Strategic Use of Pragmalinguistic Competence:
Methodological and Pedagogical Implications
for EFL Instruction

IWAI, Chiaki
Hiroshima City University

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要  旨
  英語の中間言語語用論は、常に母語話者の発話を基準(norms)として研究が進められてきたことは否めない事実である。しかし、英語の使用コンテキストが著しく制限されている EFL (English as a foreign language) 環境で、必ずしも英語母語話者の基準をモデルにすることだけでEFL学習者の語用論的能力が十分に促進されるとは限らないし、多様化する英語の変種に対応するのに、母語話者の基準に合わせることだけが英語教育の目的だとも思われない。これに対し、「限られた言語能力を補完して言語使用を促進する」ことを目標としてきたコミュニケーション方略(CS)の研究は、EFL の教育環境で、どのように語用論的能力を位置付け、どのように具体的指導を行えばよいかについて、有益な教育的示唆を提供してくれると考えられる。
 本稿は、英語がEFLとして教えられている日本や多くのアジア諸国の英語使用環境を鑑み、日本人学習者135名から収集した「お世辞に対する返事」と「依頼の断り」の2つの発話行為に関する実証データを基に、中間言語語用論研究にCS研究の理論を取り入れる利点とそれに必要な研究方法について論じている。


Keywords: communication strategies, interlanguage pragmatics, compliment responses, request refusals, pragmalinguistic competence, norms

キーワード
: コミュニケーション方略、中間言語語用論、お世辞に対する返事、依頼の断り、語用論的言語能力、基準

1. Introduction
  
One of the most insurmountable obstacles for learners of English as a foreign language (EFL), which is not uncommon in many Asian countries, is the paucity of authentic contexts for language use. This contextual restriction often prevents EFL learners from testing outputs of language production in actual language use even though output testing is a crucial requisite for second language acquisition (Swain, 1996; 1998).

Studies on interlanguage pragmatics (IP) have made various valuable pedagogical suggestions for such EFL learners as well as learners of English as a second language (ESL), and an enormous number of empirical studies have been conducted in different learning contexts. Two of the main concerns for such studies are related to the matter of teaching norms (Horibe, 2000) and the matter of pragmatic awareness (Kasper, 1997; 1999). The solutions for these problems would be less troublesome in ESL contexts than in EFL contexts since, in the former contexts, a concrete target norm can be set unhesitatingly and the learners' needs can be identified clearly. In EFL contexts, on the other hand, clear-cut solutions for them are by no means easily obtained. Thus, despite valuable pedagogical implications from IP studies, they seem to be too broad or too general, in EFL contexts, to design practical course syllabi which can satisfy EFL learners' nonspecific needs for an indefinite future.

The main objective of the present study is to establish a methodological grounding to introduce an additional linguistic perspective, i.e., the perspective of communication strategies (CS), to IP, which the author of this study believes to provide EFL learners and practitioners with more practical and more useful advice to help EFL learners develop their pragmatic competence. With respect to pragmatic competence, Thomas (1983) distinguished between pragmalinguistic competence and sociopragmatic competence, creating what is still the most commonly accepted dichotomy in pragmatic studies. The present study restricts its discussion only to the former competence, which is regarded as being related to language users' controlling capability of the language rather than their sociocultural knowledge.

Later in this study, a data collection method which aimed at achieving the above mentioned objective will be described in detail, and the data collected with this method will be examined to evaluate its validity. Following these, some methodological suggestions necessary to apply the CS perspective to IP will be made, and, finally, some pedagogical implications will be drawn.


2. The Concept of CS and its Application to IP
  
Through theoretical and methodological arguments from a psycholinguistic, process-oriented standpoint (e.g., Bialystok, 1990; Poulisse, 1990) and from an educational, product-oriented standpoint (e.g., Dornyei & Thurrell, 1991; Tarone & Yule, 1989), CS studies had reached their maturity by the early 1990s. Consequently, the basic notion of CS grew into two theoretical frameworks: one aiming to reveal how L2 learners make up for their lack of linguistic knowledge to achieve their communicative goal -- hence, called compensatory strategies (e.g., Poulisse et al., 1987)1)-- and the other looking into how language users enhance the effectiveness of message delivery in comprehensive communication activities (Canale, 1983; Clennell, 1995). Regardless of such theoretical differences, however, it is an undeniable fact that the majority of CS studies restricted their empirical observation targets predominantly to learners' lexical problems (Ellis, 1994: p. 402; see Iwai 2000 for a further review of theoretical development of CS studies.)

