce prosodic pointing as an ostensive phenomenon inclusive of both vocal and visual paralinguistic features used synchronously to communicate and interpret one’s intentions. We believe that the way relevance mechanisms (SPERBER; WILSON, 1986; WHARTON, 2014) focus the hearer on the speaker’s ostensive nonverbal behaviours, for him to use them as cues to speaker meaning, can be exploited in L2 listening instruction that aims to develop epistemic vigilance (SPERBER 1994; PADILLA CRUZ, 2013) and pragmatic competence in Chinese hearers of L2 English. In English, you can show disagreement by saying ‘Yes, he \was’. In Chinese, however, ‘yes’ always means agreement. Chinese speakers typically disagree by saying ‘No, he was’, thus potentially causing misunderstanding. We investigate how introducing prosodic pointing to Chinese L2 learners can help in fine-tuningtheir epistemic vigilance in L2 English through an intervention study involving input and immediate recall sessions. The results show (i) evidence of Chinese interpreters of L2 English fine-tuning their epistemic vigilance and, as result, the important role of prosodic pointing in enhancing their pragmatic competence, and (ii) the need for further relevance-based L2 instructional studies focused on enhancing inferential and interpretive competence in hearers of L2 English.
    Original languageEnglish
    Article numbere34157
    Pages (from-to)1-17
    Issue number4
    Publication statusPublished - 27 Dec 2019


    • Prosodic pointing
    • Pragmatic competence
    • Epistemic vigilance
    • Relevance theory
    • L2 listening instruction


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