Keep your eye on the ball: processing of pragmatic comprehension tasks.

31 May 2024
Room F1

Keep your eye on the ball: processing of pragmatic comprehension tasks.

Pragmatic competence encompassing such abilities as using the language for different purposes and understanding various intentions (Bialystok, 1993) is rarely placed in the limelight of classroom attention. Such rare contact with sociopragmatic input can debilitate learners’ chances of developing pragmatic comprehension abilities and lead to a situation when even relatively simple pragmatic tasks become complex and difficult ones at the same time. Thus, to comprehend pragmatic reading tasks, a number of higher-order processes are required, such as discourse processing, ambiguity resolution, and the ability to understand context beyond the lexical and structural level. The reader must integrate linguistic representations with extra-linguistic (e.g., pragmatic) information in real time in order to make sense of linguistic inputs in different communicative contexts (Zhou et al., 2010; Jiang et al., 2013b; Clifton et al., 2016).

The primary objective of this study was to scrutinise the reading performance of 100 English L2 undergraduate students (Polish L1 users) of their pragmatic comprehension in three reading tasks, including speech acts of apologizing, requesting, and complimenting. In the study, we triangulated data collected from readability calculators, eye-tracking measures, and a post-task questionnaire to demonstrate that tasks rated easy by students and readability calculators have both complex and difficult characteristics. The correct answers were provided by students who read the text more carefully, i.e., displaying more fixations and longer total fixation durations, which are more often associated with the oculomotor qualities of a higher processing cost.

Students of English at the undergraduate level seem to lack the metapragmatic awareness necessary to focus more on a task and examine its body more closely; thus, explicit instruction on task processing and comprehension monitoring skills may be necessary to improve comprehension of pragmatically oriented tasks.



Bialystok, E. (1993). Symbolic representation and attentional control in pragmatic competence. In: Kasper, G., & Blum-Kulka, S. (Eds.) Interlanguage Pragmatics. Oxford University Press, pp. 43-57.

Zhou, X., Jiang, X., Ye, Z., Zhang, Y., Lou, K., & Zhan, W. (2010). Semantic integration processes at different levels of syntactic hierarchy during sentence comprehension: An ERP study. Neuropsychologia, 48, 1551-1562.

Jiang, X., Li, Y., & Zhou, X. (2013). Is it over-respectful or disrespectful? Differential patterns of brain activity in perceiving pragmatic violation of social status information during utterance comprehension. Neuropsychologia, 51(11), 2210–2223.

Clifton C. Jr., Ferreira F., Henderson J. M., Inhoff A. W., Liversedge S. P., Reichle E. D., Schotter E. R. (2016). Eye movements in reading and information processing: Keith Rayer’s 40 year legacy. Journal of Memory and Language, 86, 1–19.