Identity and Pragmatic Transfer: The Role of Omani EFL Learners' Identities in Their Pragmatics Choices in English
Rubai'ey, Fatema Sulaiman Al
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Several researchers contend that learners identities influence their understanding and use of L2 pragmatics (e.g., Blum-Kulka, 1991; Kasper & Schmidt, 1996). They observe that L2 learners might be aware of L2 sociopragmatic variables (i.e., cultural and social rules that govern the use of L2 speech acts) and might possess the pragmalinguistic ability to realize a certain speech act as NSs would, yet learners choose to respond in a way consistent with their L1, which reflects their identity. However, the role of learner identity in L2 pragmatic use has received little attention in current research on L2 pragmatics. This study aims to address this gap by examining the oral production of refusals in English by EFL learners and the role of learner identity in their pragmatic choices and transfer. Each of 10 Omani EFL learners responded to 12 Oral DCT scenarios, four in Omani Arabic and eight in English, and then responded to interviews about why they made certain pragmalinguistic and sociopragmatic choices when responding to the scenarios in English. The findings revealed that the participants pragmatic choices when refusing in English were influenced by their perceptions of various sociopragmatic and contextual variables. Furthermore, their perceptions of these variables were greatly influenced by the way they see themselves as EFL learners and as Omanis. Therefore, this study argues that the participants' pragmatic transfer seems to be an enactment of their identity. The focus on the influence of learner identity in this study is unique and responds to recent calls in SLA to redefine language learning as a social rather than a purely cognitive process (e.g., Firth & Wagner, 2007). By combining cognitive and sociocultural approaches to studying L2 pragmatics, this study reveals a complex interaction between pragmatic behavior and identity. One of the main implications of the study is a call for re-conceptualizing pragmatic transfer in SLA to better reflect L2 learners sociolinguistic reality. In addition, L2 teachers should be made aware that L2 learners pragmatic transfer is influenced by learners identity, and, as a result, should not be treated simply as a pragmatic error or failure to be corrected and criticized.