The Pragmatic Demands of Placement Testing

  • Francis J. SullivanJr.


The study I am reporting on today examines how the overall ranking of students’ placement-test essays was influenced by the pragmatic form of the texts the students had produced. Specifically, it documents how patterns in students’ use of information assumed to be either old, inferrable, or new for readers affected the evaluation of the texts and suggests that these effects are, at least partly, a function of the fact that this was a test—a demand that writers not only communicate but also display their ability to do so.


Noun Phrase Fine Literature School Board Russian Revolution Definite Noun Phrase 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Cooper, M. (1984). The pragmatics of form: How do writers discover what to do when? In R. Beach & L. Bridwell, New directions in composition research. (pp.109–126). New York: Guilford Press.Google Scholar
  2. Diederich, P. B. (1974). Measuring growth in English. Urbana: National Council of Teachers of English.Google Scholar
  3. Ede, L. & Lunsford, A. (1984). Audience addressed/audience invoked: The role of audience in composition theory and pedagogy. College composition and communications, 35, pp., 155–171.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Grice, H. P. (1975). Logic and conversation. In P. Cole & J. L. Morgan (Eds.), Syntax and Semantics, 3, (pp. 41–58). New York: Academic Press.Google Scholar
  5. Ohmann, R. (1982). “Reflections on class and language.” College English, January, pp. 1-7.Google Scholar
  6. Prince, E. (1981). Toward a taxonomy of given-new information. In P. Cole (Ed.), Radical Pragmatics (pp. 223–255). New York: Academic Press.Google Scholar
  7. Roberts, P. (1958). Understanding English. New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston.Google Scholar


  1. 1.
    All statistics represent Pearson Product-Moment Correlations, unless stated otherwise.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Prince’s analyses themselves did not distinguish this as a separate type of entity. I have extrapolated it from the blurring she observed between Unused and Inferrable entities. Its position in the scale follows from the Gricean Principle (1975) on which the scale is based.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Of course the situation is more complicated than that. Following Gricean notions, I may deliberately choose to use an entity lower or higher on the scale than my assumptions about the state of your knowledge would dictate. If I do so, then the burden falls on you to figure out the reason why I have not been fully cooperative. How such a choice affects readers’ evaluation of the writing is discussed below.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    The distinction between audience “addressed” and “invoked” is discussed in Ede and Lunsford (1984).Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    It is true that they would have understood that the writer had intended it to so apply—the illocutionary act it was supposed to perform. Yet, it is not clear that they would have accepted the writer’s right to perform it. There doesn’t seem much difference between someone saying, in this case, “You can’t tell me that. Who do you think you are anyway—a know-it-all?” and someone saying, “You can’t marry us i Who do you think you are, anyway—a preacher?”.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    This is true, of course, not just of placement-testing in particular, but of any situation in which there are marked asymmetries in power between the participants. See Richard Ohmann (1982) for an insightful analysis of the effects of such asymmetries on language use.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 1990

Authors and Affiliations

  • Francis J. SullivanJr.
    • 1
  1. 1.Temple UniversityPhiladelphiaUSA

Personalised recommendations