Noticing this narrowly defined concept of CS, such CS researchers as Kasper (1997), Iwai (2000), and Takatsuka (2001) stress the necessity of expanding the notion of CS beyond referential communication problems, including pragmatic problems, in language use. Even though these studies discuss the theoretical applicability of CS to pragmatic problems, they do not present concrete methodological suggestions to carry out research for this purpose. Behind this difficulty, there lies the fact that, in contrast to constitutive rules of lexicons and grammar, pragmatic rules are regulative (Thomas, 1995: p. 109) and acquisitional criteria for such unclear and normative pragmatic rules are difficult to formulate.

Regarding this regulative nature of pragmatic rules, it would not be an exaggeration to say that any English users, even native English speakers (NS), cannot become acquainted with all pragmatic rules of regional varieties and of rapidly expanding "New Englishes" (Kachru, 1997; McArthur, 1998). Iwai and Rinnert (2000), for example, conducted a cross-cultural questionnaire survey which included four English speaking regions (the United States, Singapore, Hong Kong, and Japan) and found that remarkable pragmatic variations occurred even in such ordinary speech acts as apology and request. Most IP studies in the past compared ESL or EFL learners' pragmatic competence with that of a certain English NS group or groups (just to mention a few examples which dealt with the speech acts discussed later in this study, Beebe et al., 1990; Holmes & Brown, 1987; Nelson et al., 1996). Many similarities and differences in pragmatic realization were clarified by these studies; however, if our emphasis of teaching English in EFL contexts is placed on learners' preparation for encounters with speakers of many English varieties in the future, we should wonder if it is appropriate or adequate to find meaningful pedagogical implications for pragmatic instruction only from NS norms.

Critically reviewing past IP studies in this way, this study postulates that the theoretical framework of 'complementary' strategic competence could present an ideal alternative for the pedagogical goal of pragmatic instruction and, thus, could make up for the deficits of IP. One of the main objectives of CS studies has been to find a way to help English learners verbalize their intended concepts by complementing their handicapped state of interlanguage. Accumulated knowledge for this objective appears applicable to IP since, just as L2 learners' linguistic inadequacy can be made up for by strategic competence, their pragmatic competence could also be strengthened by this competence. If this is the case, what needs to be emphasized in teaching the learners in the contexts where urgent needs of using English are not immediately at hand, is not specific NS norms, but strategic flexibility with which they can cope with any unpredictable pragmatic possibilities.

To realize this ideal, however, CS studies need to establish a theoretical and methodological basis because, as stated above, past CS studies have limited their observational interest mainly to lexical problems. One such attempt to open up the tradition of CS studies is made in this study, and a new data collection method will be discussed in the next section, analyzing the data collected with this method.


3. This Study
  
The empirical data collection of this study was designed to construct a methodological foundation for applying the concept of CS to IP. The most reliable data for such studies would be collected with an ethnographic method (e.g., Herbert, 1989). Paradoxically, however, non-artificial data collection from genuine EFL learners in an ethnographic format can hardly be realistic in EFL contexts because our chance for the observation of natural English use is extremely rare. (This methodological restriction of data collection for IP studies may be called an EFL paradox in contrast to Labov's (1972) Observer's Paradox.) For this reason, it was determined to use a discourse completion test (DCT), which has been used most widely, regardless of linguistic contexts, in past sociolinguistic studies to collect sociolinguistic or IP data efficiently.

In the past, however, "what one would say", i.e., performance, rather than "what one could say", i.e., competence, was elicited in most DCT studies; thus, respondents' quasi-performance for one response, which might be incidental, in imaginary situations was tested, rather than their thorough competence to express their intended concepts in these situations. One exceptional DCT study among numerous sociolinguistic studies, which were examined by the author of this study, is the one by Chen (1993), who allowed respondents to write multiple answers and attempted to compare underlying politeness principles of English compliment responses among native American English speakers with Chinese compliment responses among native Chinese speakers.

