The development of competence in French interlanguage pragmatics: the case of the discourse marker 'donc'

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Pellet, Stéphanie Hélène

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This study explores the development of interlanguage pragmatic competence by examining instances of the French discourse marker donc found in the speech of anglophone learners. One of the most frequent discourse markers in native French discourse, donc is often associated with marking results and consequences. However, it serves other functions which are ascribed to three discursive domains: structural (e.g., marking a recapitulation), interpersonal (e.g., seeking confirmation of inferred information), and cognitive (e.g., signaling the inability / unwillingness to pursue). For this study, a group of six native French speakers and a cross-sectional group of 42 language learners representing three different proficiency levels (intermediate, advanced, very advanced) performed the same two communicative tasks. The analysis of donc in the L1 data identified eight separate functions. It is determined that the core value of donc is to invoke an inferential reflection. Donc is also distinguished from alors, another common discourse marker of French often viewed as functionally overlapping with donc. The distinction between the two markers is based on an inferential (donc) / sequential (alors) distinctive feature criterion. The analysis of donc in the L2 data indicated a partial developmental path: language learners across the three proficiency groups used the referential (result, consequence) and cognitive processing functions of donc, although not with the same frequency. The number of functions used (as well as the frequency of use) increased with proficiency level, reflecting an increase in pragmatic competence. It is argued that individual variation plays an important but different role for L1 and L2 speakers. Specifically, the non-use of donc in L2 interactions corresponded to an overall lack of discourse markers. Moreover, language learners also showed difficulties discriminating between donc and alors. These findings contribute to the field of interlanguage pragmatics by expanding its scope beyond research on the realization of speech acts, and by providing an in-depth analysis of the use of donc in both L1 and L2 discourse.