Prosodic pointing
: from pragmatic awareness to pragmatic competence in Chinese hearers of L2 English

  • Pauline Madella

    Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


    This thesis examines one particular way in which we might raise awareness among Chinese L2 hearers of the importance of interpreting paralinguistic behaviour and so enhance their pragmatic competence. It adopts a cognitive-pragmatic approach to instructed L2 oral comprehension informed by relevance theory and show how exposure to one type of paralinguistic behaviour – prosodic pointing – contributes to the development of increasingly sophisticated interpretive strategies.

    In Chapter One, I propose that L2 instruction should focus less on teaching ‘listening’ and more on developing pragmatic competence. This focus entails a multimodal approach to L2 learning and teaching. In Chapter Two, I introduce relevance theory and show how it can accommodate a view which focuses on (i) the hearer’s end of interaction and (ii) the role of the speaker’s paralinguistic behaviour in the context of fine-tuning L2 hearers’ interpretive competence.

    Chapter Three introduces the type of ostensive paralinguistic behaviour the thesis focuses on: contrastive stress. I account for the comprehension of contrastive stress in relevance-theoretic terms and argue that it is interpreted by virtue of its interaction with co-speech pointing gestures, such as head movements and facial expressions. Adopting a multimodal perspective, I outline a rationale for looking at contrastive stress in its multimodal context: what I call prosodic pointing. I introduce my focus on exposing Chinese L2 hearers to prosodic pointing to develop their ability to infer (dis)agreement.

    In Chapter Four, I provide a definition of pragmatic competence as ostensiveinferential competence presupposing pragmatic awareness and metapragmatic awareness (Ifantidou, 2014). I highlight my original contribution in focusing on inferential comprehension in L2 hearers and in integrating paralinguistic behaviour (i.e. prosodic pointing) into the Noticing-as-Ostensive model of instruction and formulate my main hypothesis: exposure to prosodic pointing will play an important role in setting the stage for Chinese L2 hearers’ recognition of relevance, raising their pragmatic and metapragmatic awareness and improving their pragmatic competence.

    In Chapter Five, I introduce the intervention study used to test the hypothesis, outlining my methodologies and a mixed methods triangulation research design. Chapter Six presents the data analysis and results of the intervention. Finally, in Chapter Seven, I discuss and interpret the results in the light of the hypothesis and theoretical implications. There is ample evidence of the intervention’s effectiveness in enhancing Chinese L2 hearers’ ostensive-inferential competence. I also present further evidence that exposure to prosodic pointing is particularly relevant to Chinese L2 hearers.
    Date of AwardMay 2020
    Original languageEnglish
    Awarding Institution
    • University of Brighton
    SupervisorTim Wharton (Supervisor)

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