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Review Article

Communication Strategies in a Second


Language: Definitions and Taxonomies
Zoltn Drnyei
Etvs University, Budapest
Mary Lee Scott
Brigham Young University, Provo
Drnyei and Scott
This paper examines trends in second language (L2)
communication strategy (CS) research to date. We give a
comprehensive review of the relevant literature from the
last two decades, with particular consideration of the dif-
ferent ways in which CSs have been defined and of corre-
sponding influences on the organization of strategy
taxonomies. We first outline the history of CS research and
discuss problem-orientedness and consciousness as defin-
ing criteria for CSs. We then offer a comprehensive list of
strategic language devices and describe the major CS tax-
onomies, noting key trends, with special attention to cur-
rent and future research orientations.
173
Language Learning 47:1, March 1997, pp. 173210
Zoltn Drnyei, Department of English Applied Linguistics; Mary Lee Scott,
Department of Linguistics
We are grateful to Kathleen Bardovi-Harlig, Marianne Celce-Murcia,
Gabriele Kasper, George Yule and Tams Vradi for their helpful comments
on earlier drafts of this paper. Correspondence concerning this article may be
addressed to Zoltn Drnyei, Department of English Applied Linguistics,
Etvs University, 1146 Budapest, Ajtsi Drer sor 19, Hungary. Internet:
dornyei@ludens.elte.hu
Researchers first raised the notion of second language (L2)
communication strategies (CSs) at the beginning of the 1970s, fol-
lowing the recognition that the mismatch between L2 speakers
linguistic resources and communicative intentions leads to a
number of systematic language phenomena whose main function
is to handle difficulties or breakdowns in communication. In fact,
even a brief analysis of any spontaneous piece of L2 oral discourse
reveals the importance of CSs in L2 users verbal performance:
These speakers (except those at a very advanced, near-native
level) tend to spend a great deal of time and effort struggling to
make up for their L2 deficiencies (cf. Gass & Varonis, 1991). The
understanding of strategic language use has, therefore, been an
important research direction during the last two decades, and a
considerable amount of research literature has accumulated on
the nature of CSs, taxonomies of strategic language devices,
variation in CS use, and the practical implications of CS research
(focusing, in particular, on the teachability of CSs).
At the same time, CS research does not lack controversies.
There is no universally accepted definition of CSs; as a result, sev-
eral competing taxonomies of CSs exist, including different
ranges of language devices, fromparaphrase to filled pauses, from
code switching to interactional meaning-negotiation mechanisms
(such as clarification requests). In fact, in view of the widespread
use of the term communication strategy in applied linguistics
its coverage has by nowbecome compulsory in any overviewof
L2 acquisition and useit is surprising how little CS researchers
agree about what exactly these devices are. This paper intends to
provide an overviewof CSresearch with a special focus on two key
issues: the various definitions of CSs suggested in the literature
and the different taxonomies of strategic language devices devel-
opedfollowing these definitions. We selectedthese two focal issues
because studies discussing other CS-related topicssuch as task
effect, variation according to proficiency level, the relationship
between CS use in L1 and L2, the effectiveness of various CS
types, or the usefulness of CS traininghave often produced con-
174 Language Learning Vol. 47, No. 1
troversial or contestable results due to the diverse conceptualiza-
tions of CSs. That is, those studies often made generalizations
based on (partly) different language phenomena, whereas most
researchers would now agree that strategic language behavior is
highly complex, and intervening factors typically have only a sub-
tle andnon-uniformeffect. Thus, we see the questions of definition
and taxonomy as central to any further development in CS
research.
First, we present a brief historical outline of CS research;
then we summarize the different conceptualizations of CSs, look-
ing into their various defining criteria. Next we attempt to provide
a comprehensive list of the strategic language devices mentioned
in the literature; finally, we present and discuss the most impor-
tant classification schemes of CSs.
Historical Outline of CS Research
Selinker (1972) coined the termcommunication strategy in
his seminal paper on interlanguage, discussing strategies of
second language communication (p. 229) as one of the five central
processes involved in L2 learning. However, he did not go into
detail about the nature of these strategies. Around the time
Selinkers paper came out, Savignon (1972) published a research
report in which she highlighted the importance of coping strate-
gies (the termshe used for CSs) incommunicative language teach-
ing and testing. Ayear later Vradi (1973/1980) gave a talk, at a
small Europeanconference, generally considered the first system-
atic analysis of strategic language behavior (message adjustment,
inparticular). Vradis paper, however, was not the first published
study on CSs; although it informally circulated among research-
ers, it only came out in print in 1980. By that time Tarone and her
associates (Tarone, 1977; Tarone, Cohen&Dumas, 1976) hadpub-
lished two studies specifically focusing on CSs, providing the first
definition of communication strategy and offering a taxonomy
(Tarone, 1977) still seenas one of the most influential inthe field.
Drnyei and Scott 175
The real career of CSs started in the early 1980s. First,
Canale and Swain (1980; Canale, 1983) included them in their
influential model of communicative competence as the primary
constituents of one of the subcompetencies, strategic competence.
Second, Frch and Kasper (1983a) published an edited volume,
Strategies in Interlanguage Communication, which pulled
together the most important published papers into one collection
and also contained some important newly written studies (Bialys-
tok, 1983; Dechert, 1983; Frch & Kasper, 1983c; Haastrup &
Phillipson, 1983; Raupach, 1983; Wagner, 1983). These two publi-
cations were followed by increased research interest and a grow-
ing number of publications in the 1980s focussing primarily on
identifying and classifying CSs, and on their teachability (e.g.,
Bialystok, 1984; Bialystok & Kellerman, 1987; DeKeyser, 1988;
Frch & Kasper, 1984a, 1986; Harper, 1985; Kumaravadivelu,
1988; Paribakht, 1985, 1986; Scholfield, 1987; Tarone, 1984;
Tarone & Yule, 1987, 1989; Willems, 1987; Yule & Tarone, 1990).
