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:Competence: Communicative and Pragmatic 2.


Before we set out to define what is meant by pragmatic competence, it is necessary
to define competence in the first place. Then we move to a definition of
communicative competence, of which pragmatic competence is seen to form a part.
(.(Cf. 2.2.2, 2.2.3, and Endnote 1

Competence: In Transformational Generative Grammar, Chomsky (1965) 2.2.1
defines competence as a speaker’s internalized grammar of a language. This means
a person’s ability to form and understand sentences, including sentences he/she has
never heard before. It also includes a person’s knowledge of what are and what are
not sentences of any language he/she is familiar with. Competence often refers to
the ideal speaker/hearer, that is an idealized but not a real person who would have a
complete knowledge of the whole language. A distinction is made between
competence and performance, the latter being the actual use of the language by
.individuals in speech and writing

Communicative Competence: Richards, Platt, and Platt (1993:65), Coulthard 2.2.2
(1985), and Hymes (1977) define communicative competence as the ability not
only to apply the grammatical rules of a language in order to form grammatically
correct sentences but also to know when and where to use these sentences and to

:Communicative competence includes

a knowledge of the grammar and vocabulary of the language

b knowledge of rules of speaking (e.g. knowing how to begin and end conversation,
knowing what topics may be talked about in different types of speech events,
knowing which address forms should be used with different persons one speaks to
and in different situations

c knowing how to use and respond to different types of speech acts, such as
requests, apologies, thanks, and invitations

d knowing how to use language appropriately

When someone wishes to communicate with others, he/she must recognize the
social setting, his/her relation to the other person(s) (i.e. role relationship), and the
types of language that can be used for a particular occasion. He/she must also be
able to interpret written or spoken sentences within the total context in which they
are used. For example, the English sentence It’s rather cold in here could be a
request, particularly to someone in a lower role relationship, to close a window or
.door or to turn on the heating

Fraser, Rintell, and Walters (1980:76-7) elaborate on more or less the same
sentence given by Richards, Platt, and Platt above. They consider the sentence It’s
cold in here. Uttered by the lord of the manor to his butler, the utterance may take
on the meaning of the request, “Please close the window”; uttered by a wife to her
husband, it might be intended to convey the suggestion, “Let’s leave now”; spoken
by a tenant to his landlord, it might be interpreted as a complaint about the lack of

Pragmatic Competence: Having defined the terms competence and 2.2.3
communicative competence, we now turn to a definition of pragmatic competence.
Fraser, Rintell, and Walters (1980:76) define pragmatic competence as “ the
knowledge of how to use the linguistic competence in a social context.” (1) This
definition should be seen in light of the fact that “a grammar is a system of rules
that characterizes the sentences of a language, not the rules for use of the
sentences”. (ibid.) They then (ibid.:77) sum up the situation by stating that

whereas linguistic competence can be viewed as the knowledge required

,to construct or understand well-formed sentences of the language

pragmatic competence can be viewed as the knowledge required to

determine what such sentences mean when spoken in a certain way

.in a particular context

We should bear in mind that pragmatic competence deals with the utterance level,
while the more general level of communicative competence embodies some other
areas (e.g. conversation structure, and participants’ choices of language structures)
.as well as the relevant nonverbal aspects of language use

:Role Playing 2.3
Role playing, which is also called role play, is defined by Richards, Platt, and Platt
(1993:318) as drama-like classroom activities in which students take the roles of
different participants in a situation or act out what might typically happen in that
situation. For example, to practice how to express complaints and apologies in a
foreign language, students might have to role-play a situation in which a customer
in a shop returns a faulty article to a salesperson. Role play is connected to
simulation, which is similar to it in some respects and different from it in others,
.the major difference being the lack of group discussion in the case of role play

:Simulation 2.4

Simulation consists in classroom activities that reproduce or simulate real situations
and that often involve dramatization and group discussion. As we have already
said, it is basically in the absence of group discussion that role play differs from
simulation. In simulation activities, learners are given roles in a situation, tasks, or
a problem to be solved, and are given instructions to follow, e.g. an employer-
employee discussion over wage increase in a factory. The participants then make
decisions and proposals. Consequences are “simulated” on the basis of decisions
.the participants take. They later discuss their actions, feelings, and what happened