Modeling itself after Chen's (1993) prototypical DCT, the present study created DCT questions regarding compliment responses (CR) and request refusals (RR) to examine the following research questions:

1. To what extent, is a revised DCT useful to measure EFL learners' strategic solutions for pragmatic problems?
2. If the administered DCT needs to be improved, what is necessary to raise its validity and/or reliability?

To answer these questions, the collected data was statistically processed, focusing on the factors of respondents' gender, proficiency, and experience of staying in an English speaking community or communities (referred to as a 'stay' factor hereafter).

Respondents
  
The total number of EFL participants to this study was 135 Japanese college English learners in four English classes at two different coeducational universities. They were first requested to answer background information questions, including gender, English proficiency, and the total length of their stay.2) Excluding 5 students who did not complete the background questions, the number of valid respondents became 130, the details of whose background are summarized in Table 1. 

DCT Items
  
The DCT questionnaire consisted of three speech act items (CR, RR, and gratitude). The situational information for each one of these items as well as the directions for responses was specified in Japanese to facilitate the respondents' understanding and not to provide them with any linguistic hints which may influence their answers to the DCT questions. The final questions were determined on the basis of a pilot study. Among the three DCT items, this study focuses on CR and RR, and the questions on the next page illustrates the complete questions for these situations (translated from the original Japanese questions).

The DCT format in this study was unique in terms of the following four points. First, the given situations were culturally neutralized; that is, situations with which the respondents were presumably unfamiliar were chosen so that they had to decide their responses strategically. The second and the most important point is, as discussed above, that the respondents were requested to answer "what they could say" rather than "what they would say." For this purpose, multiple open spaces (6 underlines) for responses were provided on the response sheet. Third, the respondents were advised to use Japanese, locally or globally, in their responses if they could not express their intended concepts in English. This was done so as to trace the respondents' linguistic problems in answering questions. Despite the carefully worded directions given prior to answering the DCT, however, in practice their use of Japanese was limited to the solutions for local linguistic problems, mainly lexical problems.

Situation for a compliment response (CR)

Persons appearing in this situation: ・You ・A Thai student with whom you became friends
Place: A cafeteria at a British university
Background: You are friends with a Thai student. But you don't know very much about Thai culture.
Situation: While you are drinking tea at a cafeteria, your Thai friend comes to you and compliments you on your jacket. But it is a cheap jacket you bought on sale, and you don't like it very much. How do you respond to your friend's compliment?
Friend: Oh, what a nice jacket you are wearing! I like it!
You:


Situation for a request refusal (RR)

Persons appearing in this situation: ・You ・A Singaporean classmate
Place: A hallway at a Singaporean university
Background: You have been in Singapore for a month.
Situation: Your classmate is planning to hold a concert next Sunday. He/she asks you to buy a ticket. It is, however, not your favorite type of concert. How do you turn down his/her request?
Classmate: Hi, I have a concert ticket. It's a lot of fun. Would you buy one for us?
You:

Finally, retrospective multiple-choice questions (R-MC), which will be shown later in Section 4.2, were added to the DCT to investigate psychological processes that were involved in reaching the communicative goals. The answer sheet was folded in half, and the R-MC questions were hidden while the respondents answered the DCT questions. The respondents unfolded the sheet and answered the R-MC questions immediately after they had completed the DCT questions.

Data Analysis
  
The semantic formulas of the collected data were first encoded according to a slightly modified version of Herbert's (1990) taxonomy for compliment responses (Appendix A) and of Beebe et al's (1990) taxonomy for request refusals (Appendix B). The encoding procedure was done by three researchers for the CR situation and four for the RR situation, both including the author of this study. In each situation, a randomly selected 10% of the entire responses was encoded first to test the inter-rater reliability, and over 80% reliability was confirmed for both speech acts. After amending discrepancies among the researchers, each one of them encoded all responses (346 CR responses and 298 RR responses in total), and the final encoding outcomes were obtained after adjusting minor disagreements among the researchers.

Once the encoding procedure was completed, the following quantitative figures for semantic and syntactic features were obtained for each respondent: Total number of non-overlapping semantic formulas (SF score), 2) total T-units, and 3) total error-free T-units.3) (See Appendix C for a sample of processed data.) These quantitative data were used to examine the influence of independent variables (gender, proficiency, and stay) on the two speech acts. The interactive effects of these variables were not tested because it was found, after collecting the data, that the distributions of the respondents were not balanced normally (see Table . For this reason, the effect of each variable was tested one by one, as shown in the next section.


