Pragmatic abilities in multilingualism

This specific project is part of a European cooperative project, AThEME (Advancing The European Multi Lingual Experience, European Union's 7th Framework Program for research, technological development and demonstration, Grant Agreement n° 613465), where L2C2 is coordinator for Task 5.3 (Pragmatic abilities). Implicit communication gathers a few well described phenomena, such as conversational implicatures (e.g., "the pianist played some Mozart sonatas"), and presuppositions (e.g. "John has stopped drinking"), where in addition to what is explicitly communicated, the utterance also communicates an implicit content (respectively: [The pianist did not play all Mozart sonatas], [John drank]). Both implicatures and presuppositions are linked to specific lexical 'triggers', here, respectively some, but and stop. An obvious question is how this implicit content is recovered in the different cases, and what role the context plays in that process. Additionally, the interplay between lexical triggers and contextual information, which is typical of implicit communication, should be especially interesting in a bilingual or L2 learning situation, where the different languages may influence each other through transfer.

Conversational implicatures: Conversational implicatures, and more specifically scalar implicatures (see example above) have been the object of fair number of experimental investigations in the past twenty years. Though scalar implicatures have been investigated with monolinguals, there is only one study in L2 learners and two in early bilinguals. The extant studies seem to show that L2 learners at intermediate and advanced levels of proficiency and bilingual children draw more pragmatic interpretations than do monolinguals. We intend to replicate this study, targeting both adult L2 learners (students) and early bilinguals (children). We will also try to ascertain whether children (bilingual or monolingual) and L2 learners use the same mechanism as adult monolinguals or more Theory of Mind based (Gricean) mechanisms, using behavioural measures.

Presuppositions: Again, presupposition triggers are supposed to work through their semantic meaning, and, thus, similar presupposition triggers should give raise to the same presuppositional effects cross-linguistically. Preliminary results suggest a slightly more complex reality, however, and we will investigate these cross-linguistic differences, using behavorial, eye-tracking and EEG measures, among both L2 learners and early bilinguals, and examine two different phenomena: implicated presuppositions and projection. Additionally, we will investigate whether the presuppositions of function words (e.g. determiners), which are arbitrary to a degree (and may thus be language-specific), are more difficult to acquire for L2 learners and bilinguals than presuppositions of non-function words (e.g. verbs) which are motivated by the semantic meaning of the word (and may thus be cross-linguistic universals), using behavioral methods. 

Anne Reboul
Senior Researcher