Carnegie Mellon University
jymaa_phd_lcal_2024.pdf (9.2 MB)

Computer-Mediated Communication in Study Abroad: Second Language Acquisition of Japanese Speech Style

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posted on 2024-04-19, 19:01 authored by Joy MaaJoy Maa

 Computer-mediated communication (CMC) is an area that has been attracting considerable interest within second language (L2) pragmatics instruction and research (Cunningham, 2019). However, most CMC and L2 pragmatics research has been conducted in at-home contexts, e.g., foreign language classrooms (e.g., Belz & Kinginger, 2002, 2003; González-Lloret, 2008; Gonzales, 2013); Few studies have considered language learning and language use in CMC among learners studying abroad. To address this gap, this study investigated CMC as a context of language socialization embedded within study abroad. Specifically, it looked at L2 Japanese learners’ socialization with respect to Japanese speech style (i.e., desu/masu and da-tai) in LINE, a Japanese messaging application, while in Japan. Three issues were examined: 1) Learner understanding and use of speech style in CMC over time, 2) learner agency in their learning and use of speech style in CMC, and 3) individual variation across learners, both within and outside of CMC. 

The study was conducted in Japan with two female intermediate learners of Japanese, Hani (L1 Korean) and Celeste (L1 German) (for 17 and 19 weeks, respectively), who communicated with local native Japanese speaker acquaintances using LINE. The participants responded to pre and post questionnaires and interviews regarding speech style and individual differences in study abroad. In addition, they took part in weekly stimulated verbal recalls regarding their LINE conversations, kept pragmatics-related weekly journals, and were interviewed monthly concerning their study abroad experiences. 

Thematic and discourse analysis of the interviews, stimulated verbal recalls, journals and questionnaires, as well as descriptive quantitative and function analysis of the CMC messages revealed that both learners knew certain conventional meanings of Japanese speech style: i.e., they attributed formality, politeness, and social distance to desu/masu, and informality and intimacy to da-tai. On the other hand, they were both observed to style shift in CMC early on, although Hani primarily employed desu/masu and Celeste mainly used da-tai. The two learners also exhibited some knowledge of other meanings and functions of speech style, such as da-tai for indexing emotion and spontaneous reaction. Overall, Hani showed little change in her speech style use and understanding during the study, while Celeste became aware of style shifting from da-tai to desu/masu and the self-presentational qualities of desu/masu through her CMC interlocutor’s messages. Both learners agentively leveraged the written CMC platform to engage in language planning and reflection and chose a default speech style to construct a particular relationship with their interlocutors. Furthermore, Celeste began to style shift from da-tai to desu/masu to index self-presentation while navigating issues of face and interactional objectives. The overall differences between the two learners in their use and learning of speech style and expressions of agency were largely attributable to their social networks—especially their relationships with their messaging partners—and opportunities for language use and socialization. 

These findings reveal the potential and affordances for L2 pragmatics learning in naturalistic written CMC in study abroad, and also produce new insights into CMC as a site of socialization and possibilities for L2 pragmatics teaching and learning in both instructed and naturalistic (i.e., study abroad) contexts 




Degree Type

  • Dissertation


  • Modern Languages

Degree Name

  • Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Katharine E. Burns

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