4. Results
4.1 Semantic Formulas and T-units
  
In order to examine whether there was any inter-group difference in the use of semantic formulas and in response lengths, mean SF scores and numbers of T-units were compared for each one of the three independent variables (gender, proficiency, and stay). Group means and statistical results (tested by an independent t-test for gender and stay, and by a one-way analysis of variance (ANOVA) for proficiency) are shown in Table 2 (SF scores) and Table 3 (T-units) for CR, and Table 4 (SF scores) and Table 5 (T-units) for RR.

In general, these results indicate that female, highly proficient, and the stay-experienced respondents tended to use more semantic formulas and T-units than their counterparts. However, the results are somehow different between the two speech acts. Regarding RR responses, significant inter-group differences were obtained for all of the three factors, while proficiency was not a factor causing a significant difference in CR.

The reason for the gender difference needs to be examined further, but it may be related to the fact that a far larger number of the female respondents in this study had a stay experience than male respondents (see Table . If this interpretation is correct, we may be able to attribute the significant gender difference to the stay factor.

To investigate the group difference in more depth, the three main semantic categories of the two situations were examined further. In doing so, the total number of semantic formulas in each response was counted first, and it became clear that responses consisting of more than 4 semantic formulas were not very numerous. Overall, 94.5% of CR and 91.3% of RR were made up of 3 or fewer than 3 semantic formulas. For this reason, the analysis in this section was carried out on the first one, two, or three semantic segments of all the responses. Tables 6 and 7 summarized total numbers and percentages of the responses in the three main semantic categories for CR and RR, respectively. 

In these tables, we can notice that group differences tend not to appear in frequently occurring semantic formulas, but rather in less popular semantic formulas, i.e., in the 'non-acceptance' category in CR and the 'adjunct' category in RR. In other words, the noticeable differences tended to occur in peripheral pragmatic segments, and this tendency is in accordance with findings of many IP studies (e.g., Hill, 1997). Furthermore, two other features were found from a more detailed analysis of each semantic formula in the three main categories. First, the significant difference between the two stay groups in CR was caused mainly by the semantic formula of 'comment history', e.g., "I bought it on sale", which was much more frequent among the stay group. Second, the significant differences in RR among the three proficiency groups and the two stay groups derived mainly from the fact that few respondents with low proficiency used adjuncts and the no-stay experienced used far fewer 'empathy' and 'gratitude' semantic formulas.

These differences in peripheral semantic segments are probably related to the pragmatic skill to avoid threatening an interlocutor's face (Brown and Levinson, 1978). To do so, one may try to give a detailed 'comment history', i.e., a reason for rejecting a compliment, instead of directly disagreeing with a complimenter, or to soften an utterance by using 'adjuncts' before refusing a request. To realize these complicated speech acts and to maintain a good relation with an acquaintance, however, sophisticated linguistic knowledge as well as experience with its actual use would be necessary. Furthermore, a risk of damaging a mutual relation, thus threatening the interlocutor's face, is arguably higher in the RR situation than in the CR situation because refusal of the request may leave an unfriendly impression on a requester and may cause a direct disadvantage to him or her. Therefore, it is highly possible that the proficiency difference appeared more clearly in the pragmatically more complex situation of RR, where advanced linguistic competence is needed, than CR. The results of the R-MC in the next section support this possibility further.

4.2 Retrospective Multiple Choice Questions
  
The respondents provided a reason or reasons for giving their DCT responses by choosing any item or items applicable to them from the following list (translated from Japanese)4):

1) I tried not to be impolite.
2) I translated what I thought in Japanese directly into English.
3) I thought this would be appropriate in this situation.
4) I omitted what I wanted to say due to my difficulty of expressing it in English.
5) I just wrote anything I could say.
6) Others (Specify the reason.)

Total numbers and percentages for the R-MC answers are summarized in Table 8 for CR and in Table 9 for RR. Overall, 452 answers for CR and 473 answers for RR were obtained. Generally speaking, Items 3 and 4 were selected less frequently than the other three items. In contrast to these, being polite (Item and direct translation (Item 2) were two of the most common answers the respondents chose.

