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Assessing Meaning

Purpura, James Enos

The quintessential quality of communicative success is the ability to effectively express, understand, dynamically co-construct, negotiate and repair variegated meanings in a wide range of language use contexts. It stands to reason then that meaning and meaning conveyance should play a central role in L2 assessment. Instead, since the 1980s, language testers have focused almost exclusively on functional proficiency (the conveyance of functional meaning – e.g., can-do statements), to the exclusion of the conveyance of propositional meanings or implied pragmatic meanings. While the ability to use language to get things done is important, excluding propositional content from the assessment process is like having language ability with nothing to say, and excluding pragmatic meanings guts the heart and soul out of communication.
In this chapter, I review how L2 testers have conceptualized “meaning” in models of L2 proficiency throughout the years. This logically leads to a discus- sion of the use of language to encode a range of meanings, deriving not only from an examinee’s topical knowledge but also from an understanding of the contextual factors in language use situations. Throughout the discussion, I also highlight how the expression and comprehension of meaning have been operationalized in L2 assessments. Finally, I argue that despite the complexities of defining and operatio- nalizing meaning in assessments, testers need to seriously think about what mean- ings they want to test and what meanings they are already assessing implicitly.

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Also Published In

Title
Language Testing and Assessment
Publisher
Springer
DOI
https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-02326-7_1-1

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