This study examines the development of pragmatic competence in requests in two groups of Chinese EFL learners (advanced and intermediate) in a tertiary institute in Macau, China. The learners answer a written discourse completion test that contains ten scenarios where they request common services or ask for favours. The request behaviours are examined in terms of utterance length, strategy types, formulaic expressions, and modifications (internal and external).
It is found that, compared with a group of native speakers of English, the learners have not developed native-like pragmatic behaviours. Although the advanced and the intermediate learner groups reach native-like distribution in STRATEGY TYPE for the scenarios taken together, statistically significant differences from the native group are observed in several individual scenarios (particularly with the intermediate learners). In addition, the two groups of learners employ
formulaic expressions sharply differently from the native group in types and according to scenario. The learners do not use internal modifiers as frequently or situation-differentially as the native group: they do not show a strong preference for bi-clausal structures and conditionals in the scenarios of substantial favour asking. The learners employ elaborated external modifications and are verbose in requests. According to Bialystok’s (1993, 1994) two-dimensional model of pragmatic competence, the learners are missing analytical knowledge of the scenario-specific behaviours, and their control ability is not fully developed.
This study examines adult Chinese learners of English in a foreign language environment, and extends our knowledge of the development of request behaviours in children in second language environments (Achiba, 2003; Ellis, 1992). It also relates to the research on formulae in SLA (Wray, 2000, 2002; Kecskes, 2002) by providing
empirical data on formulaic expressions in learners requests. It is further argued that further examination of interlanguage pragmatics should be (a) scenario-based, and (b) formulae-based.