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Ishihara, N. (2003). Identity and pragmatic performance of foreign language speakers: Emulating and resisting pragmatic norms. Paper presented in the Annual Conference of American Association for Applied Linguistics. Arlington, VA:March 2003.

Few studies in interlanguage pragmatics have investigated the important link between L2 speaker’s cultural identity and pragmatic performance.  Current methodologies compare L2 speakers’ performance with L1 speaker baseline data serving as a model for L2 learners.  An underlying assumption of these studies is that native speakers provide the sole communication model for nonnative speakers, whose linguistic performance is viewed as deficient.  L2 speakers are often expected to adopt and conform to the local pragmatic practices and assimilate into the target culture.  However, awareness of pragmatic norms is acquired via socialization into L1 culture norms and L2 speakers’ pragmatic choice often remains primarily first-culture based even for those with high L2 proficiency (Hinkel, 2001).  This is complicated by the fact that such cultural identities can shift across time and space depending on the social interaction in which the speaker is situated (Norton, 1995, 2000). 

This interpretive study investigates the role of learner identity on the pragmatic use of the target language.  Seven advanced learners of Japanese first performed speech acts of requesting, refusing, and responding to compliments through speech elicitation tasks (oral discourse completion and role play tasks) both in their L2 Japanese and L1 English.  Subsequent individual retrospective interviews and e-mail correspondence identified specific instances in which the participants emulated perceived target language norms.  Furthermore, evidence of their resistance to such norms were scrutinized in order to explore to what extent the participants resisted emulating native speakers of the target language, not because of linguistic deficiency but due to a desire to maintain their sense of self.  The participants’ convergence with or divergence from the norms seemed to have been in flux, and often depended on the complex negotiation between the pressure and expectations from the target speech community on one hand and the learners’ subjectivity on the other.  In deciding whether to accommodate to or resist L2 pragmatic norms, the participants seemed to be constantly exercising agency, their capacity to operate with volition and power to make their own pragmatic choices.  Implications of the study call for reconsideration and sensitivity toward issues of learner agency among second/foreign language educators.  Also, the study poses a question as to the ways in which unique aspects of the language and culture (such as culturally specific pragmatic routines in speech act realizations) can be taught and evaluated in formal instruction so that learners can arrive at an emic understanding of the target language and culture. 

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