In the second half of the 1980s, The Netherlands became the
dominant centre of CS studies as a group of researchers at Nijme-
gen University carried out a large-scale empirical project whose
results both shed light on various aspects of CS use and chal-
lenged some aspects of the previous taxonomies (Bongaerts &
Poulisse 1989; Bongaerts, Kellerman & Bentlage, 1987; Keller-
man, 1991; Kellerman, Bongaerts & Poulisse, 1987; Kellerman,
Ammerlaan, Bongaerts &Poulisse, 1990; Poulisse, 1987; Poulisse
& Schils, 1989; Poulisse, Bongaerts & Kellerman, 1987).
1990 was an important year in CS research because of two
comprehensive monographs by Bialystok (1990) and Poulisse
(1990) (for reviews, see Vradi, 1992). The following five years
brought further empirical and conceptual analyses (e.g., Chen,
1990; Clennell, 1994; Drnyei & Scott, 1995a, 1995b; Yarmoham-
madi &Seif, 1992; Yule &Tarone, 1991) and several reviews (e.g.,
in Cook, 1993; in Ellis, 1994; Poulisse, 1994). Work on the teach-
ability issue also remained in the foreground of research interest
(Cohen, Weaver & Li, 1995; Drnyei, 1995; Drnyei & Thurrell,
1991, 1992, 1994; Kebir, 1994; Rost, 1994), and Poulisse (1993, in
176 Language Learning Vol. 47, No. 1
press) made a potentially important attempt to place strategic
language behavior in a broader framework of speech production,
adapting Levelts (1989) general psycholinguistic model of speak-
ing. Two more projects in the making are likely to become land-
marks in CS research, a volume edited by Kasper and Kellerman,
Advances in Communication Strategy Research (in press; with
contributions from Duff, in press; Kellerman & Bialystok, in
press; Poulisse, in press-a; Ross, in press; Wagner & Firth, in
press; Yule & Tarone, in press; among others) and a book by Yule,
Referential Communication Tasks (in press), discussing a number
of research methodological issues.
Different Approaches to Conceptualizing CSs
The traditional view. Researchers originally sawCSs as ver-
bal or nonverbal first-aid devices used to compensate for gaps in
the speakers L2 proficiency. This view is reflected in Tarones
(1977) and Frch and Kaspers (1983b) definitions:
Conscious communication strategies are used by an indi-
vidual to overcome the crisis which occurs when language
structures are inadequate to convey the individuals
thought. (Tarone, 1977, p. 195)
CSs are potentially conscious plans for solving what to an
individual presents itself as a problem in reaching a par-
ticular communicative goal. (Frch&Kasper, 1983b, p. 36)
According to this conceptualization, CSs constitute a subtype
of L2 problem-management efforts, dealing with language pro-
duction problems that occur at the planning stage. They are
separate from other types of problem-solving devices, meaning-
negotiation and repair mechanisms (e.g., requesting and pro-
viding clarification), which involve the handling of problems
that have already surfaced during the course of communica-
tion. Indeed, as Yule and Tarone (1991) pointed out, the
research literature discussing the negotiation of meaning in L2
communication (for reviews: Gass & Selinker, 1994; Larsen-
Drnyei and Scott 177
Freeman & Long, 1991; Pica, 1994) has been entirely inde-
pendent of CS studies.
Tarones interactional perspective. The distinction between
CSs and meaning-negotiation mechanisms was somewhat
blurred by Tarones (1980) offering a third well-known conceptu-
alization, according to which CSs:
relate to a mutual attempt of two interlocutors to agree ona
meaning in situations where requisite meaning structures
do not seem to be shared. (p. 420).
This definition is potentially broader than Frch and Kaspers
(1983b, 1984a) or Tarones earlier (1977) one. It introduced an
interactional perspective; in Tarones words, CS are seen as
tools used in a joint negotiation of meaning where both inter-
locutors are attempting to agree as to a communicative goal
(1980, p. 420). This interactional perspective would allow for
the inclusion of various repair mechanisms, which Tarone con-
sidered CSs if their intention was to clarify intended meaning
rather than simply correct linguistic form (1980, p. 424). Even
though Tarone herself never extended the scope of her CS tax-
onomy to include interactional trouble-shooting mechanisms,
other researchers did specifically list meaning-negotiation
strategies among CSs (e.g., Canale, 1983; Drnyei & Thurrell,
1992; Drnyei & Scott, 1995a, 1995b; Rost, 1994; Rost & Ross,
1991; Rubin, 1987; Savignon, 1983; Willems, 1987).
Drnyeis extendedview. Drnyei (1995) suggested anexten-
sionof the definitionof CSs arguing that because a primary source
of L2 speakers communicationproblems is insufficient processing
time, stalling strategies (e.g., the use of lexicalized pause-fillers
and hesitation gambits) that help speakers gain time to think and
keep the communication channel open are also problem-solving
strategiesa point also mentioned by several other researchers
(e.g., Canale, 1983; Rost, 1994; Rubin, 1987; Savignon, 1983). Psy-
cholinguistics and, to a lesser extent, L2 research have exten-
sively studied such stalling phenomena and the temporal
organizationof communicationingeneral (e.g., Vradi, 1993; for a
178 Language Learning Vol. 47, No. 1
review, see Griffiths, 1991), but these efforts have not been inte-
grated into mainstream CS research. In Tarones (1980) frame-
work, pause fillers would fall under production rather than
communication strategies, the difference being that production
strategies are not used for the primary purpose of negotiating
meaning (p. 420). Frch and Kasper (1983c) considered pause
fillers temporal variables rather than strategic devices.
Drnyei and Scotts extended view. In an attempt to integrate
several linesof previousresearch, Drnyei andScott (1995a, 1995b)
further extendedthescopeof CSstoincludeeverypotentiallyinten-
tional attempt to cope with any language-related problemof which
the speaker is aware duringthe course of communication. This con-
ceptualizationaimedat coveringall thedifferent types of communi-
cation problem-management mechanisms discussed in the L2
literature. Indeed, Drnyei and Scott explicitly conceived commu-
nication strategies to be the key units in a general description of
problem-management inL2communication.