In this analysis, statistical inter-group comparisons (a chi-square test) were also made. As a result, a significant difference was obtained only for the proficiency factor in RR (chi-square=21.142, df=8, p<0.0, but other weak tendencies also appear in these tables. That is, students with lower proficiency had less confidence in their responses (Item 3), omitted what they wanted to say more often (Item 4), and wrote whatever they could say (Item 5). Learners with higher proficiency were opposite to these students. Regarding the stay factor, no noticeable difference can be seen in CR responses; however, the stay-experienced had more confidence and omitted less in RR responses than their counterparts. In fact, the result of the chi-square test for this situation was almost significant (chi-square=9.089, df=4, p=0.060).

4.3 Grammaticality of the responses (Error-free T-units)
  
As the third main analysis of the responses, their grammaticality was examined. The number of error-free T-units was counted for each respondent, and the mean error-free T-units for CR and RR by group are displayed in Table 10 and Table 11, respectively.

From this analysis, significant inter-group differences (tested by a one-way ANOVA) were obtained for all the three factors. Among them, attention needs to be paid especially to the proficiency factor. As illustrated already, the proficiency factor did not cause a significant difference in semantic formulas of CR; however, this factor turned out to be a significant indicator of inter-group differences for response grammaticality in CR. In other words, the results in this section imply that, although this may not be very surprising, the proficiency factor is a key for grammatical accuracy of any speech act responses.


5. Discussion
  
A methodological attempt was made in this study to promote CS studies into the research area of interlanguage pragmatics. The revised DCT in this study worked well to elicit the EFL learners' pragmatic language productions for different speech acts, and the analysis outcomes revealed that such productions were influenced differently by the three factors investigated in this study.

Of these factors, it was found that the stay factor (and probably the gender factor, too) gave a positive influence on the use of semantic formulas in both situations. This seems to indicate that certain aspects of pragmatic flexibility are difficult to develop in EFL contexts. However, the influence of this factor needs to be investigated further, for the actual stay lengths of the stay experienced in this study, in fact, vary to a great extent, from a half month up to seven years (with about 80% of them less than two months).

The most interesting pattern was found in the proficiency factor. Even though this factor did not cause a significant difference in the less intricate speech act situation (CR), it triggered a significant difference in the more face-threatening situation (RR). It is by no means clear from this study how pragmatic competence and linguistic competence are interrelated; however, it seems appropriate to say that linguistic flexibility raises EFL learners' strategic flexibility since proficient learners are equipped with more linguistic means. At the same time, it is worth noticing that appropriateness judgements of the produced outcomes cannot be made easily, even by the respondents with high proficiency (recall that even these students had little confidence in their responses in the R-MC questions.)

Keeping these results of this study in mind, let us now direct our attention to the research questions of this study. Regarding the first research question, the modified DCT appears to have been quite effective to investigate the EFL learners' exhaustive productive competence for pragmalinguistic problems; thus, the answer for this research question is rather optimistic. As for the second question, however, it has to be acknowledged that complementary mechanisms for the respondents' lack of pragmalinguistic competence could not be investigated directly with this method. Therefore, the adopted data collection method has to be improved to achieve the main objective of this study, i.e., introducing the concept of CS into IP.

Among others, the following suggestions seem to be plausible solutions for this. First, a syntactic and lexical analysis of the data, in addition to the semantic analysis done in this study, is required so that we may find more pragmalinguistic problems of the respondents. Second, a retrospective oral interview would be preferable to the R-MC method to grasp accurately how learners solved their pragmalinguistic problems. With the R-MC format of this study, the number of choices had to be restricted due to practical limitations (see Note 4), which made it possible to draw only a rough sketch of how the respondents processed the given tasks. In collecting data from a larger number of respondents, however, this questionnaire format still seems to be a promising way in terms of efficiency and practicality. Finally, it would be advisable to request the respondents to write their responses both in English and in their native language, so that we can compare their real intention in Japanese with the English outcomes. From such a comparison, we may be able to understand what causes the learners specific problems and how they complement them strategically with linguistic resources available to them.