:Speech Act 2.5

A speech act, as defined by Richards, Platt, and Platt (1993:342-3) is “an utterance
as a functional unit in communication.” It has two kinds of meaning: a a
propositional/locutionary meaning, i.e. the basic literal meaning of the utterance
which is conveyed by the particular words and structures which the utterance
contains; b an illocutionary meaning/force, i.e. the effect the utterance or written
text has on the reader or listener. For example, in I am thirsty the propositional
meaning is what the utterance says about the speaker’s physical state. The
illocutionary force is the effect the speaker wants the utterance to have on the
listener. It may be intended as a request for something to drink. A speech act, then,
is a sentence or utterance which has both propositional meaning and illocutionary

It is to be noted that in language teaching, and in syllabus design, speech acts are
(often referred to as “functions” or “language functions”. (2
Underlying Assumptions .3

Attempting to teach pragmatic competence to our Arabic-speaking students, or
:rather to help them acquire/learn it, is based on the following assumptions

:Speaking Means Performing Speech Acts 3.1

What a native speaker or a second/foreign language learner does in using the
language in a social context is that he/she performs one or more speech acts, such
as requesting, complaining, authorizing, declaring, apologizing, promising, etc.
[L1] We can characterize the meaning of an utterance in terms of what speech act
or acts the speaker has performed. With reference to the example given in 2.2.2
above, Fraser, Rintell, and Richards (1980:77), say that in uttering “It’s cold in
here”, the lord of the manor is both making a declaration, and at the same time
indirectly making a request to the effect of something like “Please close the
window”. They add that the fact that the speaker in this case recognizes that this
particular sentence under the conditions of speaking will serve his purposes of
conveying a request to his butler to close the window, without having actually told
.him to do so, reflects his pragmatic competence

For any particular speech act, there is a variety of ways by which the speaker
conveys his intentions. The observed variation of ways to perform such speech acts
.is part of the speaker’s pragmatic performance

:A Basic Set of Speech Acts 3.2

Every language makes available to the user the same basic set of speech acts, such
as requesting, apologizing, declaring, and promising, etc. There may be certain
exceptions which are related to culture-specific speech acts like baptizing, for

:A Set of Strategies 3.3

Every language makes available the same set of strategies (i.e. semantic formulas)
for performing a given speech act. If one can request, for example, in one language
by asking the hearer about his/her ability to do the act (Can you do that?), by
expressing one’s desire for the hearer to do the act (I’d really appreciate it if you’d
do that), or by explicitly announcing what one intends (I request that you do that),
then the same strategies/semantic formulas are available to the speaker of every
other language. There are, of course, limitations on the equivalence of strategies
across languages regarding some details of the strategy, e.g. the non-existence in
?some languages of an elliptical version like Why not do that now

:When’ and ‘How’ Differences Between Languages’ 3.4

Languages differ significantly with respect to both when a particular speech act
ought to be, ought not to be, or may be performed, and with what strategy. Two
languages, or rather two language-culture pairings may differ significantly in terms
of what the speakers of each do when and how. Fraser, Rintell, and Walters
:(1980:79-80) cite some interesting examples

Consider, for example, the situation in which the English speaker is

eating in a restaurant, and another person, sitting nearby, is permitting

cigarette smoke to cloud the diner’s space. The English speaker might

.very well request that the smoker move, or perhaps put out the cigarette

Hispanic speakers report that they would probably say nothing at all—it

,would not be appropriate to ask the smoker to alter his behavior. Similarly

in the united States today, the individual who belches is expected to offer an

apology to the surrounding company; In Germany or Japan, such an

apology is not expected. Finally, one friend meeting another on the street in

Italy might request a cigarette by using the Italian equivalent of “Hey, give

me a cigarette.” This comes off in English as far more abrupt and lacking

.appropriate deference
:Cultural Transfer 3.5

When an individual belonging to a pairing of language-culture A is trying to learn
the pairing of language-culture B, and in the process observes a certain form in
culture B, he grasps the same complex of meaning as in his own language-culture.
And when he/she in turn engages actively in a unit of behavior in culture B he
chooses the form which he would choose in his own culture to achieve that
(complex of meaning. (3

,(In Lado’s words (1974:2

individuals tend to transform the forms and meanings, and the distribution

of forms and meanings of their native language and culture to the foreign

language and culture – both productively when attempting to speak

the language and to act in the culture, and receptively when attempting

.to grasp and understand the language and the culture as practiced by natives

The Proposed Approach .4

Now we turn our attention to the proposed approach to teaching pragmatic
.competence to Arabic-speaking students