Canales extendedconcept. Canale(1983) offeredthebroadest
extension of the concept of communication strategy. He proposed
that CSs involve any attempt to enhance the effectiveness of com-
munication (e.g., deliberately slow and soft speech for rhetorical
effect) (p. 11; cf. Savignon, 1983). Thisdefinitionisbroaderthanthe
restriction of CSs to problem-solving devicestherefore going
beyond all the approaches discussed abovebut the meaning
potential of strategies incommunication does not exclude suchan
extension. Although originally a military term, strategy in general
usehascometorefertotheimplementationof aset of proceduresfor
accomplishing something; Bialystok (1990) defined this use of the
term as wilful planning to achieve explicit goals (p. 1). Thus, a
communicationstrategyinthemost general senseis aplanof action
toaccomplishacommunicationgoal; theenhancement of communi-
cation effect is certainly such a goal. An example of the broader
interpretation of strategy surfaces in L1 communication studies,
where CS research has focused on ways of achieving critical social
goals such as gaining compliance, generating affinity, resolving
social conflict, andofferinginformation (Wiemann&Daly, 1994, p.
Drnyei and Scott 179
vii; for review: Daly &Wiemann, 1994). Similarly, methods to man-
age potentially difficult discourse situations (e.g., howto interrupt
someone, how to hold the floor, or how to close a conversation) are
alsocommunication-enhancingstrategies.
Psychological approaches to conceptualizing CSs. The differ-
ent conceptualizations described above share one thing: namely,
they follow a primarily linguistic approach to defining CSs. How-
ever, other researchers, particularly Bialystok (1990) and the
NijmegenGroup(i.e., Bongaerts, Kellerman, andPoulisse), tookan
entirely different approach. Although their definition of CSs was
similar to Frch and Kaspers (1983b), they argued that CSs are
inherentlymental procedures; therefore, CSresearchshouldinves-
tigate the cognitive processes underlying strategic language use.
They claimed that not understanding the cognitive psychological
andpsycholinguistic dimensions of CSuse, andfocusingonlyonthe
surfaceverbalizationsof underlyingpsychological processes, would
lead to taxonomies of doubtful validity. Indeed, the proliferation of
different product-oriented classifications in strategy research
(seebelow) underscoresBialystoksandtheNijmegenGroupsargu-
ment. InKellermans(1991) conclusion,
the systematic study of compensatory strategies has not
been properly served by the construction of taxonomies of
strategy types which are identified on the basis of variable
and conflicting criteria which confound grammatical form,
incidental and inherent properties of referents, and encod-
ing medium with putative cognitive processes. This incon-
sistency has led to a proliferation of strategy types with
little regard for such desirable requirements as psychologi-
cal plausibility, parsimony and finiteness. (p. 158)
Instead of conducting product-oriented research, Bialystok and
the Nijmegen Group recommended CS research adopt a new
analytic perspective, focusing on the cognitive deep structure
of strategic language behavior. Yule and Tarone (in press) sum-
marize the duality of approaches taken by researchersthe
Pros following the traditional approach and the Cons taking
a primarily psychological stanceas follows:
180 Language Learning Vol. 47, No. 1
The taxonomic approach of the Pros focuses on the descrip-
tions of the language produced by L2 learners, essentially
characterizing the means used to accomplish reference in
terms of the observed form. It is primarily a description of
observed forms in L2 output, with implicit inferences being
made about the differences in the psychological processing
that produced them. The alternative approach of the Cons
focuses on a description of the psychological processes used
by L2 learners, essentially characterizing the cognitive de-
cisions humans make in order to accomplish reference. It is
primarily a description of cognitive processing, with im-
plicit references being made about the inherent similarity
of linguisticallydifferent forms observedinthe L2output.
Poulisses speech-production model. A follow-up to Bialys-
toks and the Nijmegen groups approach to place CSs in a parsi-
moni ous cogni ti ve f ramework was Poul i sse s ( 1993)
conceptualization of CSs within a coherent model of speech pro-
duction. In fact, Frch and Kasper (1983b) had also attempted
this 10 years earlier. However, Poulisse had access to Levelts
(1989) model of speech production, which allowed more detailed
psycholinguistic analysis of strategic language behavior than
was possible before. Accordingly, Poulisse reconsidered some
aspects of her earlier work as part of the Nijmegen Group and
came up with a modified process-oriented cognitive taxonomy
(see below).
In sum, researchers have generally agreed with Bialystoks
(1990) statement that communication strategies are an undeni-
able event of language use, their existence is a reliably docu-
mented aspect of communication, and their role in second-
language communication seems particularly salient (p. 116).
However, CS research is divided by the various theoretical per-
spectives adopted: Frch and Kasper (1983b) considered CSs ver-
bal plans within a speech production framework; Tarone (1980)
viewed themfroma discourse analytical perspective and pursued
an interactional approach; Drnyei (1995) extended the scope of
their definition to include devices that were not strictly meaning-
related; Drnyei and Scott (1995a, 1995b) equated strategic lan-
Drnyei and Scott 181
guage use with communication problem-solving behavior in gen-
eral; Canale (1983) proposed to include non-problem-solving
strategies as well; Bialystok (1990) and the Nijmegen Group
regarded CSs as primarily mental events and adopted a cognitive-
psychological approach to their analysis; and finally Poulisse
(1993, in press-b) further developed the psycholinguistic perspec-
tive by integrating CSs in an adapted version of Levelts (1989)
speech production framework.
To arrive at a better understanding of why CSs have elicited
such diverse approaches, we look closer at the defining criteria for
communication strategies used in the published literature.
Defining CSs
Areview of the CS literature reveals that two defining crite-
ria are consistently mentioned, problem-orientedness and con-
sciousness. Although they appear to capture the essence of
strategic language behavior, their lack of explicitness has partly
caused the diversity in CS research.