6. Conclusion
  
EFL contexts are not superb language laboratories for learners to expose themselves to abundant pragmatic resources. In such linguistic circumstances, this study emphasized that the concept of 'complementary' competence, i.e., pragmatic flexibility to express intended concepts even in an incomplete linguistic state, would be worth introducing into EFL classes, instead of focusing on a specific NS norm or norms. In this view, specific pragmatic norms could be taught as a means to build up EFL learners' pragmatic competence, but not as an end. In addition, the author of this study believes, from the viewpoint of fair cultural relativism and multiculturalism, that the purpose of teaching EFL learners is not to produce learners who behave similarly to English NS speakers. If so, the objective of pragmatic instruction in EFL contexts should be reevaluated, and an alternative objective free from NS-centered criteria has to be found. The approach suggested in this study could be a practical and meaningful candidate for ideal pragmatic instruction in EFL contexts.

To achieve this goal, however, the empirical method suggested in this study has much room for development. In this sense, this study is not conclusive at all, and possibilities for its development were discussed. Creating more reliable and valid methods for empirical studies, CS studies could be merged into IP studies and address valuable pedagogical implications.

Before closing this paper, the author of this study wants to refer to an episode he encountered several years ago. To invite his Filipina friend to his home, he intentionally used the translated humble expression from Japanese -- "Our house is small, but we are happy if you could visit us" and asked her if this was acceptable in her pragmatic standard. Her response was "Perfectly acceptable!" As this episode demonstrates, pragmatic norms differ from culture to culture. Practically speaking, then, it would be hopeless to learn an indefinite number of English pragmatic rules in a limited amount of EFL class time. To make up for this EFL constraint and raise EFL learners pragmatic competence, this paper concludes that the 'complementary' concept of communication strategies deserves to be taken into account in studies of interlanguage pragmatics and in practice of pragmatic instruction in EFL contexts.


Acknowledgements
I would like to thank my colleague Carol Rinnert, who helped me analyze the grammaticality of the collected responses and also gave me many valuable comments on this study. I also want to thank the following graduate students at Hiroshima City University, who assisted me with the encoding procedure: Higuchi Shinichi, Ikegami Masato, Nagahori Hitomi, Niiyama Hajime, and Tanabe Chihiro (in alphabetical order).


Notes
1) The term 'compensatory strategies' is the most commonly used terminology in CS studies. Cohen and Olshitain (1993), however, state that the word 'compensatory' has a pejorative connotation for "something remedial" (p. 50). The author of this study agrees with their claim for equal status for all language users including learners, so the alternative term 'complementary' that they suggested is used consistently throughout this study. (-> Back)

2) The respondents reported the total length of the stay in months; however, for the actual analysis, they were categorized into two groups: those who had experienced stay (Stay group) and those who had not (No stay group). In addition, English proficiency was asked in a self-evaluation format, and each respondent's proficiency was determined by combining an Eiken (administered by the Society of Testing English Proficiency) grade and a TOEIC level, both of which were asked on a five point scale. A correlation coefficient (tested by a Peason's correlation) of these two self-evaluated grades was significantly high (r=0.737, p<0.00. Roughly speaking, the advanced group students were beyond the 2nd grade level of Eiken, the intermediate group students between the 2nd grade level and the pre-2nd grade level, and the lower group students below the 3rd grade level. (-> Back)

3) Any T-unit in which a Japanese word or words were used was counted as one non-error-free T-unit. (-> Back)

4) In designing the data collection method, more than 10 items were listed. However, judging from the practicality of implementing the questionnaire survey and the time respondents would need, the total number of items was reduced to 6. (-> Back)


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Yule, G., and Tarone, E. (1997). Investigating communication strategies in L2 reference: Pros and cons. In G. Kasper and E. Kellerman (Eds.), Communication strategies: Psycholinguistic and sociolinguistic perspectives (pp. 17-30). London: Longman.


Appendix A (->Back)

Appendix B (->Back)



Appendix C: A sample of processed data (->Back)
Respondent #1 (Gender-female, Proficiency-intermediate, Stay-yes)
・/ Thank you. / But I think this jacket don't suit me. /
     1          10/Error 1

・/ Thanks. / This jacket is very cheap. / It was good 買い物 (shopping)./
   1           8            5/Error 1

・/ Oh your jacket is good too. /
        7

・/ Do you really like this? / Thank you. /
        9         1
SF score=5 (non-overlapping semantic formulas 1, 6, 7, 8, 9, and 10),
Total T-units=8, Error-free T-units=6


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