:Role Play/Simulation 4.1

This approach consists basically in developing a method of role-playing and
simulation in which the students are asked to participate with the teacher in a series
of more or less structured situations/exercises. The teacher describes in some detail
to the students a situation and then asks them to tell him/her exactly what they
would say or do. They are told that they should talk to the teacher and to each other
as if they were actually the person(s) with whom they are speaking in the situation
which the teacher describes, even though the addressee(s) will not usually resemble
that/those person(s). Students are advised that sometimes they might want to go on
.at some length in expressing their views

It is important for students to understand that they are in no way given a “mark” on
their responses. They are also told that there are no right or wrong answers, and that
sometimes more than one answer might be appropriate, in which case they should
feel free to offer the alternatives. Also, if they want to talk about the situations after
they respond, or raise any other topics they might feel to be relevant, they are
.encouraged to do so

During the role play and/or the simulation sessions, the teacher’s part is basically
that of a facilitator and moderator. Sometimes, he/she actively participates in the
role play or the simulation through assuming the role of one of the participants. At
all times, he/she should be readily available to take part in the discussions
following the sessions, and to answer any queries the students may pose, especially
those related to the culture(s) of English-speaking people. The teacher’s role is also
to comment on and set right any communicative pitfalls which the students may get
themselves into. Needless to say that the teacher is definitely in a better position to
.undertake this task if he/she is adequately familiar with such cultural matters

:Conversational Rules, Non-verbal Behavior, Pronunciation, and Taboo 4.2

To supplement the role play/simulation technique, teachers may also make use of
some other techniques. Dufva (1991) mentions familiarizing the students with non-
grammatical errors, or the errors related to the breakdown of conversational rules or
non-verbal behavior, which are seen to ‘compromise a speaker’ more than
grammatical or lexical errors. She also calls for giving some attention to non-native
pronunciation difficulties when the foreign language learner inadvertently uses
what she calls ‘a taboo expression’, e.g. impotent rather than important. Dufva also
calls attention to the problems related to inter-lingual taboo words in
advertisements or what she calls taboo names. Dufva finally draws our attention to
some discourse problems such as temporal patterns of communication, (4 ) and
.social errors related to eating, (5 ) drinking, (6) and sanitation

:World Knowledge 4.3

It is important to familiarize our students, especially junior students, with ways of
the world, or what is usually referred to as world knowledge, which, according to
Hirose (1993) influences the interpretation of ambiguous sentences and affects
linguistic development. World knowledge plays an important role in sentence
comprehension, which involves more than a syntactically autonomous issue and
relies on the clues that are not part of the grammar. Hirose found that world
knowledge helps children in assigning an alternative structure they would not
normally assign to the sentence. As a result of this, a child may become aware of
.the fact that a sentence can have more than one meaning

:Indirect Speech Acts and Politeness Strategies 4.4

Special care should be given to teaching students how to make indirect speech acts
and how to employ politeness strategies. A speech act which is performed indirectly
is sometimes known as an indirect speech act, such as the speech acts of requesting
given above in 2.5 (I am thirsty) and 3.1 (It’s cold in here.). The students’ attention
should be drawn to the fact that direct speech acts are often felt to be more polite
(ways of performing certain kinds of speech act such as requests and refusals. (7

:Using Authentic Teaching Material 4.6

I quite agree with McKnight that all human communication, whether among native
or non-native speakers, is inherently problematic, ambiguous, and subject to
negotiation, and therefore, learners of a second/foreign language should be taught
to cope with ambiguity, approximations, hypotheses, and guesses rather than be
(pushed to find the “right answer”. (8

Unfortunately, much of the instructional material used in English courses for
Arabic-speaking students is inappropriate. (9) Language teaching materials should
expose learners to carefully-selected authentic data as soon as possible, to assist
them in developing strategies for dealing with difficult language. Such authentic
materials should follow the grammatical, phonological, orthographic, as well as the
social, cultural, discourse, and pragmatic conventions of English. These authentic
materials may be used as the basis for role play/simulation sessions and for class

A Few Examples of Role Play/Simulation Situations .5
The Library Situation: Students are asked to request that a stranger, about to 5.1
check out a book from the public library, allow the student to take out the book
.instead, for a couple of days

The Game Situation: In this situation, a student/spectator has to ask another 5.2
member of the audience to change seats to allow the student’s nine-year old
.nephew a better view

The Appointment Situation: You have made an appointment to meet a friend at 5.3
noon on a certain day. On that day, you are very busy and completely forgot about
the date until 12:30. You hurriedly find a taxi and rush to the meeting place to find
?your friend waiting for you. What would you say

