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2017 Conference - The Development of L2 Interactional Competence
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Simona Pekarek Doehler is Professor of Applied Linguistics in the Department of Language Sciences and Communication at the University of Neuchâtel (Switzerland), where she has been working since 2003. She obtained her PhD from the University of Basel in 1996 and has been a visiting researcher in several universities in Europe and the US, including Georgetown University, Université Paris V, UCSB and the University of Helsinki.

She has served as president of the European Second Language Association (EUROSLA), vice-rector for research at the University of Neuchâtel, member of the board of the Swiss Academy of Humanities and Social Sciences, and she is currently member of the Foundation Council of the Swiss National Science Foundation.

Her research is dedicated to exploring the development of interactional competence in a second language, based on longitudinal conversation analysis, as well as the role of grammatical resources in the organization of social interaction. She has widely published, mainly in English and in French, in Journals such as Applied Linguistics, Discourse Studies, Journal of Pragmatics, Langue Française, Pragmatics and The Modern Language Journal. She is the author of several recent papers addressing the methodological challenges of the longitudinal perspective in conversation analysis and has co-edited, on this topic, L2 Interactional Competence and Development (2011, with J.K. Hall and J. Hellermann) as well as Longitudinal Studies on the Organization of Social Interaction (to appear, with J. Wagner and E. González-Martínez). Recently, she has also co-authored the book-long study Time and Emergence in Grammar (2015, with A.S. Horlacher and E. De Stefani). She has been the principal investigator of several third-party funded research projects, including the large-scale inter-university project Interactional Competence in Institutional Practices: Young People between School and the Workplace (IC-You, 2012-2016).


The human ability for social interaction is unique among the species. The type of minute social coordination that sustains for instance turn-taking during human (verbal) interaction is unmatched anywhere in the animal world. To date, we know that some interactional abilities are present even before birth (think of mommy and baby playfully ‘taking turns’ with the baby still in mommy’s belly). We also know that interactional competence develops throughout life. Yet, despite of intense debates on the topic, at the current state of research we still miss an empirically grounded understanding of how people’s interactional competence is affected when they move into a second language (L2), and how their L2 interactional competence develops over time: How do L2 speakers deal with the basic interactional mechanisms that allow for the coordination of social interaction? Is their interactional competence simply transferred from their L1 to the L2, or is it recalibrated? If so, what does such recalibration consist of and what is the role of grammatical resources in it?

In this paper I discuss findings from a set of longitudinal studies that we conducted at the University of Neuchâtel on L2 interactional development as regards the most central organizational principles of social interaction: turn-taking organization, sequence organization, repair organization, and preference organization. Based on the cumulative evidence emanating from these studies, and taking stock of other existing research, I argue for an understanding of L2 interactional development as involving a diversification of people’s ‘methods’ (i.e., systematic procedures) for action, and, concomitantly, an increased ability for context-sensitive conduct (i.e., the ability to tailor talk to the local circumstantial details of the ongoing interaction). I illustrate how the development of a grammar-for-interaction is part of these evolving abilities.

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