The acquisition of pragmatic features by Persian L2 speakers

Pragmatics, as a subfield of linguistics, deals with how context and interlocutors would affect the meaning which is being communicated between speaker and listener. This aspect of language is normally the most challenging part for L2 learners. Knowing the appropriate way of saying things requires an interplay among different levels of linguistic knowledge. The current study aims at exploring the phonetics-pragmatics interface by looking at how L2 learners of Persian have acquired different levels of formality used in formal and informal registers. This research, more specifically, examines the interaction between prosodic measures and the expression of politeness. The formal register is characterized as a normative form of politeness in our study. In light of the findings, we explore the universal nature of the Frequency Code hypothesis (Ohala 1984). According to this approach, the biologically determined Frequency Code is responsible for a number of disparate phenomena including the expression of politeness. According to Ohala, high and/or rising fundamental frequency (i.e., F0) is associated with politeness and other sociopragmatic meanings such as submission, lack of confidence, and deference, while speech with low pitch and/or falling F0 is connected with authority, dominance, and assertion.
Four Russian native speakers learning Persian as an L2 and six Persian native speakers participated in our experiment. Semispontaneous speech data were elicited using Discourse Completion Tasks. The annotation and labelling procedure was conducted with Praat (Boersma and Weenink 2018).
Our results showed that in addition to morphological and syntactic devices, speakers use a combination of prosodic variables to express the appropriate level of formality. As for F0 measures, the results showed that three out of the four pitch parameters (i.e., overall pitch, top line, and baseline) were significantly lower in the formal register of native speakers compared to informal situations. This is in contrast with the predictions made by the Frequency Code hypothesis and some other studies that have made an association between politeness and high F0 (e.g., Brown and Levinson 1987; Ohara 2001; Ofuka, McKeown, Waterman, and Roach 2000). The results of pitch in our study mainly support the findings on Korean (Winter and Grawunder 2012) and Catalan (Hübscher, Borràs-Comes and Prieto 2017) which have reported a lower F0 in formal situations. In contrast to native speakers who used lower F0 to increase the formality level in their speech, L2 speakers did not make major phonetic adjustments across the two conditions to signal different levels of formality.