Discourse Semantics, Interlanguage Negotiation, and the Lexicon

Robinson, Peter
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A CONSIDERABLE AMOUNT of second language acquisition research has been done into characteristic features of the process of negotiation for meaning in NS (native speaker) and (NNS)non-native speaker dyads, and in NNS-NNS dyads (see Pica 1992 for a summary of this research). This research has been largely descriptive and has not often addressed explanatory issues regarding the relationship of the input features studied to claims about representation, and how changes in representations of target language features can be triggered through discourse interaction. Where models of the intake process have been put forward (e.g. Chaudron 1985) they have made reference to causal variables like attention, memory and processing constraints as possible features of explanations for how target language syntax comes to be acquired (Pienemann 1989: Schmidt 1992); the issue of lexical development, and changes in the representation of lexical form that result from negotiation for meaningincluding the learner's knowledge of such intensional features as sense relations and componential knowledge- has not been their main concern. It would seem plausible, however, that theoretical work on the propositional representation of lexical form ( e.g. Wilensky 1990), possible world semantics (Stalnaker 1978), situation semantics (Barwise & Perry 1983), as well as relevance theory (Sperber & Wilson 1986) might provide starting points for theorising about the relationship of negotiated input to reorganisational processes underlying second language development since this work makes claims about the relationship of inferencing procedures to semantic representations. No theoretical work in SLA to date, though, has made reference to semantic theories like those cited above or attempted to model the semantics of the intake process. My aim in this paper is to cover basic issues in semantic theory as a preliminary to specifying such a model by showing how semantic criteria can provide a point of departure for pragmatic decisions about which word to choose in interactive spoken discourse. My listing of these semantic criteria will not be exhaustive, as it is the relationship between them and their pragmatic operationalization in discourse that I hope to demonstrate. I will be particularly concerned with native speaker, non-native speaker conversations, and with drawing some conclusions from the interaction of 'semantic' competence and 'phonological' competence for pedagogy.
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