Comprehension of Indirect Meaning in Spanish as a Foreign Language

Naoko Taguchi, Maria Pia Gomez-Laich, Maria Jose Arrufat-Marques

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

27 Scopus citations


This study investigated comprehension of indirect meaning among learners of L2 Spanish via an original computer-delivered multimedia listening test. The comprehension of implied speaker intention is a type of indirect communication that involves the ability to understand implied intention by using linguistic knowledge, contextual cues, and the assumption of relevance (Taguchi, 2005, 2011). Since inferential processing involves parallel processing of all available signals, both linguistic and nonlinguistic, to interpret the indirect utterance (Sperber & Wilson, 1995), it is essential to incorporate multimedia input. By creating a multimedia comprehension test in Spanish, the study examined theoretical claims about inferential mechanisms and their applicability to L2 comprehension. Thirty-two L2 Spanish learners in intermediate/advanced Spanish classes at a private U.S. university and 21 native Spanish speakers completed a listening test that assessed comprehension of three types of indirect meaning: indirect refusals, indirect opinions, and irony. These item types differed in terms of the degree of conventionality encoded and the extent of inferencing required for comprehension. Participants’ comprehension was analyzed for accuracy and comprehension speed. Results revealed a significant difference in L2 Spanish learners’ comprehension accuracy scores and response times across the three item types. Irony was the most difficult to comprehend for L2 Spanish learners. Conventionality did not facilitate comprehension because indirect refusals and opinions had the same accuracy scores. In terms of response times, indirect opinions were faster to comprehend than indirect refusals and irony items. Posthoc retrospective verbal interviews revealed that learners used a wide a range of verbal, nonverbal, and contextual cues to make inferences of indirect meaning.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)677-698
Number of pages22
JournalForeign Language Annals
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 1 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • L2 Spanish
  • implicatures
  • irony
  • listening
  • pragmatics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Linguistics and Language


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