The Next-Thursday Situation: On Monday, you make an appointment with an 5.4
American friend to meet a few days later. You say something like, “How about next
Thursday?” to which he agrees. You go to the meeting place on time but you do not
find him. You later call him to know why he did not show up. He says to you
something like, “But you said ‘next Thursday’, not ‘this Thursday’ ”. What would
?you say


It is to be noted that the domain of pragmatics or pragmatic competence as (1)
defined in the present paper falls far short of what some linguists (e.g.
Hymes:1972) call communicative competence. For example, excluded from
consideration are: the knowledge of the speaker-hearer that deals with the use of
language in conversation; the way conversations are structured; and the particular
choices of language structures which the conversational participants make.
Research into this broader area of investigation goes under a variety of names,
including discourse analysis, conversational analysis, conversational interaction,
.and ethnomethodological studies

Language functions have relatively recently become part of the English (2)
language syllabus in Egyptian schools. For example, A Self-Evaluation Guide in
:English (1995-6:3-10;45-52) includes three types of questions

A. Students are asked to look at pictures and complete missing parts in mini-
dialogues. For example, in a picture there are two boys and a big suitcase on the
:floor. We read the following

………………… :Ahmad

.Sherif: I’m afraid I can’t

:B. Students are asked what they would say in certain situations. For example

You never drink tea. You visit a friend. He offers you a cup of tea. What do you

:C. Students are asked to supply the missing parts in dialogues. For example

.Usama asks Hany to go with him to the cinema. They want to watch a new film

Students are then supposed to provide five sentences or parts of sentences to
complete the dialogues. In some of the sentences students are required to provide
.what the first person said and in others what the second person said

The source of this assumption is Lado (1974:114). As an example of the same(3)
form having a different meaning, he gives (ibid.:114-5) the interesting example of
bullfighting. In Spanish culture bullfighting is a sport. It symbolizes the triumph of
art over the brute force of a bull. It is entertainment. It is a display of bravery.
However, the meaning of the same spectacle is quite different to an American. It is
the slaughter of a “defenseless” animal by an armed man. It is unfair because the
bull always gets killed. It is unsportsmanlike – to the bull. It is cruel to animals.
.The fighter is therefore cruel. The public is cruel

A probably similar example is the recent uproar the French actress Bridget Bardot
caused when she expressed the view that “killing” sheep by Muslims in Id Al-Adha
.was merciless

Levinson (1993:76) points out the ambiguity in the time deixis next Thursday, (4)
which can refer either to the Thursday of the week that succeeds the week that
includes CT [i.e. coding time], or that Thursday that first follows CT. He calls our
.attention to the fact that on a Friday or a Saturday, these will coincide

It is interesting to note that next Thursday is ambiguous in Arabic only on Friday,
but not on Saturday since Saturday is the beginning of a new week in the Arab
culture, but not so in the American or British culture. In other words, there is
coincidence in the case of making the utterance on Friday but no coincidence in the
.case of making it on Saturday

Probably related to this is an expression such as “eat one’s soup”, which I first (5)
.“heard as a newcomer to the States. In Arabic, one “drinks one’s soup

Mattar (1989:51), in discussing Egyptian students’ errors in the use of certain (6)
items that bring up the wrong associations in the target culture (in this case English
culture), gives this example: We took lunch and had a drink, which, to her, may
have the connotation of an alcoholic drink, while the student only meant a soft
.drink/a soda

Takahashi and Roitblat (1994:475-506) tested the comprehension of indirect (7)
requests by native English speakers and Japanese learners of English. Subjects read
stories inducing either a conventional or a literal interpretation of a priming
sentence. Both native and non-native groups were found to be able to process both
.meanings of an ambiguous conventional request

Speaking of the “right answer”, I remember that when I was a first-year (8)
preparatory student, our English textbook started with the sentence: My name is
Zuhdy written under the picture of a schoolboy. When our English teacher asked
one of the students, “What’s your name?”, the student answered, “My name is
Zuhdy.” The teacher, who knew that this was not the student’s name, asked him
about his real name. The student very confidently said, “My name is (so and so),
.“ ‘but the right answer is ‘My name is Zuhdy

: Almost all students in Egypt remember such ‘classic’ examples as (9)

When I was walking in the street, I met my friend Ali and If it rains, I shall stay at
home. (Incidentally, the friend was always Ali, and no one else but Ali. The only
possible ‘variation’ was the alternative spelling Aly. As far as the other example is
concerned, one cannot help saying that rain occurs in ‘Egyptian’ English much
.more frequently than it falls in Egypt