Problem-orientedness
As we have already discussed, the original insight into CSs
wasbasedonamismatchbetweencommunicativeintentionandlin-
guistic resources (Vradi, 1992, p. 437); that is, CSs were seen as
language devices used to overcome communication problems
related to interlanguage deficiencies. Thus, problem-
orientednessor in Bialystoks (1984, 1990) term, problematicity
has become a primary defining criterionfor CSs, referring to the
idea that strategies are used only when a speaker perceives that
thereis aproblemwhichmayinterrupt communication (Bialystok,
1990, p. 3). This undoubtedly key feature of strategic language
behavior is mentioned inmost studies onCSs. However, as Drnyei
andScott (1995a, 1995b) argued, problem-orientednessingeneral is
not specificenough; it leavesundefinedtheexact typeof theproblem,
anareawherevariousapproachesshowconsiderabledivergence.
182 Language Learning Vol. 47, No. 1
Originally CSs were thought to handle only one type of lan-
guage problem, resource deficitsgaps in speakers knowledge
preventing them from verbalizing messages. This restriction to
one set of problems, however, was not reflected in the name given
to these language devices (i.e., communication strategy). Hence,
there developed a mismatch between the specificity of the speech
phenomena to which CSs originally referred and the broadness of
the term communication strategy. Consequently, several
researchers extended the termto handle the following three types
of communication problems as well:
1. Own-performance problems: the realization that some-
thing one has said is incorrect or only partly correct; associated
with various types of self-repair, self-rephrasing and self-editing
mechanisms (e.g., Drnyei &Scott, 1995a, 1995b; Savignon, 1983;
Tarone, 1980; Tarone & Yule, 1987; Willems, 1987).
2. Other-performance problems: something perceived as
problematic in the interlocutors speech, either because it is
thought to be incorrect (or highly unexpected), or because of a lack
(or uncertainty) of understanding something fully; associated
with various meaning negotiation strategies (e.g., Canale, 1983;
Drnyei & Thurrell, 1992, 1994; Drnyei & Scott, 1995a, 1995b;
Rost, 1994; Rost & Ross, 1991; Rubin, 1987; Savignon, 1983; Wil-
lems, 1987).
3. Processing time pressure: the L2 speakers frequent need
for more time to process and plan L2 speech than would be natu-
rally available in fluent communication; associated with strate-
gies such as the use of fillers, hesitation devices, and self-
repetitions (e.g., Canale, 1983; Chen, 1990; Drnyei, 1995;
Drnyei & Scott, 1995a, 1995b; Drnyei & Thurrell, 1991, 1992,
1994; Haastrup &Phillipson, 1983; Rost, 1994; Rubin, 1987; Savi-
gnon, 1972, 1983; Tarone & Yule, 1987).
Consciousness
Astrategy beingaconscioustechniqueusedtoachieveagoal,
consciousness, therefore, has been the second major defining crite-
Drnyei and Scott 183
rion for CSs. The main problem with using consciousness in this
context, however, isthat tospeakabout CSsbeingconsciouslyused
devices mixes several meanings of the term. One can be conscious
of alanguage problem, the intent/attempt to solve this problem, the
repertoire of potentially applicable CSs, the way a CS may achieve
its effect, the alternative plan, the execution of the CS, the use of a
less-than-perfect stopgap device (i.e., the CS), or the use of a CS
whenbrought tothelearnersattentionlater.
Consciousness has, in fact, so many different connotations
that one would best avoid it altogether. Schmidt (1994), when dis-
cussing consciousness in language attainment, recommended
that the term should be deconstructed into several aspects. He
suggested four basic senses of consciousness: intentionality, atten-
tion, awareness, and control. Bialystok (1990) also separated con-
sciousness fromintentionality, which she defined as the learners
control over a repertoire of strategies so that particular ones may
be selected from the range of options and deliberately applied to
achieve certain effects (p. 5).
A second problem with consciousness relates to Frch and
Kaspers (1983b) argument that consciousness is perhaps more a
matter of degree than either-or (p. 35), reflecting the hierarchical
organization of plans and the fact that in most cases a speaker
consciously selects only certain elements in a plan. In addition, as
Gass and Selinker (1994) pointed out, a central feature of lan-
guage use is a tendency to automatize high-frequency elements;
therefore, the small set of strategies people use in the numerous
problem-situations they encounter canbecome routinized. InWie-
mann and Dalys (1994) words, some strategies are overlearned
and seem to drop from consciousness (p. ix). That is, what was
originally an intentional strategy may become in certain situa-
tions and/or with certain individuals a highly automatized or fos-
silizedhence not fully consciousdevice.
Drawing on the work of the researchers mentioned above,
Drnyei andScott (1995a, 1995b) arguedthat three aspects of con-
sciousness are particularly relevant to CSs:
184 Language Learning Vol. 47, No. 1
1. Consciousness as awareness of the problem. Only those
instances of problem-related language use which are related to
language processing problems that the speaker consciously recog-
nizes as such should be termed CSs in order to distinguish mis-
takes and CSs that may have a similar erroneous form (e.g.,
typer used as an incorrectly learnt word or as a conscious
attempt to forma nounfromtype, usually considered to be word-
coinage).
2. Consciousness as intentionality. The speakers inten-
tional use of the CS separates CSs from certain verbal behaviors
that are systematically relatedto problems of whichthe speaker is
aware but that are not done intentionally. (E.g., with non-
lexicalized filled pauses, umming and erring, the speaker is usu-
ally aware of the difficulty faced, but uses these devices most of the
time without a conscious decision.)
3. Consciousness as awareness of strategic language use. The
speaker realizes that he/she is using a less-than-perfect, stopgap
device or is doing a problem-related detour on the way to mutual
understanding. This separates CSs from cases when, even if
intentionally doing something to overcome a recognized problem,
the speaker may not consider the final product a strategy but
rather a piece of acceptable L2. (E.g., for many L2 speakers literal
translation is a regular part of the L2 production process, result-
ing in many good solutions; we would not count these as cases of
CS use.)
