Tuesday, March 17, 2015
By Tamara Jones
ESL Instructor, Howard Community College
Two Very Different Conversations
Imagine the following conversation: A student approaches a teacher after a lecture. The student says, “I am very busy this week. I know the paper is due on Friday, but can I hand it in on Monday instead?” The professor responds, “You can.”
In your imagination, was the student an English learner or a proficient English speaker? What the student understood about the conversation could be wildly different depending on his/her level of English. In fact, if you visualized an English learner, most likely the student understood the professor’s words, the locution. He/she would have left feeling content in the understanding that it was perfectly okay to submit the assignment late.
However, a proficient English speaker would have subconsciously understood that when the professor stressed the word “can,” he/she was communicating an additional message, in this case a contrary one. As noted by Wells, the speaker typically states one thing but implies something further (Wells, 2006). The proficient English speaking student would have probably felt much less confident that the teacher was okay with a late submission than the other student because he/she would have heard the illocutionary force of the message. Read more »