Drnyei and Scott, however, claimed that a fourth important
aspect of consciousness, consciousness as control, should not
necessarily be a defining criterion of CSs; an automatized
strategy can be considered a CS proper, particularly because
one purpose of CS training is to enhance automatization
(Drnyei, 1995). This is, in fact, analogous to the practice
adopted by Frch and Kasper (1983b), who on similar grounds
included the phrase potentially conscious in their definition
of CSs.
Drnyei and Scott 185
Conceptual Definition
Researchersgenerallyagreethat themainpurposeof CSuseis
to manage communication problems. The only exception, Canale
(1983), extended the scope of CSs to include communication-
enhancing devices. As pointed out earlier, the meaning potential of
strategy allows such a broad interpretation; however, we believe
that communication-enhancing strategies conceptualized thus
broadly are not problem-solving devices proper and should be
treated separately. Extending a distinction made by Long (1983):
These strategies are used to avoidconversational trouble or failure
incommunicationgoal-attainment, incontrast todevicesappliedto
repairthediscoursewhentroubleoccurs (p. 131), offeringsponta-
neous solutions to immediate, short-term problems (p. 132)
1
. The
vast majorityof the CSliterature is concernedonlywiththe devices
belongingtothesecondtype, that is, withthemanagement of actual
language-relatedproblemsincommunication.
With respect to problem-orientedness, the extension of the
original conceptualization of CSs, which concerned only one prob-
lem type (handling insufficient language resources), appears
valid in that it maintains the basic criterion of problem-
orientedness. However, it results in the terms covering a more
heterogeneous set of speech phenomena. Clearly, whether or not
researchers have labelled devices not strictly related to resource
deficits as communication strategies has been a matter of termi-
nological decision, very much depending on ones priorities: Stud-
ies following the traditional conceptualization have limited
communicationstrategy to a fairly homogeneous set of language
phenomena related to speech production; in contrast, researchers
primarily concerned with general problem-management in com-
munication have used the term to cover the handling of a wider
range of communication problems.
It is difficult to posit clear-cut criteria with respect to con-
sciousness, because we lack a clear understanding of the role of
consciousness within speech production, particularly in light of
the frequent and significant automatization of certain elements/
186 Language Learning Vol. 47, No. 1
subprocesses in language processing. However, one cannot alto-
gether avoid taking certain aspects of consciousness into account
in defining CSs, because problem-orientedness in itself is an
insufficient criterion of strategic language use. Drnyei and Scott
(1995a, 1995b), offered relatively elaborate and straightforward
consciousness criteria. They argued that a problem-solving device
is a strategy only if it is conscious in three aspects: consciousness
as awareness of the problem, consciousness as intentionality, and
consciousness as awareness of strategic language use.
Inventory and Classifications of Communication Strategies
The conceptual differences among CS researchers surface
most explicitly whenthey specify the actual language devices they
consider to be CSs. Accordingly, the list of strategies and their tax-
onomies in different studies on CSs vary significantly. In this sec-
tion we pull together all the main language devices mentioned in
the literature under the label communication strategy. Then we
present nine different taxonomies of CSs, by Tarone (1977), Frch
and Kasper (1983b), Bialystok (1983), Bialystok (1990), Pari-
bakht (1985), Willems (1987), the Nijmegen Group (based on
Poulisse, 1987; Kellerman, 1991), Poulisse (1993), and finally
Drnyei and Scott (1995a, 1995b).
Table 1 contains an inventory of strategic language devices
with descriptions/definitions, examples, and, in some cases, retro-
spective comments by the speaker. The list is based onDrnyei and
Scott (1995a, 1995b); wehaveindicatedinaspecial columnwhether
aparticular strategywas includedinanyof the other 8taxonomies,
although sometimes under a different name. We have included
explanatorynotesabout someof theless-knownstrategies.
Table 2contains asummary of the 9taxonomies fromTable 1.
The first thing that becomes obvious when comparing the classifi-
cations is that they concern various ranges of language devices in
different degrees of elaborateness. On one end of the narrow-
broad continuum are the typologies of the Nijmegen Group and
Poulisse (1993), who explicitly restricted the scope of language
Drnyei and Scott 187
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;
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;
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1
1
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phenomena examined to lexical-compensatory strategies (i.e.,
devices used to compensate for missing lexical items; see Keller-
man, 1991, for a rationale). On the other end of the continuum is
Drnyei and Scotts (1995a, 1995b) system, which concerns L2
problem-management in general.
Although the terminologies used and their levels of specific-
ity vary a great deal, the corresponding parts of 6 of the 9 taxono-
mies (by Bialystok, 1983; Drnyei &Scott, 1995a, 1995b; Frch &
Kasper, 1983b; Paribakht, 1985; Tarone, 1977; andWillems, 1987)
showmany similarities. Bialystok(1990) expressedthis basic con-
vergence around similar concepts when she remarked that:
the variety of taxonomies proposed in the literature differ
primarily in terminology and overall categorizing principle
rather than in the substance of the specific strategies. If we
ignore, then, differences in the structure of the taxonomies
by abolishing the various overall categories, then a core
group of specific strategies that appear consistently across
the taxonomies clearly emerges. (p. 61)
Three of the 9 taxonomies (Frch & Kasper, 1983b; Tarone,
1977; Willems, 1987) recognize a basic duality in strategy use:
strategies are used either (a) to tailor ones message to ones
resources by altering, reducing, or completely abandoning the
original content; or (b) to try and convey the intended message in
spite of the linguistic deficiencies by extending or manipulating
the available language system. Vradi (1973) and Frchand Kas-
per (1983b) termed strategies belonging to the first option reduc-
tion strategies and Tarone (1977) called them avoidance
strategies; Corder (1981), who pointed out that they could also be
labelled risk-avoidance strategies, preferred message adjust-
ment strategies. Frch and Kasper (1983b) termed strategies
belonging to the second option achievement strategies; Corder
(1981) calledthemresource expansionstrategies andconsidered
them risk-taking strategies because by using them the speaker
ventures beyond playing it safe and takes a certain risk of not
being able to convey the message. Drnyei and Scott (1995a,
1995b) also implicitly recognize the achievement-reduction dual-
Drnyei and Scott 195
196 Language Learning Vol. 47, No. 1
Table 2
Various Taxonomies of Communication Strategies
Tarone
(1977)
Frch &
Kasper
(1983b)
Bialystok
(1983)
Paribakht
(1985)
Willems
(1987)
AVOIDANCE
Topic avoidance
Message
abandonment
PARAPHRASE
Approximation
Word coinage
Circumlocution
CONSCIOUS
TRANSFER
Literal
translation
Language switch
APPEAL FOR
ASSISTANCE
MIME
FORMAL RE-
DUCTION
Phonological
Morphological
Syntactic
Lexical
FUNCTIONAL
REDUCTION
Actional red.
Modal red.
Reduction of
propositional
content
-Topic avoidance
-Message
abandonment
-Meaning
replacement
ACHIEVEMENT
STRATEGIES
Compensatory
strategies
-Code switching
-Interlingual
transfer
-Inter-/
intralingual
transfer
- IL based
strategies
* Generalization
* Paraphrase
* Word coinage
* Restructuring
-Cooperative
strategies
-Non-linguistic
strategies
Retrieval strate-
gies
L1-BASED
STRATEGIES
Language
switch
Foreignizing
Tr ansliteration
L2-BASED
STRATEGIES
Semantic
contiguity
Description
Word coinage
NON-
LINGUISTIC
STRATEGIES
LINGUISTIC AP-
PROACH
Semantic
contiguity
-Superordinate
-Comparison
* Positive
comparison
Analogy
Syno nymy
* Negative
comparison
Contrast &
opposit.
Antonymy
Circumlocution
-Physical
description
* Size
* Shape
* Color
* Material
- Constituent
features
* Features
* Elaborated
features
-Locational
property
-Historical
property
- Other features
-Functional
description
Metalinguistic
clues
CONTEXTUAL
APPROACH
Linguistic
context
Use of L2 idioms
and proverbs
Transliteration
of L1 idioms
and proverbs
Idiomatic
transfer
CONCEPTUAL
APPROACH
Demonstration
Exemplification
Metonymy
MIME
Replacing verbal
output
Accompanying
verbal output
REDUCTION
STRATEGIES
Formal
reduction
-Phonological
-Morphological
-Syntactic
-Lexical
Functional
reduction
-Message
abandonment
-Meaning
replacement
-Topic avoidance
ACHIEVEMENT
STRATEGIES
Paralinguistic
strategies
Interlingual
strategies
-Borrowing/code
switching
-Literal
translation
-Foreignizing
Intralingual
strategies
-Approximation
-Word coinage
- Paraphrase
* Description
* Circum-
locution
* Exemplifi-
cation
- Smurfing
- Self-repair
-Appeals for
assistance
* Explicit
* Implicit
* Checking
questions
-Initiating repair
Drnyei and Scott 197
Table 2 (continued)
Various Taxonomies of Communication Strategies
Bialystok
(1990)
Nijmegen
Group
Poulisse
(1993)
Drnyei & Scott
(1995a, 1995b)
ANALYSIS-
BASED
STRATEGIES
CONTROL-
BASED
STRATEGIES
CONCEPTUAL
STRATEGIES
Analytic
Holistic
LINGUISTIC/
CODE
STRATEGIES
Morphological
creativity
Tran sfer
SUBSTITUTION
STRATEGIES
SUBSTITUTION
PLUS
STRATEGIES
RECONCEPTU-
ALIZATION
STRATEGIES
DIRECT STRATEGIES
Resource deficit-related strategies
* Message abandonment
* Message reduction
* Message replacement
* Circumlocution
* Approximation
* Use of all-purpose words
* Word-coinage
* Restructuring
* Literal translation
* Foreignizing
* Code switching
* Use of similar sounding words
* Mumbling
* Omission
* Retrieval
* Mime
Own-performance problem-related
strategies
* Self-rephrasing
* Self-repair
Other-performance problem-related
strategies
* Other-repair
INTERACTIONAL STRATEGIES
Resource deficit-related strategies
* Appeals for help
Own-performance problem-related
strategies
* Comprehension check
* Own-accuracy check
Other-performance problem-related
strategies
* Asking for repetition
* Asking for clarification
* Asking for confirmation
* Guessing
* Expressing nonunderstanding
* Interpretive summary
* Responses
INDIRECT STRATEGIES
Processing time pressure-related
strategies
* Use of fillers
* Repetitions
Own-performance problem-related
strategies
* Verbal strategy markers
Other-performance problem-related
strategies
* Feigning understanding
ity, whereas the rest of the taxonomies cover only achievement
strategies.
Apart from the reduction-achievement distinction, the
organizing principles in 5 taxonomies (Bialystok, 1983; Frch &
Kasper, 1983b; Paribakht, 1985; Tarone, 1977; andWillems, 1989)
primarily rest on certain properties of the language devices con-
cerned (e.g., the role of the L1 or the type of knowledge utilized in
CSrealization). Bialystokandthe NijmegenGroupconsideredthe
kind of descriptive categories found in these taxonomies psycho-
logically unfounded and often over-detailed, claiming that they
artificially carve up what are in fact unitary operations (Keller-
man & Bialystok, in press; see below for more details). Four tax-
onomies (Bialystok, 1990; Drnyei & Scott, 1995a, 1995b; the
Nijmegen Group; Poulisse, 1993) follow different organization
principles, which will be discussed below.
Drnyei and Scotts taxonomy. In their extended taxonomy
of problem-solving strategies, Drnyei and Scott (1995a, 1995b)
first classified the strategies according to the manner of problem-
management; that is, how CSs contribute to resolving conflicts
and achieving mutual understanding. They separated 3 basic
categories, direct, indirect, and interactional strategies. Direct
strategies provide an alternative, manageable, and self-contained
means of getting the (sometimes modified) meaning across, like
circumlocution compensating for the lack of a word. Most tradi-
tionally identified CSs fall under this category. Indirect strategies,
on the other hand, are not strictly problem-solving devices. They
do not provide alternative meaning structures, but rather facili-
tate the conveyance of meaning indirectly by creating the condi-
tions for achieving mutual understanding: preventing
breakdowns and keeping the communication channel open (e.g.,
using fillers or feigning understanding) or indicating less-than-
perfect forms that require extra effort to understand (using strat-
egy markers or hedges). Although indirect strategies are not
meaning-related, they play a significant role in problem-
management and thereforeif the term communication strat-
egy is used in an extended senseare a valid subcategory of CSs.
198 Language Learning Vol. 47, No. 1
ity, whereas the rest of the taxonomies cover only achievement
strategies.
Apart from the reduction-achievement distinction, the
organizing principles in 5 taxonomies (Bialystok, 1983; Frch &
Kasper, 1983b; Paribakht, 1985; Tarone, 1977; andWillems, 1989)
primarily rest on certain properties of the language devices con-
cerned (e.g., the role of the L1 or the type of knowledge utilized in
CSrealization). Bialystokandthe NijmegenGroupconsideredthe
kind of descriptive categories found in these taxonomies psycho-
logically unfounded and often over-detailed, claiming that they
artificially carve up what are in fact unitary operations (Keller-
man & Bialystok, in press; see below for more details). Four tax-
onomies (Bialystok, 1990; Drnyei & Scott, 1995a, 1995b; the
Nijmegen Group; Poulisse, 1993) follow different organization
principles, which will be discussed below.
Drnyei and Scotts taxonomy. In their extended taxonomy
of problem-solving strategies, Drnyei and Scott (1995a, 1995b)
first classified the strategies according to the manner of problem-
management; that is, how CSs contribute to resolving conflicts
and achieving mutual understanding. They separated 3 basic
categories, direct, indirect, and interactional strategies. Direct
strategies provide an alternative, manageable, and self-contained
means of getting the (sometimes modified) meaning across, like
circumlocution compensating for the lack of a word. Most tradi-
tionally identified CSs fall under this category. Indirect strategies,
on the other hand, are not strictly problem-solving devices. They
do not provide alternative meaning structures, but rather facili-
tate the conveyance of meaning indirectly by creating the condi-
tions for achieving mutual understanding: preventing
breakdowns and keeping the communication channel open (e.g.,
using fillers or feigning understanding) or indicating less-than-
perfect forms that require extra effort to understand (using strat-
egy markers or hedges). Although indirect strategies are not
meaning-related, they play a significant role in problem-
management and thereforeif the term communication strat-
egy is used in an extended senseare a valid subcategory of CSs.
Similarly, some language-learning strategy classifications (e.g.,
Oxford, 1990) include indirect learning strategies, whose function
is to manage and support learning without (in many instances)
directly involving the target language (p. 135). However, we must
note that including indirect strategies is an equivocal, and con-
tested judgment. Interactional strategies involve a third
approach, whereby the participants carry out trouble-shooting
exchanges cooperatively (e.g., appeal for and grant help, or
request for and provide clarification), and therefore mutual under-
standing is a function of the successful execution of both pair parts
of the exchange.
Drnyei and Scott (1995a, 1995b), then, relate the 3 main
categories (direct, indirect, and interactional) to the 4 types of
communication problems already discussed (resource deficit,
processing time pressure, own-performance problems, other-
performance problems). resulting in a 3by4 matrix not every
cell of which is filled. (There are no direct and interactional proc-
essing time pressure-related strategies, nor indirect resource
deficit-related strategies.)
The Nijmegen Groups taxonomy. The Nijmegen Groups
and similarly, Bialystoks (Bialystok & Kellerman, 1987)main
problem with previous taxonomies was, according to Poulisse
(1994), that they are insufficiently related to theories of language
use or development, so that studies which adopt themcannot pro-
vide much insight into the cognitive processes underlying CS use.
. . . There are so many different CS types that generalizations are
easily missed (p. 620). Instead of the existing product-oriented
taxonomies, their aim was to produce a context-free, process-
based taxonomy of CSs that met three basic requirements: (a) par-
simonythe fewer categories the better; (b) generalizability
independence of variation across speakers, tasks, languages, and
proficiency levels; and (c) psychological plausibility (most impor-
tant)a taxonomy should be informed by what is currently
known about language processing, cognition and problem-solving
behaviour (Kellerman & Bialystok, in press).
Drnyei and Scott 199
In an attempt to place CSs in a parsimonious cognitive
framework, the Nijmegen Group divided compensatory strategies
only into 2 principal categories, conceptual and linguistic
strategies. Using the former, speakers manipulate the concept so
that it becomes expressible through their available linguistic (or
mimetic) resources (Kellerman 1991, p. 149). Conceptual strate-
gies have 2 types: analytic (spelling out characteristic features of
the concept) and holistic (using a substitute referent which shares
characteristics withthe target item). Linguistic strategies involve
manipulating the speakers linguistic knowledge through either
morphological creativity or transfer. Kellerman (1991) relabelled
linguistic strategies as code strategies so as to extend the catego-
rys scope to include nonverbal strategies. Kellerman and Bialys-
tok (in press) suggest that a better term for morphological
creativity is grammatical derivation. Conceptual strategies
include traditional categories like approximation, circumlocution,
and semantic word coinage; linguistic/code strategies include lit-
eral translation, code-switching, foreignizing, and grammatical
word coinage.
Bialystoks taxonomy. Bialystoks (1990) intent to develop a
psychologically plausible system of CSs was similar to that of the
NijmegenGroupandher categories are not unlike theirs. Inaccor-
dance with her cognitive theory of language processing, Bialystok
conceptualized two main classes of CSs, analysis-based and
control-based strategies. The former involve attempts to convey
the structure of the intended concept by making explicit the rela-
tional defining features (p. 133), that is, to manipulate the
intended concept on the basis of its analyzed knowledgefor
example, providing some distinctive information about it, such as
a definition. The latter involve choosing a representational sys-
temthat is possible to convey and that makes explicit information
relevant to the identity of the intended concept (p. 134), that is,
holding the original content constant and manipulating the
means of reference used to express the conceptfor example, by
resorting to L1 or using mime.
200 Language Learning Vol. 47, No. 1
Kellerman and Bialystok (in press) have made an important
attempt to synthesize the Nijmegen taxonomy with Bialystoks
(1990) framework by positing a 2by2 matrix in which concep-
tual and linguistic knowledge representations (meaning and
form) intersect withlanguage processing operations (analysis and
control). Although the matrix suggests that analysis and control
are exclusive categories, the authors emphasize that these 2 cog-
nitive functions occur simultaneously in language processing,
although with varying significance, thus forming a continuum.
CSs are, then, called upon when:
the usual balance between analysis and control is dis-
turbed (typically through inaccessibility of linguistic
knowledge) so that one of the dimensions gains promi-
nence. It is this disruption of the usual balance of process-
ing, a disruption that may or may not be deliberately
induced by the speaker, that makes this kind of communi-
cation strategy.
Poulisses taxonomy. Although the Nijmegen Groups taxon-
omy was psychologically plausibleit followed the distinction
between conceptual and linguistic knowledge representations in
long-term memory and was also compatible with Bialystoks
(1990) 2-component model of language processingPoulisse
(1993) argued that it did not sufficiently take into account the
processes involved in speech production as outlined by the L2
adaptation of Levelts (1989) well-known model of L1 processing.
For example, froma process-oriented perspective, holistic concep-
tual strategies and transfer strategies are largely similar: Psy-
chologically, there is little or no difference between a substitution
by a related L2 word and a substitution by the equivalent L1
word (Poulisse, in press-b). Thus, the psycholinguistic processes
underlying conceptual and linguistic/code strategies are no differ-
ent viewed fromLevelts speech-production perspective; therefore
the categories proposed by the Nijmegen Group need revision.
Poulisses new, modified taxonomy of compensatory strategies
consists of 3 major strategy types: (a) substitution strate-
giesomitting or changing one or more features of a lexical chunk
Drnyei and Scott 201
in search of a new lexical item (the L1/L2 specification being
treated as one of the features); (e.g., traditional approximation or
code switching); (b) substitution-plus strategiessubstitution
strategies accompanied by the out-of-the-ordinary application of
L1 or L2 morphological and/or phonological encoding procedures
(Poulisse, 1993, p. 180; e.g., foreignizing); and (c) reconceptualiza-
tion strategiesa change in the preverbal message involving
more than one chunk (e.g., circumlocution).
Kellerman and Bialystok (in press) raised several issues con-
cerning Poulisses (1993) tripartite model, arguing that it does
not seem to be able to draw a clear distinction between Substitu-
tion and Reconceptualization strategies: for example, in cases of
definition-like structures (e.g., stuff to kill flies) and strategy
tokens that exemplify superordinate categories by lists of cate-
gory members (e.g., tables, beds, chairs and cupboards for FUR-
NITURE). They contend that the ambiguous status of the fairly
common phenomenon of exemplification definitely challenges
Poulisses typology, whereas the Nijmegen Groups two-way clas-
sification scheme is immune to the list/single exemplar problem.
Kellerman and Bialystoks critical analysis, together with Poulis-
ses (in press-b) response, provide a fascinating insight into
cutting-edge developments in CS research using a psychological
approach.
Summary and Implications
Language problems and difficulties are a salient part of com-
munication in a L2 and problem-management occurs at several
levels. No wonder communication strategies, seen as the lan-
guage devices used to handle communicationproblems, have been
the target of much research during the past two decades. It is also
understandable that the approaches to understanding CSs have
varied according to the researchers general orientations towards
language analysis. This diversity is reflected in the various defini-
tions and taxonomies of CSs discussed here.
202 Language Learning Vol. 47, No. 1
Looking at the development of CS research makes a general
pattern evident. The initial priorityidentifying and classifying
CSshas gradually given way to the analysis of the mental
processes underlying CS use. At present, the main concern of sev-
eral leading researchers is to establish a process-oriented frame-
workof strategic language behavior withpsycholinguisticallyvalid
process categories. Two particularly notable approaches, the
Nijmegen Groups and Poulisses (1993), attempted to relate strat-
egy use to current models of language processing and speech pro-
duction. However, at the moment both models are restricted to
lexical-compensatory strategies only, excluding all other areas of
strategy use. One important direction for future research is to
extend the psycholinguistic approachto cover other types of strate-
gies. (Kellerman & Bialystok, in press, have already begun by
attempting to fit reduction strategies and appeals for help into
the Nijmegen scheme.) Another is to focus on non-lexical CSs as
well, particularlyonstrategiesrelatedtogrammatical problems.
In sum, CS research has made a lot of progress during the
last two decades and has remained a potentially fertile source of
insight for two reasons. First, it is a truly applied area: The prac-
tical implications of understanding problem-management in L2
communication are enormous. After all, L2 speakers spend a lot of
time and effort struggling with language difficulties, yet L2
courses do not generally prepare students to cope with perform-
ance problems. Second, by relating interlanguage analysis to psy-
cholinguistic investigations of speechproduction, the study of CSs
help refine scientific models of L2 learning and use.
Revised version accepted 11 October 1996
Note
1
Even though Long (1983) called these discourse modification patterns
tactics rather than strategies, their definition appears to fit traditionally
conceptualized communication strategies, in that CSs are immediate ver-
bal first aid devices.
Drnyei and Scott 203
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